We all wish we could be better conversationalists, both in our native tongues and new languages, and WE CAN be! But because every language learner is as unique as the conversation they make, there’s no one size fits all solution.
That’s why it’s helpful to imagine 4 key settings where you plan on doing most of your speaking. Once you’ve identified the locations, list out possible conversation topics that might come up given the place and the people who are often in it. For example, if a bus is on your list, study the words conductor (driver), parada (stop) and asiento (seat) along with any other concrete nouns, adjectives or verbs that you think will be relevant.
Next, read up on how speaking AND listening in a second language actually work. For example, did you realize that we don’t necessarily listen to Spanish words in the order in which they are spoken? Our brains hear what they want to hear and rely on prior knowledge to make sense of vocabulary understood in context.
When it comes to fluency, it’s tough to use a new term in conversation if you’ve only just learned it. Recall activities are an optimal way to reach words faster, when you really need them. So get practicing and try duolingo’s free platform to keep a record of your growing vocabulary.
10 Tips for Having Conversations in Spanish
1. It’s all in the greeting. Conversations have to start somewhere and you can positively influence the tone of yours if you begin with a greeting that makes your partner smile. You can try some of these for starters: Buenos días, Buenas tardes,¿Qué pasa?, ¿Qué tal?. Just avoid ¡hola guapa! unless you’re interested in flirting at the same time.
2. Filler words are a language learner’s best friend.
There’s a reason we have all of those conversation fillers in English (think “ummmms” “ahhhs” and “Mhmmms”) and it’s to give us time to think of the next thing we’re going to say! The same is true in Spanish, only the sounds are different. Pay attention to non-scripted Spanish native speakers and listen out for este, pues, and emmmm filling in the silences between words. See if you can imitate their delivery and start using them in your day to day conversations.
. Learn weather words and know your holidays. No matter the language, bringing up the weather never fails to serve as great conversation fodder. Spanish skies tend to be quite sol filled (unless you find yourself in Galicia) but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared to discuss a range of temporal possibilities. From brewing storms to sweltering temperatures, keep your tiempo conversation honed and don’t forget to bring up holidays while you’re at it. Spain has a slew of them and everyone likes to be reminded that there’s a long weekend on the horizon!
4. When in doubt, talk about food.
Everyone eats. Bringing up your recent meals whether to comment, describe or pass judgement is always a good topic when you’re at a loss for words. More often than not, the other person will reciprocate and while it may not be the most stimulating of conversations, it will definitely lift the mood. Plus, with such a surplus of delicious regional dishes in Spain, you may receive some interesting cooking tips or even a restaurant recommendation or two.
5. Know how to ask questions. People love to speak about themselves and often they will go above and beyond to explain something if they know you are from out of town. Take the pressure off of yourself and make your conversation partner the center of attention by asking them about their day, current events or any other information you think they’d like to share.
6. Be pro-active. If you’re nervous that the conversation may shift into unfamiliar territory, get out in front and select the topic up for discussion. While some Spanish speakers will carry off on tangents, you can always safely return them to your original conversation if you were the one who brought the subject up in the first place.
7. Putting on an accent never hurt anyone. While it’s certainly not a requirement of a Spanish as a second language speaker to adopt the local accent, it does make you more approachable in conversation. For example, in Andalucía people often leave off the “s” at the end of words and end up saying things that sound like “grathia” instead of gracias. You don’t have to do it too, but it can certainly help you turn up the charm when chatting with a local.
8. Show off your idioms. Nothing says conversation like idioms and figures of speech. If you can manage to slip a few into your Spanish dialogue, you’ll not only convince the other speaker that you’re wiser than you look, but you’ll also get big brownie points for mastering something even native speakers struggle with. Imagine the many ways por los pelos which literally translates to “by the hairs” and in English means “by the skin of my teeth” could be put to good use!
9. Read up on local culture. Conversation works best when both parties have a base knowledge of the subject under discussion. Do your homework and make sure you stay on top of local news and cultural events. Articles from the foreign papers can help massively and their headlines are great conversations starters in themselves.
10. Keep your skills sharp. The most important thing you can do to improve your spoken Spanish is practice as often as you can. Find yourself a conversation class or a local language meet up and practice mixing your topics and settings so you get experience in a range of situations.
Have a tip for improving conversational Spanish? Share it in the comments!