Mastering the speaking element of a language is always the trickiest.
To improve your fluency in speaking you can’t just rely on memorising useful phrases or the most common words of a language.
While this can certainly help, it inhibits your ability to spontaneously produce the language.
If you take away the crutches and make yourself vulnerable by allowing yourself to speak and make mistakes from the beginning, you’ll find that progress comes much more quickly.
You’ll also find that you are able to achieve real fluency in the long run because you have built a solid foundation and the good habit of natural expression rather than canned lines.
Speaking can generally be broken down into a few different stages.
First, there’s the pronunciation of the sounds associated with the language. Then, there’s the replication of these sounds in coherent sentences. Finally, in the last stage, you can produce the language into grammatically correct sentences without thinking too much.
Perfect Your Pronunciation First
Before you get ahead of yourself and try to recite poetry from Cervantes or strike up a conversation about Spanish politics with a native speaker, you should build a solid foundation for speaking.
You can think of pronunciation as the foundations of a house. If you don’t do it well the first time, then you could have problems later down the line.
That’s why you should make every effort to learn the rules of pronunciation in Spanish before you get carried away with conversation.
Luckily for you, Spanish is a phonetic language which means once you know how a letter is pronounced it will always have that same sound. Not like in English where the ‘a’ can be different from word to word like ‘apple’ and ‘May’.
Learn Your ABCs
As for where you should start, there’s no better way than with the alphabet.
Find audio of a native Spanish speaker pronouncing each letter of the alphabet, and try to repeat the way they say it.
Even better, find a video on YouTube with someone showing you the correct lip, mouth, and tongue positioning as they pronounce each letter. This sounds like a lot to take in at first, but trust me, if you do this now you will save yourself a lot of time in the long term.
Plus, you will put yourself in a much better position to speak like a native than someone who rushed ahead and started to converse in Spanish assuming the English ‘a’ sounds just like the Spanish one.
Combinations of Tricky Sounds
Once you’ve got the alphabet down, it’s time to focus in on the tricky letters and combinations of sounds.
The single and double ‘r’ in Spanish are notoriously difficult to master, but there are lots of great tutorials on YouTube that can help you get better at it quickly. The YouTube channel ‘Linguisticator’ has a great instructional video called ‘How to Trill Your Rs’ which should give you a clear idea of what to do.
As for combinations, vowel pairs are quite common in Spanish so you’ll need to master them too.
A vowel pair is when two vowels are next to each other and take on a slightly different sound. For example, when you put the ‘u’ and ‘e’ together in ‘fuego’ it makes more of a ‘whey’ sound.
Put the Sounds Together
Once you have gotten to grips with vowels, consonants, and combined sounds in Spanish, you’ll want to work on putting them together to make words and sentences.
To do so, you have various options.
The best way is to work with a tutor or native speaker, but failing that, practising by yourself can be effective too in the right conditions.
Practise with a Tutor
Practising with a tutor is always going to be the best way to improve quickly with your spoken Spanish.
They can correct your pronunciation errors, and introduce you to useful sentences and the basics of conversation when you feel confident enough.
They can also give you the tools to retain all of the new vocabulary you come across.
Working with a Spanish tutor in person can be a great way to improve since they can give you detailed feedback on what you need to do to get better.
To find one near you, check local notice boards at university campuses or town halls. There might even be a few names in the local directory you could look up.
The more popular way to work with a tutor these days is to do so online.
This way you can practise from the convenience of your own home, so you really have no excuse to miss a session.
Superprof can be a great way to find an English speaker who has a Master or equivalent degree in Spanish.
The benefit of working with an English tutor is you can fall back on English when you’re unsure how to say something.
You also won’t need to feel intimidated about speaking to a native speaker, which for some people can be a big deal.
- Italki & Verbling
Italki and Verbling are similar tutoring platforms which let you find native Spanish speakers to practice with.
The benefit of this is you can find someone from any spanish-speaking country to work with. This way you can work to improve your Spanish accent and get tips from someone who knows the language inside out. You can also learn spanish by indulging your curiosity about the tutor’s native country.
This is especially useful if you plan on visiting a specific Spanish-speaking country at some point.
While practising alone might not lead to the same amount of progress as working with a tutor would, it’s still better than doing nothing.
If you practise in the right ways, you could even correct your own errors which is satisfying in its own right.
Speak Out Loud
The only way to practise speaking alone is to speak out loud.
It sounds obvious but not many people do it.
Because it seems silly. A lot of people would rather not practise than talk to themselves in a mirror, but it can really help, especially if you do the following.
Talking aloud when you’re on your own is good, but recording yourself as you do it is better.
If you capture the audio you can listen back to it and compare it to a native’s pronunciation. Better still, you can have your tutor listen to it and provide potentially useful feedback to improve your pronunciation.
It might even benefit you to take video too, since that way you will be able to see if your mouth is moving the same way as a native’s would. If you pronounce one vowel with pursed lips when it’s supposed to be said with a wide open mouth then you’ll know how to improve.
You could even get extra writing practise by making a script which you then use to practise pronunciation.
Hold a Conversation
Conversation is the final stage and most difficult part of mastering spoken Spanish.
To make the step up from beginner to intermediate Spanish conversational ability, these are some steps you can take.
Work On Your Inhibition
One of the biggest obstacles to practising conversation in Spanish comes in the form of inhibition.
That’s probably why some people claim that drinking helps them speak a foreign language.
But aside from drinking, which we don’t recommend, how else can you feel more confident to express yourself in another language?
Loosen Your Tongue
Sometimes we stumble over our words when we speak another language, and this knocks our confidence.
By loosening the tongue, you will likely find it easier to flow from one word to the next.
In some cases, like the trilled Spanish ‘r’, you literally do need to loosen your tongue. A rigid tongue isn’t going to get you there, so you can work on relaxing it as you pronounce that sound.
Another way to loosen your tongue for conversation is by warming up before you speak to another human. Read a Spanish text from Wikipedia aloud, recite some Spanish poetry, or just have an introductory conversation with yourself before you leave the house.
Just like immediately being social doesn’t come naturally to all of us, neither does immediately speaking a foreign language fluidly.
Use Spanish Resources
Sometimes you need to look to external sources to make the most progress, so here are two that you can check out to improve your spoken Spanish:
- Mimic Method
If you like the idea of training your spoken Spanish through music then Mimic Method is a great resource to check out.
I personally tried out the freestyle rap course and was surprised at how much it helped me loosen my tongue and find my flow in conversation.
Nothing quite reduces your inhibition like publicly posting videos of yourself rapping in your target language.
Freestyle rap is honestly a great way to develop fluidity in conversation as you can work on bringing new words and phrases to mind with a beat.
If you’re just starting out with Spanish pronunciation, or you’ve been at it for a while but still can’t nail the tricky ‘r’ sound, Assimil is a great resource to try out.
Assimil provides regular 30-40 minute classes where they expose the learner to the sounds of the language before asking them to repeat them. They are then tested on their knowledge to make sure the sounds went in correctly.