10 Tips to Sound and Write Like a Native Spanish Speaker
10 tricks to help you sound fluent in another language, even if you really aren't.
Let me begin by saying that I am not fluent in Spanish. I was almost fluent after majoring in Spanish in college and studying in Mexico, but unfortunately, my language skills have gotten pretty rusty over this past year of lockdown. With this realization, I’ve come up with a plan to tune up those speaking (and writing) skills over the next few months with hopes of a trip back to Mexico later this year. Although I’m focusing on Spanish, these same tips can be applied to just about any target language. Attaining fluency in another language takes time. And if full immersion isn’t an option, it can take even longer. Luckily, anyone can simulate immersion with an internet connection and a smartphone. Whether you’ve just learned how to say, “hello” in a new language or have studied a language for years, below you’ll find 10 fun ways to improve your ear and develop a natural speaking and writing style in your target language.
1. Watch TV - a lot of it
Get in the habit of watching shows in your target language and turn on subtitles in that language.
Now if you are a true beginner who needs to build up your vocabulary, watching children's shows is a great option because they’ll likely be repetitive, highly visual, focus on the same vocabulary that you are and the main characters should be easy to understand. Look for popular children's shows that are filmed in your target language. You can also look for a dubbed version of an internationally popular show - Peppa Pig anyone? If you’re already at a more advanced level, look for films and current shows (with good reviews) coming from countries where your target language is the primary spoken language. A quick Netflix search or trip to your library should do the trick. And again, keep the subtitles on in that target language. And remember, if you have hopes of traveling or visiting a specific region, watch movies that were filmed there. You want to get used to hearing the beautiful variations in the spoken language where you’re going.
2. Listen to all of the podcasts (or maybe just one good one)
You know how everyone has a podcast these days? Don’t roll your eyes about it, use that fact to your advantage when learning Spanish (or your target language)! Find a topic that interests you in a region that you plan to explore. If you’re a beginner, this is just to get used to the sounds, don’t worry if you don’t catch much of what the podcasters are saying. And if you’re at an intermediate or advanced level, this should be a good challenge for you. There are also tons of teachers who have podcasts, so their podcasts may be a good resource for you too.
3. Follow popular IG accounts in Spanish
If you know exactly where you want to use your new language skills, follow some of the top Instagram accounts from that city. And if you’re not sure where you want to go, look at some of the top accounts in countries where your target language is spoken. The point of this is to inject this language into as many parts of your daily life as possible. You also want to see a more informal and current version of the written language - which is probably different from what you learned in your textbooks. Try this on any other social media channels that you check regularly.
4. Practice, practice practice
While this may seem obvious, listening is only part of the process. You need to practice speaking out loud. Start with pausing these shows, movies, podcasts, etc, and repeat what you can. Keep doing this. Record yourself, play it back, compare it to the original, rinse and repeat. Monitor your improvement.nYou've also got to practice with native speakers, it’s really easy to get intimidated and avoid this, but it's necessary. Practicing with other people who are learning your target language is ok, but it may give you a false sense of confidence/comfort because you are all learning together, so mistakes are a given. But you need to challenge yourself and get used to speaking your target language outside of the classroom with people who are fluent! Whether you meet a native speaker naturally or through something more organized, make a point to talk with native speakers regularly. It gets less awkward the more you do it.
5. Listen to audiobooks you love in your target language
Harry Potter has been translated into 80 languages, and you can borrow audiobooks from the library using apps like Libby , so really there's no excuse to not try this one out. This trick is great for beginners and advanced language learners alike. By picking a story that you already know and love, you’ll be able to follow the plot more comfortably and focus on the sound of the language and think about the expressions and translation choices.
6. Listen to the radio
Use a site like Radio Garden to listen to local radio anywhere in the world live, and start following relevant countries' top 100 playlists on Spotify. With Radio Garden you can get as local as you’d like to keep up with regional news, politics, music, and more. Again, if you’re not sure which region you want to visit where people speak your target language, you can use this as another opportunity to get to know many different areas.
7. Read the local newspaper
Definitely read the most respected newspapers in the region that you plan to visit so that you have a sense of what’s going on there currently. It may also be worth it to find some lighter newspapers or magazines to read more informal language. You can also look for newspapers or magazines that relate directly to your industry or interests so that you can learn more specific vocabulary that’s relevant to you and know what’s happening in that industry there. Check to see if you can access podcasts produced by those news sources.
8. Subscribe to Newsletters
Podcasts and newsletters are pretty much a given at this point. So again, look for people with common interests or professional experience who have a solid online presence and sign up for their newsletter. It’s a great way to keep up with things that you’re interested in while getting a small weekly (or daily) infusion of a native speaker’s writing.
9. Take Free Online Classes
Even though the whole point of this list is to get away from traditional language learning methods, it is important to have a solid understanding of the foundational elements of your target language. However, nowadays you can easily find free online classes that you can take at your own pace. Udemy, Future Learn, edX and tons of others offer great classes to take in tandem with the other recommendations on this list.
10. Find Your Favorite Teachers on YouTube.
Again, this may seem counterintuitive if the whole point is to avoid the traditional classroom, but here’s the thing - there are some excellent teachers on YouTube. And the videos from these teachers may be shorter in length than those of a traditional classroom lesson. You’re also able to watch videos as many times as you want as often as you want. And their videos may address common questions and problems better than a textbook because these teachers are real people getting immediate feedback all the time!
If you commit to these 10 tips your accent and comfort in speaking another language will improve in no time - regardless of your current level of proficiency. Good luck speaking and writing like a native speaker!