Speak Spanish Today: At the Restaurant/En el Restaurante, Part 1

Skill Level: Basic

¿Tienes hambre? Are you hungry? Well, maybe for knowledge you are at least. One thing I find very important about learning Spanish is not getting bored. So let’s try our best to learn things you can use. And what better thing  is there to learn than to know how to actually speak in sentences? Anyone? That’s right! How to speak in full sentences about food.  🙂

As you may have seen in another one of my posts about advancing Spanish fluency we talk about the learning process. Just glancing over some random grammar point is not enough to retain what you’ve learned. You have to repeat, practice then use the material before it sticks in your brain. Imagine talking about playing the piano, perhaps even tapping on a few keys then expecting yourself to play a whole song in front of an audience. Not gonna happen! It’s also why just taking classes alone isn’t going to make you fluent or even hold much of even a basic conversation.

The same thing goes for languages except in you also have to think on the run too.  Until you are forced to think about what you want to say you will have a tough time memorizing words, sentence order and so on. So briefly here is the learning system again:

Learn (be introduced to new grammar, vocabulary,etc)-Repeat (write or speak out loud sample sentences)-Practice (at home, classroom)-Use (in real world situations)

Dining is a fun atmosphere in which to use your Spanish and no matter where you live there seems to be at least some restaurants where the whole staff speaks Spanish.

So first step…

I. Learn

Here are some phrases we will start with. We are not going to recreate a whole skit of being at a restaurant rather the parts you speak. So take a peek at the list below.

Phrases:

-Tengo hambre. = I’m hungry.
-Tengo sed. = I’m thirsty.

Verbs:
-querer = to want
-comer = to eat
-tomar/beber = to drink

-dar = to give
-traer = to bring/to come with (side dish with meal)

Nouns:
-entremés(appetizer): sopa de vegetales (vegetable soup), ensalada (salad)
-plato principal(main dish): carne (meat), pescado (fish), pollo (chicken), arroz (rice), platanos maduros (fried sweet plantains), tostones (fried plantains)
-bebida(drink): cerveza (beer), agua (water), refresco/soda (soda), jugo de naranja (orange juice), leche (milk)
-postre(dessert): tres leches (tres leches), flan (flan), helado (de vainilla, chocolate, fresa)= vanilla, chocolate or strawberry ice cream

Repeat + Practice

Now we are going to combine the next steps in the learning process. We are going to make flashcards out of notebook/index cards. Go back over the list and…

Create Flashcards

1. On one side write the Spanish word in big letters in the middle of the card.  In the bottom right corner write the type of word, for example, “verbo”, “sustantivo”, etc…

2. On the other side of the card write the English word in small letters in the middle of the card and in the lower right corner the type of word, verb, noun and so on.

*Note: The purpose of the Spanish being in big letters and the English in small letters is to make the Spanish stand out in your mind. In fact, you could even use two different colors: Spanish in RED and English in BLACK.

**Note: I would recommend drawing the images on the back or finding some pics online to cut and tape to the back of the cards instead of using the English translations. Image association is more powerful than using the English translations. You will need some help from your first language, but the less the better.

Flashcard Drill Instructions

1. Put all flashcards in one pile Spanish side facing up.
2. Guess word in English by saying it out loud. Turn over to check for answer.
3.  If correct place in “correct pile”. If not, put in “retry pile”.
4.  Go through all flashcards one time. Review “retry pile” cards for correct answers before attempting the answers a second time.
5.  Go through flashcards in “retry pile” again.
6.  The drill is finished when you no longer have anymore “retry pile” cards left.
7.  Restart drill but reversing the language facing up. Now do the same exercise but starting from the other language.

Drill to Perfection

Do the drill enough times to where you can think of the word in either language without any effort.

Complete Sentences/Putting It All Together

At the risk of information overload I decided to place the last step in another post. Please click the link below to finish the exercise.

Speak Spanish Today: at the Restaurant, Part 2

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How do you “learn” Spanish?

So “how do you learn Spanish”? Well, the first question should be what do you mean by “learn”? I’m going to assume you mean speak fluently. So to be able to start and hold a conversation, know more than a sufficient amount of words to communicate practically anything you need to say will require you to retain all lot of information, wouldn’t you say? And that’s where the expression, “You need to think in Spanish,” comes from. Ever heard that expression before? I’m sure you have.
Practicing many different exercises like computer games, vocabulary crosswords, flashcard drills, rehearsing Spanish songs, IMing Spanish-speaking friends and so on are all VERY important, but they aren’t enough. They are what they are- practice for the real thing, real conversation.  In a real conversation we rely on our ability to search for the next words in our heads and how to combine them into the correct order to make sentences.
How difficult will that be if we must start in English then translate to Spanish? Not very easy nor efficient that’s how difficult.  And in some cases the translations won’t even make sense.  So the real trick is to make all the Spanish words and the ordering of the sentences to come naturally, or at least as natural as possible. When you speak the Spanish words must come to your mind and only the Spanish words, no English help. When you look at a “table” you must think “mesa”, when you look up at the sky you think “cielo”, when someone asks you where you want to eat you need to describe that juicy steak you envision cutting into, “Quiero una carne asada y muy jugosa.” When someone asks you a question about what you did on your vacation you need to picture the beautiful beach setting in your mind and describe what is was like, “Daba un paseo en la playa y me bañaba todos los días en el agua.”
So how can you think in Spanish? By following a system to retain the knowledge you learn and practice it enough in real settings to allow the words to come to you with little effort.
And here is that process:
Learn-Repeat-Practice-Use
Learn: you are introduced to new information, new knowledge, for example, new vocabulary, verb conjugations, sentence order and the like.
Repeat: repeat what you learned out loud, repeat the vocabulary, repeat the verb conjugations and so on.
Practice: practice new versions of what you learned but still outside of real conversations, Spanish thinking drills if you will. They will prepare you for conversations with people.
Use: use what you have learned, repeated and practiced up to this point in real conversations.
I promise you doing these steps will improve your ability to think and react in Spanish much faster than only doing drills.  It’s what allowed me to “learn” Spanish faster, it’s what allowed me to retain what I learned and think in Spanish.
 

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.

Spanish Pronunciation and Fluency Practice

Speaking Skills: Intermediate Level

One of the biggest compliments you could get regarding your Spanish is a native speaker telling you that your Spanish accent was so good that they thought you were either a native yourself or that you have Latin roots. You will probably never speak just like a native, sorry, but it still feels good to know you are doing something right, something better than the average speaker of Spanish as a second language.

Speaking with a thick American or other non-native accent is not the end of the world though. In fact, I don’t think it is very important for communicating effectively.  However, speaking with little or no accent does have many benefits, namely earning respect of native speakers and providing them more confidence in your ability to hold a conversation with them.  Although a strong accent doesn’t mean someone doesn’t speak well, it can impede effective communication. It certainly be difficult to understand. Think about it. Remember that time you asked someone for help at a local supermarket or a tourist asked you for help and they had a rough accent, what did you think? My first thought usually is, “Wow, I wonder if they understand what I’m going to say.”

This can become a distraction.

A trick I learned to achieve more fluency in my speech was to run words together, like native speakers do rather than separate them too much.  For example, in English as you are speaking with your girlfriend or boyfriend you might say, “I think about you all the time.” In normal speed this may sound like many words stuck together, something like, “Ithinkaboutyou – allthetime,” two words, right? Well in Spanish it’s no different. Instead of separating the words so distinctly start combining them. So translating what we just said in English to Spanish you get, “Te pienso todo el tiempo,” (five separated words). Let’s combine them and make it, “Tepienso  – todoeltiempo,” again changing the word count to two.

Let’s try smaller words clusters. Consider changing the following examples.

Spanish                                                                English

Tus ojos               tusojos                 “your eyes”

Te quiero             tequiero              “I love you.”

Te lo digo             telodigo               “I’ll tell you”

Te extrano          teextrano            “I miss you”

This technique is especially helpful when you advance is your grammar and you say sentences like the these:

Spanish                                                                          English

Me lo dió.              Melodio.                                      “He gave it to me.”

Me lo regaló.      Meloregalo.                               “She gave it to me (as a gift)” (Literally- She gifted it to me.)

Se lo dijeron.     Selodijeron.                               “They told him (it).

Lo, la, le, se are examples of indirect and direct objects. Some of the examples are “it”, “me”, “them” and so on in English. What’s makes it tough is the order is backwards in Spanish. It forces you to think a few extra seconds to get it right. “Wait, um, ‘Dio lo me,’ no , I mean, ‘Lo me dio,’ no!” When you do start to get how to say them in the correct order you will probably separate them too much, thus sounding a little rough. I’ve heard other English speakers creating too many pauses in between the words. That’s why I recommend blending the words together.