How the hell do you say ‘to shower’ again? I thought as our house father showed us around the house. We’d just got in after a long 7 hour flight from Philly and a seemingly even longer trek up three flights of stairs with two ginormous suitcases. I felt so yucky. All I wanted was cleanliness and rest. I think it’s ‘lucha.’ Yeah. That sounds about right.
“Necesito lucha,” I said. I appreciated the tour, but it needed to be cut short. He paused for a moment. Then, “Oh, yes!” as he took us to the one full bath in the house. See, I knew I was right.
Of course I later found out that I was wrong. Really wrong. But if you want to learn Spanish, or any foreign language for that matter, you’d better get used to being wrong.
As you can see, I know first-hand how tough speaking a foreign language can be. Here are a few ways to help you become fluent in Spanish in no time!
Speak! And Speak Some More!
While “I need to fight,” certainly isn’t a good first impression, my house family, having housed at least a hundred foreigners before, understood what I was trying to say and appreciated me attempting to learn their language and culture.
That’s the attitude that most Spaniards have. Appreciation. A “thank you for trying” attitude if you will.
I’ve even had a couple store clerks tell me “good job” (yep, in English) after struggling and stumbling over my words trying to communicate with them about something as simple as grocery store items.
It’s an inevitable and yes, embarrassing, part of language learning, but something you’re just going to have to get comfortable with. There’s no way around it. The more you do something, the better you get at it and it’s no different with speaking Spanish. If you want to get better at speaking, you have to speak, even if you sound like a 2 year old.
Luckily, like I said, most people will receive you warmly. Some will even start talking with you in Spanish at a mile a minute. (Just say “sí” or “vale.”) Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to use the language!
There were two other American boys who stayed with our house family. One was of Mexican descent and spoke Spanish fluently. The other, while half-Mexican, only had a low intermediate grasp of the language. At the dinner table, he’d mostly converse with his friend in English (which I thought was rude because our house parents couldn’t understand them.) Whenever he’d venture and try to use Spanish to communicate with them, he’d stop and start often, look down, and ask his friend to translate a word or phrase for him.
Now, the struggling part is nothing new. That’s common and expected. But as he looked down and paused to think really hard when trying to speak, you could tell he really wasn’t confident in his language ability.
Sure, he wasn’t nearly fluent in Spanish, but duh, of course you’re going to suck at a new language. It’s not your native language! You’re not going to take a couple Spanish classes, wake up and be fluent in a few weeks. It takes hard work, practice, and confidence.
Yes, you have to be confident with the language skills of a toddler. Be confident as you stop and start, stumble and tumble around your words. Like I already said, you’re going to make mistakes. You have to be okay with that. Trip over your words with style. Which brings me to my next point.
Get Comfortable With Making Mistakes
Actually, Lord bless my roommate who studied abroad with me. Bless her heart. She’s the epitome of speaking with confidence. Her Spanish was worse than mine. At least I could form phrases and sentences for the most part, despite them being conjugated incorrectly and spoken in the wrong order.
My roommate would just spit out one word at a time, no complete sentences. Her pronunciation was not great. She’d mime and point around to express her thoughts at the dinner table. I would look to my right and just marvel at her fantastical way of communicating with our house family. Hey, they understood her! And they appreciated her attempting to speak Spanish to the best of her ability. That’s all you really can do.
I laugh now, but back then I was in awe of her audacity, her will to sound like a complete fool instead of sticking to her comfort zone. There I was, a whole two Spanish levels above her and afraid to open my mouth. She inspired me.
While I’d taken years of Spanish before I got to Spain, I wasn’t great at speaking it at all. My listening was so-so and far above my speaking skills, since I could easily hide behind the 20 or so other students in class and not have to open my mouth. I wasn’t comfortable speaking Spanish because I knew I sucked at it and would make a ton of mistakes. But in order to stop sucking, I needed to speak, flaws and all!
Living in a country where you’re forced to use the language if you want to survive and get around obviously counteracted my fear. Hearing Spanish spoken everyday and having teachers who were strict about using Spanish in the classroom helped a lot, too.
By the time my trip was over, you couldn’t stop me from speaking! I remember visiting the museums in Barcelona and ordering my tickets to the multi-lingual staff, who could already speak English as well as several other languages probably. They readily responded to me with a smile, respecting me for using the country’s language, even though I was just one tourist among thousands who visited the museum everyday.
Get Creative With Expressing Yourself
You’re not always going to have your Spanish-speaking friend around to translate things for you or what happens when your phone dies and you can’t use that handy translation app?
It’s okay. Sometimes you’ve got to say “that thing you put money in” when you don’t know the word for “wallet” or rethink what you’re trying to say the English way, and say it in a way that utilizes the Spanish vocabulary that you do know.
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Let go of that fear of sounding dumb or being misunderstood when learning a language. You’re not dumb. You just don’t know the language that well.
As far as being misunderstood, get creative with your expression. Play charades if you have to. You’ll actually come to learn that there’s a lot more to communication than language. A lot more. It’s all about tone and context clues. Don’t be inseCURR, girl!
Remember these important tips
↠ Speak! And speak some more!
↠ Be confident.
↠ Get comfortable making mistakes.
↠ Get creative with expressing yourself.
And, above all, ¡viva!
What do you do to feel comfortable learning a new language?
Layla A. Reaves is a freelance writer and editor whose current goal is to fill up the pages in her passport and become fluent in Spanish and Mandarin along the way. Check out some of her other slightly angry, yet woke pieces on her personal blog.