Conversation is so deeply embedded in our daily life that we sometimes forget how complex it can be. We take it for granted so much that it often seems as though conversation were normal and natural.
We use our conversational skills to achieve different goals every day, such as buying something, making friends, and complaining about what we think is wrong. But, it has not always been so! As kids, we spent years trying to understand what was being said to us. And, even after we could utter a few words, we had to learn how to use them properly in different situations.
In my particular case, I remember having insulted an old woman without meaning to, because I asked my father,
Papi, ¿Por qué esa señora es tan gorda?
Dad, why is that lady so fat?
…. I am sure I am not the only one who has had that kind of awkward moment. At that time, I didn’t know that talking about a woman’s weight in front of her is not polite. Therefore, learning a language also implies learning some cultural conventions.
If you are learning Spanish, you have to take into account aspects that go beyond words. You have mastered the “rituals” and accepted topics of your society, but Spanish may have some aspects that differ from them and that are important if you want to be accepted and understood by native Spanish speakers.
Here I provide you with five useful tips that you can put into practice in order to improve your conversational skills.
1: Watch TV programs and movies in Spanish
Watching TV programs and movies provides you with real life interaction in Spanish. Pay attention to turn-taking, intonation, the topics people talk about, the way they greet each other, body expressions, etc.
If possible, activate subtitles in Spanish in order to guide you through what is being said. Take advantage of the many resources that are available on-line or on DVD, nowadays, there is no excuse for not learning Spanish! You can also try to repeat what you hear in order to practice your pronunciation. Moreover, it’s really fun!
2: Do not learn words in isolation
Many learners think that the more vocabulary you know, the better. In a sense, that is true: by means of words, we can structure our messages. But, the problem is that they learn words in isolation. Nevertheless, in real life, words almost always occur with other words and in specific situations. What is the use of learning something if you don’t know how and when to employ it?
Try to provide a meaningful context to the expressions and words you learn so you can remember them better. In this way, when you are speaking to another person in Spanish, you will be able to recall the words you learnt and use them properly.
3: Listen and read in Spanish
Listening and reading in Spanish provides you with new words and expressions that can be used in future conversations. Why are they so important?
Well, imagine you know a lot of expressions, but when a Spanish speaker talks to you, you can’t understand a word. You won’t be able to interact in a successfully way! Moreover, they are important means to help you internalize the rules of Spanish.
Not everything is learnt through grammar books, there is some content that you will learn as you use the language in real life communication. Try to find topics in Spanish that interest you. It is also a useful way to learn about the culture and the issues that Spanish speakers usually discuss.
4: Record yourself speaking Spanish
Recording yourself is a useful way to increase your awareness of how you actually sound in Spanish. When you listen to yourself, you can be your own audience and see what needs to be improved in your oral production.
Some questions you may ask yourself when listening to your recordings are:
- Am I fluent enough when I speak Spanish? Do I sound natural?
- Do I make myself plain when I engage in oral communication?
- Is my pronunciation clear?
- Will a native Spanish speaker understand what I want to say?
This is also a useful way to keep track of your improvements in Spanish.
5: Engage in conversations with native Spanish speakers
And, last but not least, engaging in real life conversations with native speakers is a key aspect to success in Spanish conversation. After all, you are learning Spanish to talk to them! You can easily find conversation partners and teachers on italki.
Interaction with native speakers provides you with the chance to use all you have learnt and to receive useful feedback from them. Seek as many opportunities as you can to talk to native speakers. Even some topics that seem useless, such as talking about the weather or your last vacation, are important in that they serve to maintain social relationships among people.
Finally, always bear in mind that your ultimate goal is to be able to communicate successfully. It does not matter if you make mistakes; they are also very important in your learning process. So, I encourage you to speak Spanish as much as possible. As we say in Spanish, La práctica hace al maestro (practice makes perfect)… and it really does apply to learning a foreign language!