If after years of studying Spanish your speaking and listening skills still suck, there's one thing that may help you decode fast-talking Spanish natives and reduce your accent
Please, the first thing I want you to know is that I don’t have a degree in Spanish Philology. I don’t hold an MA in Teaching Spanish either. I don’t speak flawless English and you may see mistakes in this text.
If this is a problem for you, you shouldn’t continue reading.
But before anything, did you know that the number 1 reason why people get stuck and speak Spanish like a shy alien is NOT their grammar or vocabulary?
It’s not a lack of confidence either (that’s only one of the consequences).
The reason why people succeed in speaking Spanish is not that they have a special gift for learning languages. That’s a myth.
There’s something much simpler (and within everyone’s reach) than the “gift” that will make you speak better Spanish
And it’s faster than you think.
Let me tell you a short story to explain this.
13 years ago I travelled to the USA. Few days before, I had my birthday. I was 17 years old and I had been studying English since Primary School.
It was the first time I traveled alone. I didn’t care at all. I was young, determined and a bit foolish. And I’d always aced my English exams at school.
After more that 24 hours and 4 planes I had no trouble to communicate. Everybody understood what I said.
However, when I arrived in Minnesota, to a little town where I was the only foreigner for miles around, the reality slapped my face.
People didn’t understand my broken English.
My exams said I had a level B1, but when I met someone, when I walked into a store, even when I said something as simple as “I’m in high school and I like skiing” (something I already said thousands of times in class)… the same conversation occurred:
«What? What?» – Americans kept asking.
So I repeated myself; again and again.
«Ahhh! You mean … ?» – they finally said (repeating my exact words).
It was frustrating.
Why didn’t people understand?
… «That’s just what I said».
Of course, it was not.
Sometimes my grammar was perfect. But my pronunciation was terrible. In the beginning, I couldn’t notice the difference between what I said and what I heard.
Sometimes I didn’t understand them either.
What I studied at school had nothing to do with real-life English.
After 10 years of studying, I only had grammar knowledge that I rarely make into action, and lots of pronunciation errors that were never corrected.
The difference between people who speak Spanish fluently, naturally and confidently, and those who do not
Speaking Spanish is no easy task. If it was, everybody would speak flawless Spanish.
Do you know anyone who has never felt embarrassed or ashamed when speaking a foreign language? Do you think polyglots have never felt nervous?
One thing is clear.
Effective communication is more important than 100% perfect grammar.
If you don’t have a thick accent people will understand better, and you will gain confidence and overcome feelings of embarrassment and shyness.
- To continue studying grammar is usually a bad idea (and a waste of time).
- Acing tests or those “fill the gaps” exercises gives you a fake feeling of improvement.
- Studying endless lists of words won’t make you speak better Spanish.
The secret of successful language learners is that they don’t study (I’ll explain this later).
Speaking is not about theory. It’s not a mathematical formula you have to learn. Speaking is a skill and, like any other skill, you learn by practicing (this is the missing ingredient in your Spanish recipe).
Imagine you want to learn salsa and you only have 2 options:
- Buying the best book about salsa. One that explains everything crystal clear, contains lots of images to help you understand the movements, and exercises to practice by drawing stick-figures dancing.
- Watching a salsa dancer and repeating his/her movements.
Which one would you choose?
There’s no point in learning salsa through theory; by drawing stick figures. You need to listen, feel, repeat… You have to dance. To step on your partner.
So is there any point in learning Spanish through theory (by reading and writing)? I guess you want to speak, not to accumulate notebooks full of vocabulary, exercises and grammar rules..
Knowing everything about salsa won’t make you a better dancer, as well as knowing more grammar rules won’t make you speak better Spanish.
You can’t put the cart before the horse. And that’s exactly what most people do when learning foreign languages.
People study Spanish from day 1 (they learn by eye), when they should be speaking and making mistakes(learning by ear).
If you start by reading and writing, you’ll only save deaf words in your brain (you’ll record letters instead of sounds).And you will recognize those words when you see them, but not when you hear them in conversations with native speakers.
You won’t be able to say them correctly, which usually causes low self-confidence, embarrassment or akwardness.
Is it your fault?
No, it isn’t.
Is it your teacher’s fault?
No, it isn’t.
We’re victims of an expired education system. This means double work: Learn + Forget + Re-learn.
The big question: What have you done to improve your Spanish?
There’s one thing all my clients have in common: They know they want to speak more clearly, fluently and confidently. And to better understand. But they don’t know which way to go.
They want to improve their Spanish speaking and listening skills so they study hard (big mistake).
When I ask my clients what they have tried, I always get the same answers:
- I bought this textbook and did all the exercises.
- I practice with X app.
- I watch YouTube videos.
- I listen to Spanish music.
- I have a notebook where I write all the new words I learn.
- I attend Spanish lessons.
- I read books, forums, comment on them…
Apparently, they have tried everything.
They search and consume information, understand, take notes, memorize, do exercises… But when they speak, they end up using the same words. The same sentences. And making the same mistakes.
Why don’t they progress? Why are they stuck?
Improving your Spanish is simple but you're going round in circles
If you keep learning Spanish by studying you will never feel ready to speak. There will be always something else you need to learn.
Don’t wait until you’re ready because that day never comes.
The bigger the distance between your reading/writing and your listening/speaking skills, the more you feel you need to learn. So you will keep studying, feeding your eyes, and you’ll get frustrated because you won’t see any progress when speaking Spanish.
(The distance between your reading and speaking skills grows, you feel you need to learn more so you study, the distance between your reading and speaking skills grows…).
I wonder why anybody would want to memorize a list with 20 animals/garden tools/stuff around the house. How many times did you use the words jirafa, pala, or florero in real-life conversations?
People fill their brains with stuff (vocab, grammar, syntax…) that they don’t use when they talk because:
- They don’t need it (mainly vocabulary).
- Their speaking/listening skills are so poor that all their vocab and grammar fade away.
They know the word but they aren’t able to pronounce it right or recognize when they hear it. Or they are so nervous that they forget it.
Because they’ve been learning Spanish the traditional way (the difficult way).
The most simple and effective way to learn a language is the other way round: speak first and then get it perfect.
Unmute those deaf words you memorized to decode fast-talking Spanish natives and reduce your accent
You don’t need any special talent or discipline. What you need is motivation and an IQ higher than that of a worm.
To know how to get from A (intermediate level, frustrated) to B (advanced level, fluency, self-confidence).
There are many tools you can use to improve your speaking and listening skills. But your efforts will be useless if you don’t use them properly, and you’ll waste your time, as I did for years.
I still haven’t found a magic formula to improve Spanish speaking skills overnight. However, after over 10 years of studying and teaching languages, I found out an effective method to reduce your gringo accent when speaking Spanish.
Within 4-6 weeks.
In no case, you’ll learn passively, just by watching TV or listening to music. You’ll learn how to make Spanish dance in your mouth. In your ears. And you can only do that by practicing.
Before I start with any project I need to know more about my client and whether I’m the right person to help. When I’m not, I clearly say my clients, and recommend other Spanish teachers or resources according to their needs.
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