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Ten Tips for Learning to Speak Spanish

Aug 17, 2007
Many Americans are learning Spanish to meet both business and personal goals. If you are one of the millions of visionary Americans taking on this challenge, bravo!

In business, speaking Spanish will help you attract loyal customers and a diverse employee base. By speaking Spanish in your personal life, you will meet fascinating people from around the world-- and you'll build valuable, long-lasting friendships.

For adults learning foreign languages can be challenging. You are never too old to acquire a second language! In fact, it's good exercise for your brain.

Prepare to be dedicated in the pursuit of your linguistic goal. After all, you didn't learn English over night. We learn our native language through years of trial and error. Nevertheless, you can achieve good results quickly by using these ten practical tips.

1. Use the words you know. Everyone who speaks English knows more Spanish than they realize. When you are beginning to speak Spanish, it could be difficult for you to compose and say an entire sentence. That doesn't matter. Don't wait until you have an entire "perfect" phrase. Say the words in Spanish that you know.

When you observe native speakers, you will hear them converse in English, Spanish and even Spanglish. With language it's never all or nothing! Say what you know, even if it's only one word.

2. Set yourself up for success. Start with simple greetings like "hola" or "buenas tardes." If you say please or thank you to a Spanish-speaking customer or employee and you know the words "gracias" and "por favor," use them after you say the words in English.

Setting a positive bilingual tone for communication is always a good idea. It lets the person you are speaking with know that it's fine with you to use both English and Spanish.

3. Expect to make some mistakes. If you had a foreign language class in high school or college, perhaps you were corrected so many times that you feel defeated before you start. We all make mistakes when we speak English, so making mistakes in speaking Spanish is normal and natural. Everyone makes mistakes-- even native speakers.

4. It's OK to feel awkward. Speaking Spanish will feel physically different to you. You might even feel like a cartoon character has taken over your speech! Speaking Spanish requires more use of your facial muscles- and then there are those "trilled" r's. Just do your best. Your accent will develop over time. Not having the best accent will only stand in the way of your ability to communicate if you let it.

5. Being shy is normal. It takes a strong, positive personality to take the risk of speaking another language. We are all inhibited to one degree or another. We're terrified that people will laugh at us-- or even yell at us out of impatience. Smile and dive in! It's normal to feel inhibited when you begin to speak another language.

6. Ask "yes-no" questions. As you begin to increase your skills, when asking questions pose them so that the answer will be yes or no. This will give you a head-start on understanding the rest of the answer.

7. Practice each day. Practicing just five minutes each day will make a "grande" difference in your ability. A few minutes here and a few minutes there really add up over time. When you do practice, put yourself in situations where you can use the language. Attempts at memorization are usually very ineffective.

Write the days of the week on your calendar at the office and look at them each day.

Put a sticky note on your phone and write the numbers in Spanish from zero to ten on it. Each time you dial a number, say it in Spanish.

Make index cards of the Spanish words you want to learn first, and carry them in your purse or car. Exercises like these make your practice habits practical and help you build them into your normal routine.

8. Learn practical phrases.Think critically about what you do each day and what you need to learn to function more efficiently at your workplace. Learn those words and phrases first. By learning words that are practical, you will use them more often. The more you use the words, the faster you will remember them--and add to them.

9. Don't worry about your grammar. Remember that no one speaks perfectly. Always remember that communication is always more important than conjugation! If the individual you are speaking with understands you, that's all that really matters. It doesn't have to be pretty and perfect to be effective.

10. Go slowly. Learning Spanish is like eating your favorite meal. Savor the experience. Learn Spanish one word or phrase at a time. Chew it completely before going on to more material. If you learn slowly, you will remember what you have learned longer. And, that's the whole point!
About the Author
Myelita Melton is the author of the SpeakEasy Spanish TM series. She is a nationally recognized expert on language and cultural diversity. Her high energy presentations will engage your mind, touch your heart and foster a climate for understanding. http://www.speakeasyspanish.com
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