Monday, November 2, 2009

Speaking Spanish as a Beginner

I recently received an email from a student asking for advice on how to communicate with Spanish speakers when one is only just beginning to learn the language. I've cut and pasted that advice below.

Young children are wonderful to try speaking with; they are very forgiving and seem to clue in better to what one is trying to say than adults.

Regardless of whom you speak with it is easy to keep control of things if you ask (not open-ended) questions. "Yes/No" questions are the best because these limit the response the most. But using the question words narrow things down as well. For example, if you ask "donde..." you know you are listening for a location response.

Another strategy for practice is to place yourself in a familiar situation. For example, go to a restaurant that has Spanish-speaking customers and employees. This way, you are in a familiar situation with limited possibilities. You order items, have familiar props such as water glasses, ask for the check, etc.

They say that money talks, but being the one with the money allows you to speak. I used to drive to Denver just to go to a bakery to be able to order a couple of items in Spanish. You're in luck because there are places closer to home now.

Having a real situation in which there are no other options for communication is good too. This can be uncomfortable but it makes you do what you have to do to communicate. For example, working or volunteering somewhere that Spanish speakers may go to for goods or services is an excellent opportunity.

Having reference materials handy helps and so does having the chance to think out beforehand what you might want to say.

If you have someone who is willing to spend some time practicing with you who speaks Spanish you are in luck. It is difficult to make idle chatter though. I would still suggest having specific topics to talk about, plan ahead, and have reference materials at hand. It is better for you if they know only a little English because you won't be inclined to resort to English. Chances are though, they will know lots of words in English that they may not be able to initiate in English but they'll recognize it if you fill in with an English word here or there.

Stick to the patterns that you know in Spanish; if you try to translate word for word the complex English sentences you can make most likely it will come out nonsense in Spanish.

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