Last week I shared a story about a close friend of mine that I went to Spanish school with. She really struggled learning Spanish. Looking back, she says that her number one regret was that she didn’t begin practicing conversation soon enough. If she could go back, she would have made an effort to speak starting the first week of Spanish school.
However, at the time, there were a number of reasons that kept her from even trying to speak. Reasons like feeling like she didn’t know enough. Reasons like not wanting to make an embarrassment of herself. Reasons like being so overwhelmed by what she was learning that she didn’t feel like she could put it all together in a conversation. If you are also a Spanish learner, I’m sure that those thoughts and doubts are not foreign to you. In fact, I’d guess that anyone who has ever learned Spanish has struggled with those same feelings to some degree.
But, in most cases, the difference between someone who masters Spanish and someone who doesn’t is conversation practice. This is why immersion is the number one way to learn. When you are immersed in a Spanish-speaking country, opportunities to speak Spanish are right at your fingertips.
Even if immersion isn’t an option for you, there are other options that will get you the conversation practice you need. It just may take a little digging to find the option that works best for you. I know what you’re thinking: is the digging really worth it? Can’t you wait to invest the time in conversation practice after you’ve mastered a few more concepts? The answer to the first question is yes, and unfortunately the answer to the second is no. And, I’m going to share three reasons why.
Reason 1: The application of grammar concepts is far more important than the memorization of concepts. This reason is about our human ability to put things together quickly when placed in situations where it’s necessary. It’s like building a plane in the air. There’s a lot more urgency to do so when you aren’t safe on the ground! Putting yourself in conversation mode makes you take the things that you’ve learned, put them together the best you know how, and somehow make it work! I know you may not believe that now, but as humans, we were made to communicate with each other. So, yes, you may use a lot more hand motions. Yes, you may have to rack your brain a little bit to think about ways you can communicate something using the words you know. But, guess what? This is how you learn, which leads me to the next reason.
Reason 2: The response to speaking in “broken Spanish” that we typically build up in our minds is nine times out of ten not the actual response. Many times students have this fear that if they try to speak Spanish to a native speaker, the native speaker is going to be frustrated and impatient. They fear that the native speaker won’t believe that they even had the nerve to try and communicate in Spanish! But, doesn’t that response sound ridiculous as you read it right now? Well, I have good news! It is not only ridiculous, it is also practically not true. In fact, most native speakers welcome you to try and speak Spanish. In my ten years of speaking Spanish, I’ve only had MAYBE four or five instances where a native speaker preferred that I try not to speak. That is pretty good for the hundreds of conversations I’ve had in Spanish. So, let native speakers help you! After all, who better to learn the language from than someone who has spoken it all their life. This leads me to the final reason.
Reason 3: Spanish in the books isn’t Spanish in “las calles” (the streets). I like to tell my students that Spanish grammar gives you the building blocks and foundation to speak Spanish, but that’s it. The real learning of the flow, accent, and culture behind the language comes through the everyday kind of speaking, which you get in conversations. You simply cannot get this from a book. I think about people that pick up Spanish while working with native speakers. My brother-in-law is a great example of this. He learned most of his Spanish in his late teens and early twenties by being thrown in the midst of work conversations. That experience gave him what he needed to be in situations where “street Spanish” was more valuable than “book Spanish.” Don’t get me wrong learning the grammar rules is important. But, the longer you focus on just the rules, the harder it is to just use the rules as a framework for real everyday Spanish.
So there you have it! I hope that at least one of these reasons convinces you to not wait to begin practicing your Spanish through conversation. You may decide to download an app like Tandem or HelloTalk to get started or you may just find a Hispanic friend that you can practice with or you may want to be matched with a native speaker through Bridge the Gap. No matter the route you choose to take, just do something! Months down the line, you will be grateful.
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