Spanish Tips

When it comes to Spanish, we've been there, done that, now serving 143 tips in 10 categories ranging from Conversational Spanish to Types of Spanish Classes.

How can I practice conversational Spanish?

Find a conversation partner

There are many Spanish-speakers living all over the US. Find out where they may be offering English as a Second Language classes in your community and volunteer to help or put up an ad that you're interested in practicing Spanish. Meet with your new partner and speak for a half hour in English and a half hour in Spanish. Picking a couple of topics before the meeting will help it go smoothly. Do you want to discuss favorite foods, movies, or perhaps your families? You will both benefit from the experience and you're likely to make a new friend in the process.

How can I learn and remember new vocabulary words?

Add gestures to new vocabulary

Adding gestures to new vocabulary words that you are learning is a great way to put them in your long-term memory, especially if you tend to be a visual or kinesthetic learner. Pick an action that makes sense to you, and as you repeat the word, do the accompanying action. Having trouble thinking of an action to use? A great resource is American Sign Language signs. Many of these are visual representations of the word--perfect for adding to a new Spanish word! This is a great website to find ASL signs:
You simply find the word you are looking for in the alphabetical list and click on it. You will be given a written description of how to sign the word as well as see a video clip of a person demonstrating the sign. Just add your Spanish vocabulary word and you're set!

What if I can't afford to travel abroad to learn Spanish?

Immersion programs in the US

Even if you can't afford to travel abroad to learn Spanish, there are opportunities here in the US to be immersed in the language. Many school districts around the country are offering immersion or partial immersion programs. There are also opportunities for children as well as adults to study in the summer in an immersion environment. Concordia Language Villages based in Bemidji, MN offers immersion summer camp experiences in 13 different languages. There are offerings for adults and families in the summer and throughout the year.

How can I practice speaking if I'm not in a conversation course?

Helpful Practice Tips

Ok. So the best way to learn a language is to practice as much as possible. Obviously, immersion is the best way to practice a language, but even if you can't afford to go to a Spanish speaking country, you can get some mini immersion right here in the states. Here's how:

1. Get an ‘intercambio' (exchange partner) right here in the US. Either through someone you know, or online, you can find a partner to converse with (or type with) in Spanish. This is excellent practice. There are programs across the country for volunteer exchange (check out your local college or university for their programs) where native Spanish speakers who want to practice their English are willing to split time between you practicing your Spanish with them and them practicing their English with you.

2. Date a native Spanish speaker. Whether you are living abroad or in the US the best way to practice Spanish is to date someone who is a native speaker. This is NOT a suggestion to date someone JUST because they are a native speaker. I do not presume to make suggestions about your love life. However, it is very useful as far as practicing the language goes. Even after living in Spain for a year, my Spanish would not have reached true native fluency had I not come back with a Spanish boyfriend. In fact, my Spanish continued to improve the entire time we were together, even once I was back in the states.

3. Speak with any native Spanish speakers you come across at work, at your school, at your kids' school, in the grocery store, etc. Most people are happy to help you practice, although be wary of insulting people by trying to speak to them in Spanish even once they insist that you speak in English, and that their English is better than your Spanish. As long as you make it clear that you want to practice your Spanish, and improve, people should be friendly about it. But, there are non native English speakers who will take offense if you insist on addressing them in Spanish when their English is perfectly good and your Spanish is not.

4. Talk to yourself and think to yourself in Spanish. Ok, I know you might feel funny talking to yourself in a language that is not your own, but it helps and it can be less embarrassing than trying to talk to someone else and getting flustered with your mistakes. When you talk to yourself you're the only one who hears you and you can correct yourself all you want without making yourself feel bad. Don't want to do it out loud? Then just think to yourself in Spanish, it's great practice too, and then no one else wonders why you're mumbling to yourself in Spanish. Ideally when you are truly immersed in a language you should be thinking in that language automatically. In the meantime, make yourself think in Spanish so that you can practice whenever, and wherever you want.

How do I ask the meaning of words in Spanish?

Key Phrases for Learning Spanish

If you're going to be taking an immersion class, or if you're going to be traveling in a Spanish speaking country, or if you're just taking a class where the instructor insists on you using Spanish as often as possible, you should know a few key phrases to get you along without having to resort to English. ‘¿Comó se dice…?' means ‘How do you say…?” and can be used before a word in English that you would like to know how to say in Spanish. For example: “¿Comó se dice ‘car'?” would mean, “How do you say ‘car'?” The response would be “Se dice ‘coche'.” meaning “You say ‘coche.'” If you want to know what something in Spanish means in English you say “¿Qué significa…?” meaning “What is the meaning of…?” For example: “¿Qué significa arbusto?” means “What is the meaning of ‘arbusto'?” The response for which would be “Arbusto significa ‘bush'” meaning “ ‘Arbusto' means bush.” (Note that if you ask this question to a native speaker they may just give you a definition for ‘arbusto' in Spanish since you have just asked what the meaning of the word is, and haven't specified that you want the meaning in English. If you do want the meaning in English just tag on “…en ingles” to the end of your question. For example: “¿Qué significa arbusto en ingles?”)

Why is pronunciation so important?

A Few Important Pronunciation Tips

There are a few issues of pronunciation in Spanish that non native speakers frequently mess up, which can lead to rather embarrassing mistakes. Take the letter ‘ñ' for example, this letter is pronounced like the ‘ny' in ‘canyon'. In Spanish the word for year is ‘año.' However, there is another word, ‘ano', with a very different meaning. (It means anus.) If you fail to pronounce the ‘ñ' (or fail to write it) in a given sentence it could be a very grave mistake. You could, in fact, confuse “I am thirty years old.” = “Tengo trienta años.” With “I have thirty butt holes.” = “Tengo treinta anos.” A mistake you probably don't want to make. There are a number of other mistakes like this you don't want to make. I give you the ‘ll' pronounced like the ‘y' in ‘your'. Many people introduce themselves with the following phrase in Spanish “Me llamo Virginia.” The ‘ll' pronounced correctly makes this sentence mean “I call myself Virginia.” However, if you pronounce this sentence “Me lamo Virginia.” Thus, using the ‘l' pronounciation instead of ‘y' it means “I lick myself, Virginia.” Again, something to be avoided. And finally we come to the ‘rr' not nearly as amusing an example as the first two, but certainly not a mistake you want to make. The ‘rr' is pronounced as a trill (like the noise you make when you're a little kid and you're trying to imitate machine gun fire). However, a single ‘r' is just pronounced almost like an American ‘r' (the difference can't really be demonstrated in writing). However, mispronouncing the ‘rr' can still change the meaning of a word. For example the word ‘perro' meaning dog vs. the word ‘pero' meaning but (as in however.) These are not the only mistakes that can be made simply by mispronouncing a letter, but they are some of the most common and the first two are definitely some of the most amusing.

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Sherril Steele-Carlin