Find Native Spanish Speakers to Practice Conversation

If you are from an area where there are not a lot of Spanish speakers this video/slide show will give you some ideas how I learned.

Advertisements

How to find Spanish speakers in Your Area

Level: All Levels

In the summer of 1995 I sadly finished another college internship at Disney World and returned home to Ohio. It was my second time doing the program within a year’s time. I didn’t want to leave for many reasons, but one was because the amount of Spanish speakers that I would encounter would drop off the face of the earth. There just aren’t that many native Spanish-speakers in Ohio especially compared to Central Florida and this is both the visitors from out of the country and residents.

So how was I going to practice Spanish with seemingly no one to practice with?

It did look gloomy, but there was hope. That ray of light that shines through when all hope seems lost. I wanted to learn so badly that there was nothing that was going to stop me. I found Spanish speakers any way I could.  One of the first things I did was work a part-time job at a Mexican restaurant. There I met someone that would have a great impact on my language skills for the rest of my life. The funny thing was he was Puerto Rican, not Mexican. Rafael taught me what few people would do and that is to illustrate the slight differences in pronunciation between similar sounds in both English and Spanish. For example, the “de” in “de nada” is soft, more like the “th” in the words “they, the, this”. When you pronounce it like the hard sound in English as in the words “dog or David” then you speak with an accent. I never would have noticed if he hadn’t told me. Nevertheless, the point here is I looked for people. This is just one example.

There are other lessons I learned in Ohio about Spanish that I still could list off to you to this day. I will give you some ideas further down. I discovered an important key to finding the right people and situations to improve my language proficiency, not all are equal. The main thing you are looking to do when seeking out Spanish speakers is to make friends with natives, even if they are just acquaintances. The ideal person is the one that wants to help you, who has patience and better yet if they can explain grammar and why things are said the way they are.

Celebrate every new word, every time you understand when a native speaks to you or a new phrase.  Learning 10 new words, 50 a 100 is still more than you knew before. You start with words and some phrases, just words and phrases. Later you learn how to use verbs, the action words that act like glue to make the other words stick together which turn into sentences. You get better at making those sentences and you get better at understanding them being spoken to you as time goes on and then BOOM- you are very effective at communicating in Spanish.

I promise you there are native Spanish speakers somewhere in your area. You do NOT have to travel to another country to learn Spanish.  This brief list gives you a variety because I know that not all are possible for everyone.

List of Places to Find Native Spanish Speakers in Your Area

  • Spanish church: the service itself is good to learn from but the more important part is making friends before and after.
  • Family owned Latin American restaurants or cafes (Mexican, Dominican, Venezuelan, Colombian, Puerto Rican, etc.): the non-chain places are more likely to have native speakers working the whole restaurant, from hostess to server. I frequented a place and learned a lot just by creating conversation. Visit when it’s not busy.
  • Latin American Supermarkets or Convenience Stores: Not only learn the different names of foods from the signs but everyone usually is either native or second generation who speak it fluently. Even the ones here in the US remind me very much of the ones in Venezuela. See how more closely knit everyone is. All the customers and employees know each other.
  • Dance Classes (salsa, merengue): want to spice things up and have some fun? Learn how different dancing and music mean to Latin Americans and make some friends along the way.
  • Spanish tutors: you don’t need to drop a ton of money on a zillion lessons but just a few can help and again you can make friends with them and their friends. Latin Americans are very social people and often build a big circle of friends. You can find the tutors nowadays much more easily with the use of the internet. I found a tutor through my mom’s school where she taught and learned a lot just the few visits I went.
  • Universities: some students plan parties, festivals and other events. Sometimes native speakers are official tutors at the university for other students.
  • Latin American Festivals: great food, music and lots of people to meet. These are great opportunities for Latin Americans to meet each other especially in places where there aren’t many. There should be some that take place in your area.
  • Beauty Salons: Many Latin American women love to style hair and do nails and often start their own businesses.
  • Neighbors: Often there is someone in your neighborhood that’s a native speaker, even if just one. And people know people.
  • Farmers Markets and Flea Markets: This is a great place for Latin Americans to make some money while sharing their culture, plus a tasty way for you to experience it too.

You all will encounter obstacles while traveling down your Spanish journey. You will say things like, “I’m too busy”, “I’ve got kids”, “I don’t know any Spanish so how can I practice, where do I begin”, and others.  It can be hard, but you can find ways. Please, please, please do not feel like you have to be on a schedule to learn, that you need hours and hours of time every week to learn because you don’t.

Don’t stop after the first few attempts to find people to practice with. It took me a few attempts before having success. But again, if you live in an area where there are not many Spanish speakers do not let this discourage you, seek them out, they are there.

Improve Spanish Fluency: Popular Spanish Songs, Estoy Enamorado by Wisin & Yandel

Before the age of the internet, yes there used to be no internet, or just very few people surfed it, you used to have to buy a CD or, eek, a cassette or record, in order to get the written lyrics to help you with exercises in which to improve your Spanish fluency. Well, luckily when I lived in Venezuela I had plenty of people that could help. So my best friend Felipo listened to the entire track of a couple of songs that had been given to me a few years prior and wrote down all the words. Up to that point I had heard each song no less than 100 times each and could make out many of the words, but once Felipo wrote them all down for me on paper I was able to memorize the whole thing. In fact, just the other day I tested my memory and to my surprise was able to recite most of the song still to this day and it’s been several years since I even thought about it. Those two songs were “El Tiburon” and “Pedro Navaja” by Ruben Blades, old school salsa from the 70s. That’s when the salsa was really good, when the songs told a vivid story. Memorizing songs will help your fluency, it will teach you how to say new phrases and guess what? It will also improve your grammar. So for all those Spanish students out there across the globe dreading wading through the hundreds of pages from a text book, here is a great way to have fun while learning. When you memorize lyrics you don’t have to think about what is being said. The words are automatically “downloaded” into you mind and BOOM, you are speaking fluently, at least for a little bit.

What songs are best to improve Spanish fluency?

I do recommend in another post that beginners practice with children’s Spanish songs, but that’s not for fluency, rather learning vocabulary and to create a foundation of simple grammar. I’m asking you to try out cooler, modern songs to not only have fun, but to focus on mastering speech fluency, how NOT to sound like a robot when you talk. Now I do think salsa songs are the best for advanced learning, at least older Salsa from the 70s. They don’t just repeat the same chorus over and over and that’s all, rather they tell a story which will fill your head with lots of vocabulary. Chorus is good for beginners because it is easier to understand. A new hipper, popular song will be played on the radio more so you can hear it several times further making it easier to memorize. Plus it’s a way to know what people are listening to today. In general, today’s songs, no matter the genre, are simpler and easier to follow than the salsa songs previously mentioned, which often times are 10 minutes long! So let’s check out “Estoy Enamorado-” (I’m in Love) a slow song by Latin hip hop artists Wisin & Yandel. I love these guys, their songs range from slow to fast with very catchy lyrics and they are always on the radio here where I live. Click here to go to a video on Youtube to hear Estoy Enamorado, by Wisin &Yandel. Read the lyrics “letras” while you listen to the song. I’ve also provided the lyrics farther down here, just scroll down in a minute.  Make sure to click the link below the lyrics to print off a copy. By the way, a great place for the “letras” for Latin songs is www.musica.com. That’s where I go. The song is about the singer  thinking about the woman he loves, describing how he feels about her and how he wants to tell her about those feelings. How to Practice Spanish Fluency with this Song 1. Focus on the chorus: Estoy enamorado Te lo quiero confesar Totalmente ilusionado Me la paso pensandote nunca voy a soltarte English translation I’m in love I want to confess it to you Completely in love (my translation) I’m always thinking about you, I’m never going to let you go 2.

*Great Fluency Tip

Notice the running of the words together in the Chorus “Te lo quiero confesar,” sounds like “Teloquiero confesar,” two words instead of four. “Me la paso pensandote,” sounds like “Melapasopensandote,” two words instead of four again. “..nunca voy a soltarte,” sounds like “..nuncavoya soltarte.” 3.  Listen to the song at least 3 times before looking up any of the words with a Spanish-English dictionary. Spanish sounds fast to many English speakers and although I believe English sounds fast to others too, I do believe that Spanish theoretically could be spoken faster- more words per minute. This is because many words begin and end with vowels. You do not use your tongue or lips to pronounce them which allows you to slip right into the next word more easily, like in the chorus above. If you are in Spanish classes right now you rarely see teachers conducting lessons that improve fluency. This exercise will help. Have fun! (My apologies ahead of time, I did not input ALL the Spanish punctuation. ) Letras de la canción: Estoy Enamorado Una nueva mañana me levante pensando en todas las cosas lindas que hemos hecho W con Yandel. Pensando en tu olor, tu piel Para mi lo eres todo Quisiera estar siempre a tu lado Huir de todo mal (de todo mal) De tu cuerpo un esclavo Y creo que te he demostrado que Estoy enamorado (Simplemente) Te lo quiero confesar (Te lo queria decir) Totalmente ilusionado Me la paso pensandote nunca voy a soltarte (Rumba) Estoy enamorado Te lo quiero confesar Totalmente ilusionado Me la paso pensandote (Todo el tiempo) nunca voy a soltarte Escucha, W Queria progreso a la calle le dio un receso Mi voz tenia peso como un corazon preso Ella me libro de todo mal con tan solo un beso Ha sido un proceso pero el amor ya no da regreso Yo sigo a su lado, su amor es sagrado Tengo muy claro del amor el significado Ella tiene regaño conmigo ha batallado Vamos soldado nos hemos ayudado Estoy enamorado (Escuchame bien) Te lo quiero confesar (Yo te lo queria decir) Totalmente ilusionado Me la paso pensandote nunca voy a soltarte (Princesa) Estoy enamorado Te lo quiero confesar Totalmente ilusionado Me la paso pensandote nunca voy a soltarte (Ey Doble!) Ella tiene la sustancia de la perseverancia Tengo amor en abundancia Princesa tu has cambiado mi arrogancia Veinticinco problemas, cuarenta circunstancias Y yo te quiero decir, que tu cuerpo quiero consumir sin disumir, ella me empieza a dirigir Me toca y yo me empiezo a derretir (Tiene magia) Eres la mujer de mi vida lo tengo que admitir Señores Yandel! Quisiera estar siempre a tu lado Huir de todo mal (Solo quiero que dios me de la oportunidad) De tu cuerpo un esclavo Y creo que te he demostrado que Estoy enamorado (Presta atencion) Te lo quiero confesar (W, Yandel) Totalmente ilusionado Me la paso pensandote nunca voy a soltarte Estoy enamorado Te lo quiero confesar (W&Y Records) Totalmente ilusionado Me la paso pensandote nunca voy a soltarte eh Evidentemente tiene magia Tiene la llave de mi corazon en sus manos Quienes son? W, Yandel Victor ‘El Nazi’, Nesty El Profesor Gomez, W&Y Records Señora te lo tengo que decir Escucha bien Quisiera estar siempre a tu lado Huir de todo mal (de todo mal) De tu cuerpo un esclavo Y creo que te he demostrado que Estoy enamorado Te lo quiero confesar Totalmente ilusionado Me la paso pensandote nunca voy a soltarte Hope you enjoyed the song and keep returning to my blog for more Spanish fluency tips!

Top 10 Free Ways to Improve Listening Comprehension in Spanish

group conversation

If there’s one area I wish I could go back in time and work on more it would be listening comprehension. I would place a bigger emphasis on listening comprehension. It’s easy to learn new words if you practice and study enough, it’s easy to learn to read and write if you practice enough, but understanding the spoken word is more difficult. You do not have as much control over what is being said or how it’s pronounced. Native speakers of any language take short cuts to speak faster.  They slur words or partially pronounce them. We do the same in English. With all that being said there are many different ways to invest your time to improve your ear’s ability to pick up spoken Spanish. It does not matter what skill or experience level you are, any of these can either help you create a good base of knowledge of pronunciation or assist you in understanding the overall message when someone is speaking. Or if you have spoken Spanish for years this list can help you continue to improve.  I still do many of these myself to get better or to maintain my skills.  Here are my current top 10.

10. Radio DJs: I’m referring specifically to when there are at least two of them talking to each other between the songs. This is a great way to hear random conversations. Random is good because you cannot predict what will be said, this forces you to rely on your ear.

9.   Radio Talk Shows: when broadcasters or DJs invite a special guest onto their show who in turn answer calls from listeners this is a great way to hear more interactions. You can learn more Spanish vocabulary related to specific topics. This is another simple and easily-accessible way to invest your time into improving your listening comprehension.

8. Spanish Songs with Lyrics: Youtube has a treasure chest full of songs that show the lyrics. Many fans upload the song and create their own slide show presentation. First watch the video and read the words many times until you get familiar with all the words. Then listen to the song over and over without the help of the lyrics. This way you do not rely on reading the words, eliminate the visual aid. Check on reggaeton, Spanish pop, salsa or bachata songs.

7. Radio Commercials: Humorous, serious, jingles, real-life situations and more. Spanish commercials on the radio are fun to listen to and will help you to understand the overall message. Even if you just understand a few words you will probably understand what the product or service is that is being promoted. Just turn on your radio while you are driving, listen to the music and to the commercials in between.

6. TV Commercials: The combination of visual aids and audio provide a complete way of learning new words, phrases and above all another way to force you to try to understand what the message is. You will have a much easier time understanding TV commercials versus radio commercials, but I do recommend both.

5. Children’s TV Shows/ DVDs: The simpler, less deep content is easier to follow and refreshing. Many shows use many visual aids and display words with the intention of teaching Latin children how to learn Spanish. For anyone starting out learning Spanish this would the number one way to improve Spanish listening comprehension. This method also serves as a way to learn new vocabulary and how to construct sentences.

4. Comedy Shows: There’s a slew of them. I admit I haven’t watched any in a long while, but they are another less intense, laid back way to practice. Many jokes will go right over your head, but you will pick up more than you think. It’s a great way to learn a bit about the Latin culture to get a little glimpse on their sense of humor. Just be aware some of the humor is a little over the top.

3. Game Shows: I give an edge to game shows over comedy shows because there is more dialogue and less staged situations. Real life, everyday people participate in the show and share many random comments. The shows typically mix in commercials and sales pitches which adds to the variety of topics appearing on the shows.

2. Science and Nature Shows: I place this second simply as a preference. I enjoy watching them. There is a lot of dialogue which enhances your vocabulary. The game shows and comedy shows are great but they can be so goofy that I can only watch for a little bit. Nature shows on the other hand are more interesting to me and I don’t tend to get distracted like I do with the other types of shows.

1. The News: Local news, international or national news. Hands down the best way that tops this list. These are the best types of shows to improve Spanish listening comprehension, vocabulary and grammar. You get it all, visual aids, dialogue, current events for cultural orientation and many different types of accents. Tune into different channels to mix up the stories and accents. You will find that some accents are easier to understand do to their clarity of speech.

Spanish Pronunciation Guide: Vowels and Vowel Combinations

Level: All Levels

The most asked question in learning Spanish is, “How do you pronounce the words?”  The great thing for learners of Spanish is the words are pronounced just like they are written for the most part. This should be music to your ears since English is nothing like that.  It is much more complicated. Take the words “pear” and “beard” for example. The “ea” in both these words sound different. In Spanish this doesn’t happen. There are only a few tricky things to remember but they are easy and most sounds that exist in Spanish you can already pronounce. Sound good so far?

I have decided to break down pronunciation into categories so you can focus at it one piece at a time. So for this post we focus on vowels. Just like in English there are single vowel sounds and vowel combinations. In Spanish there are many less combinations though. A couple notes before we begin, this post is meant as a reference. Come back to it to help you pronounce words, but the guide alone will not teach you to pronounce Spanish words without actually speaking the words to someone. This is a starting point the only way me or any other English speaker learned to pronounce Spanish was by speaking and speaking a lot.

The other thing to note is if you wish to speak with as little accent as possible then realize there are slight differences between English and Spanish. The way you use your tongue, roof of your mouth and lips is different. Native Spanish speakers touch the tip of their tongues to the roof of their mouths (el taladar) often. In English we form many words with our lips and nasal passages. We also tend to unconsciously blow while pronouncing many of our words for example when we say Tom or even the word “pronounce” there is a quick, soft blow between the “T-o” and “p-r”. To eliminate your English accent in Spanish you do not blow.

The Basic Vowels

These vowel sounds are always the same.

a              Sounds like the  short “o” in the English words October,  robot, socks.  Here’s how to pronounce some Spanish words with “a”:                            tanto /TAN-toe/, basta /BA-sta/, Pablo /PAH-bloe/

e             Sounds like the short “e” in the English words bent, deck, rest. In Spanish you will see the letter “e” in the words momento /mo-                        MEN-to/, evento /e-VEN-to/, episodio /e-pee-SO-dyo/

i               Sounds like the “ea” vowel combination like in the English words each, rear, seat. You will find this in the Spanish words iglesia /ee-                   GLAY-see-ah/, siglo /SEE-glo/, comida /ko-MEE-dah/

o             Sounds similar to the long “o” like in the English words born, for, bone. In Spanish you will find it in the words sonido /so-NEE-do/,                     fondo /PHONE-do/, Jose /HOAS-ay/. Please note that this “o” sound is cut short at the end of words. The word “go” ends with a                         long “o” sound that gets pronounced a split second longer than the final “o” as in the words above sonido and fondo.

u             Sounds like the sound you make if you got punched in the stomach “oo” or as in the double “o” as in food or boot. In Spanish you                   will find this letter in the words mudo /MOO-do/, ruta /ROO-tah/, fruta /FROO-tah/.  Please note it does not sound like the double                   “o” as in the word good. In “good” the sound is too short.

Vowel Combinations

Two Syllable Vowel Combinations

There are two kinds of vowel combinations: 1) with accent mark; 2) no accent. Grammar books with break them down more into more categories, but I do not think it’s a good idea for students to read too much about pronunciation. Pronunciation is best learned from listening and speaking.

  1. With Accent

The accent mark over a vowel means you stress that vowel sound.  In other words, that’s where your intonation goes up.

Vowel Combinations with Accent Marks

a              pronounced /ah-EE/,   /ah-OO/ as in “food”

e             /eh-EE/,   /eh-OO/ as in “food”

i               ía /EE-ah/,  íe /EE-eh/

o             /oh-EE/

u             úa /OO-ah/ as in food and the same for the rest of the double “o” sound here,  úe /OO-eh/, úi /OO-ee/, úo /OO-oh/

Vowel Combinations without Accent Marks

These combinations do not have any stressed syllables. They are just run together to make one sound. These pronunciations are close but not exact.

a              ai /ya/   au /ow/

e             ei /ay/ like in the word “day”,  eu /ayoo/  “ay” as in “say” and “oo” as in “food”

i               ia /eeya/,  ie /yeh/,  io /ee-oh/,  iu /yu/

o             oi /oy/

u             ua /wa/,  ue /weh/,  ui /we/, uo /wo/

More Vowel Combinations without Accent Marks

These combinations have two syllables but do not have accent marks written above them; therefore, no stressed syllables.

a              ae /ah-ay/,   ao /ah-oh/

e             ea /eh-ah/,  ee /eh-eh/,  eo /eh-oh/

o             oa /oh-ah/,  oe /oh-eh/,  oo /oh-oh/

 

Spanish Vocabulary Memorization: My Flashcard Technique

It’s been a while since I used flashcards because at this point I truly see the same objects and actions in both English and Spanish. To me a table is a “mesa”, a street a “calle”, a cat a “gato”, to eat is “comer” and so on. They’re all the same and you will get there too. I’d bet you’ve already gotten there with some words. Here’s a technique you may like that I used to build Spanish vocabulary fast. I used picture flashcards as much as possible.  I mention in another one of my posts about building vocabulary fast through images instead of translating with the use of picture dictionaries and picture flashcards.  Here  I will show you how I did it.  I am not an artist, but I can draw a little. So I used to draw images of actions and objects on one side of an index card and the Spanish word on the other. Don’t worry if you cannot draw at all I will recommend some other ways to get around it. Try these exercises.

Create Your Own Flashcards with Drawings

I. Create the cards

1. Buy some cheap index cards.

2. Cut them in half to save on cards.

3. Choose a category like your bedroom.

4. Draw various objects on one side of each card until you have a pile of 10-15.

5. Look up the word in a Spanish-English dictionary, phone app or electronic translator.

6. Write the word on the opposite side of the drawing.

II. Memorization Technique

1. Look at all the cards one at a time. DO NOT try to memorize through the first run.

2. Next turn all the cards with the drawings facing up. And one-by-one attempt to say the word on the other side. DO NOT stop just look    at each card one time.

3. Create two piles. Put the cards you don’t know in one pile and the ones you do know in the other.

4. Repeat these steps until you get all the cards correct.

5. The next step is to complete one run without getting any incorrect.

6. The final step is to randomly pull cards out of order to see how well you know them. In your free time randomly repeat this exercise to     increase the likelihood you memorize your new words. Here’s my most important tip though. Upon learning any new word or phrase to       ensure you memorize it for the long term you must use them at least three times within two weeks of learning them.

Tips to Create Flashcards for People that Do Not Draw

1. Search Images on Bing, Yahoo or Google.  Do a search for the category of free printable Spanish flashcards, for example, zoo animals,         colors, vegetables, etc. Just know that it may take several minutes to find exactly what you want.

2. Clip Art and Tables in Microsoft Word.  If you are comfortable working with Word then create tables and fill them with text first then the    images.

Bonus Spanish Flashcard Exercise for the Home and Office

This is the easiest exercise and perhaps most effective. Use index cards to create flashcards with just the words (no English translation please) for the objects in your home and office. Then simply tape them to the objects. Keep them posted up for several weeks. Please take the extra step to actually look at them and say them aloud. You will automatically associate the words and objects together and you won’t have to drill yourself to learn them because you will just casually look at them as you go through your day. Years from now you that image of your microwave with the card “microondas” will be stuck in your head!