How to reduce you accent in Spanish
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 lack of confidence either (that’s only one of the consequences).
The reason why people succeed 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 went 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 this Spaniard 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 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.
But do you know anyone who has never felt embarrassed or ashamed when speaking a foreign language?
Do you think polyglots didn’t feel nervous when they were learning a foreign language for the first time?
One thing is clear.
Effective communication is more important than 100% perfect grammar.
If you reduce your accent people will understand 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.
You decide you are going to attend salsa lessons with the best salsa dancer. When you get to class, the dancer gives you a book.
«Open the book, page 11» – he sais.
«As a dancer shifts their weight by stepping, the upper body remains level and nearly unaffected by the weight changes. Weight shifts cause the hips to move. Arm and shoulder movements…»
(You see where am I going with this).
There’s no point in learning salsa through theory.
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 need to listen, feel, repeat… You have to dance. To step on your partner.
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, when they should be speaking (and making mistakes).
If you start by reading and writing, you’ll only save deaf words in your brain. You will recognize those words when you see them, but not when you hear them in conversations.
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, which 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 where they want to get but they don’t know which way to go.
They want to improve their Spanish speaking and listening skills. They know how good they will feel when they get there, 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 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.
- 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.
I believe everyone in the world can speak fluent Spanish
Only by improving your pronunciation, you’d speak more clearly, fluently and confidently.
People would stop asking you to repeat yourself. And you’d understand much better.
To get this, you don’t need any special talent, books, 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).
Solid, well-thought baby steps.
There are many tools you can use to improve your accent, you should know how to use them properly though. Otherwise your efforts will be useless and you’ll waste your time, as mine were during years.
Remember that you shouldn’t learn Spanish by studying but by speaking (unless you speak better that you read or write).
I still haven’t found a magic formula to improve Spanish speaking skills overnight (I promise I’ll let you know if I do). However, after over 10 years, I found out an effective way to reduce English accent when speaking Spanish with songs, films, YouTube videos… in 4-6 weeks. No theory.
Before I start with any project I need to know more about my client and whether I’m the right person to help. If I’m not, I clearly say my clients and recommend other Spanish teachers according to their neds.
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