How to Sound More Like a Native Spanish Speaker 101

Want to talk the talk? Read on for FLC’s tips and tricks!

¿Hablas español?  Fun Facts:

  • 46 states in the USA use Spanish as their primary foreign language after English, according to Business Insider.
  • An estimated 450 million people speak Spanish around the globe, making it the second most spoken language en el mundo (second only to Mandarin)!
  • The USA is the 2nd largest Spanish speaking country in the world behind Mexico, already ahead of Argentina, Spain, etc (si!)
  • Hay 6 million speakers + in Texas alone?!

Whatever your current level of Spanish, don’t underestimate the power of sounding more like a Spanish speaker (who’s from anywhere in the world…)!  From improving your communication skills  – and thus overall experience –  to impressing your séquito and, most importantly, improving your ability to actually learn the language, we hope you’ll put these tips and tricks into your fluency goals!

Varieties of Spanish:

Nelson Mandela, the inspiration behind our manifesto, writes, “If you speak to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you speak to him in his own language, that goes to his heart”. Spanish is the official language in 21 countries. ¡Qué sorprendente! These countries are on the continents of Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Consider many hearts reached! At FLC, we hear dialects from countries such as Chile, Mexico, Colombia, and Spain, to name a few. Spanish varies greatly across borders, pero no te preocupes – use our simple tips below (audio included!) to improve your speaking skills! As a precursor to our lesson, watch this funny video from the Youtube Channel, Flama, that explains how to pick up on different Spanish accents.

1. Pronunciation: the crossfit of language

Throughout our childhood, we learn and regurgitate the ‘phonemes’ in English as part of our own language development.  As we get older, however, our brains have a harder time recognizing new sounds, like the ones used in other languages. Many adult language learners struggle to overcome this aural roadblock, pero hay una solución – focus on pronunciation first!

Research shows that training your ears to recognize the sounds of your ‘target language’ as a primer for studying greatly improves your ability to memorize new words and phrases in that language!

While Spanish comes in all shapes and sizes, use that as an interesting benefit!  Linguists find that listening to a wide variety of speakers and dialects actually benefits the brain! ¿De verdad? ¡Sí! Exposure to an expansive array of speech patterns and inflections trains your brain to better understand all types of accents.

Truly, FLC considers pronunciation the crossfit of language: strengthening from the core, for greater success in your learning goals! Incorporate practice and audio (beyond simply listening) with our Pronunciation Workshops to improve pronunciation and uncover the nuances of spoken language all while having fun (with tongue twisters to boot)!

Pronunciation hack: Follow along with Oscar, Spanish teacher extraordinaire, as he helps you take on the debate of B & V sounds as spoken in most Spanish-speaking countries.

2. Use filler words:

“Um…well…so…like”. ¿Sabías? Filler words such as these exist in Spanish! ¡Qué alivio! Next time you’re struggling to find the right word, opt for the Spanish alternative. Here are some common fillers:

  • Osea (OH-seh-ah): Americans tend to overuse the word “like”. Maybe because, like, you can pretty much use it anywhere and it, like, makes you seem casual. As it turns out, overusing the word “like” is not exclusive to us Americans! The “like” for Spanish speakers is osea, and osea is one of the most popular filler words used in Spanish-speaking countries. Use osea to say “in other words” or “that is to say”.
  • Este (EH-steh): Use this filler in place of “well…” or “um…”. When you are at a loss for words or need to figure out your next sentence, este is the perfect way to bridge the gap!
  • Pues (poo-wehss): Similar to este, the word pues is the perfect filler if you need to stall for some time. Native speakers in most Spanish-speaking countries find themselves reverting to pues often. Use this filler as an alternative for “let’s see…” or “so…”.
  • Ya (yah): Ya, the gold standard for filler words among Spanish speakers! The meaning of ya varies greatly depending on the context, so be sure to take notes on how native speakers use this filler! Por ejemplo… Use ya to say something has already happened. Lo he leído ya. Use it to say something is happening now. Ya está aquí. Use it to express agreement. Ya, pero es difícil. The list goes on and on!

3. Embrace ‘authentic’ materials:

Languages are full of shortened words, phrases, slang and idiomatic expressions. Each of these offers a glimpse into the culture behind a language and adds authenticity, if used properly, in one’s speaking. Our #1 method for picking up slang and such? ¡Películas españolas! 

Listening to and using language as it’s truly spoken, in relevant cultural contexts and across a variety of genres, builds proficiency at a faster rate than traditional classes alone can. The FLC model uses films, as ‘authentic materials’ (i.e. those created by those of the target language FOR those of the target language), at the very core of our curriculum!

Don’t have time for a film? ¡No pasa nada! Watch these short videos from Vanity Fair to learn some slang terms:

  • For Mexican slang, watch this video with Salma Hayek
  • For Spanish slang, watch this video with Antonio Banderas

It would take años to list all of the slang terms and expressions used in Spanish! Entonces, learn new words and phrases daily with our Spanish Phrase of the Day Instagram account!

Keep up your everyday language with our daily Instagram posts (includes audio)!

4. Don’t hold back:

(cliché alert!)

Most Spanish-speaking countries are culturally very expressive. Osea, don’t be shy! When practicing with others, or even on your own, say everything with confianza! Confidence is key in language learning. Just spit it out! Better to say it wrong and correct yourself than to never say it at all. The best language learners have a growth mindset – they aren’t afraid to make errors along the way! Children make the best role models for language learning for exactly this reason – they don’t think too much about what they say or if it’s correct. Kids use trial and error to discover what’s right. So, blabber on until you get it right!

As our favorite language acquisition specialist Stephen Krashen says, it’s the face to face “negotiation for the meaning” that makes the difference. Por favor, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there at our next wine tasting, happy hour, or polyglot game night!

In language learning, we all make mistakes! Just #keeponkeepingon and spit it out! Listen as Michelle explains this further.

5. Practice y más práctica:

(Cliché alert part dos!)

ACTFL guidelines generally suggest 500 to 700+ hours of language learning to reach intermediate to advanced skill levels.

A good rule of thumb? Practice an hour a day whenever you can – get creative! And yes, your telenovela counts! Take advantage of speaking opportunities at Saturday Cafés, listen to Spanish podcasts, commit to weekly conversations with a language learning partner… everything counts!

One of our teachers’ favorite tips: When you go to a restaurant, ask for a waiter that speaks only in Spanish. That way, you force yourself to see the menu and order in the language. Definitely una buena idea! Want to up the ante at home? Grab sticky notes and place translations on common objects around the house. Turn your mirror into un espejo, your shower into una ducha, or your desk into un escitorio. ¡PRACTICA!

Can’t make it to FLC, which puts it all of the about into practice?  Check out our exclusively ONLINE Spanish Recap course!

Now that you have some tips and tricks on how to sound more like a native Spanish speaker under your belt, try them out! Remember to have FUN with it! Language learning isn’t about perfection – learn to let the language wash over you, even if you don’t understand every word.

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