12 Reasons Why You Cant Speak Spanish Well Yet
In this article, I’m not going to lecture you. Who likes that? You’re not a kid anymore. My intention is to bring awareness of the things you might be doing right to become fluent in Spanish.
1. You Are Interested in Learning Spanish
Listen. I haven’t always been interested in learning Norwegian. I moved to Norway as a student to improve my English. Yes, because Scandinavians speak perfect English. Then I took a Norwegian course that the university offered us international students. Why not? I said to myself.
So how I became interested in learning it? I think because I found it useful. If I were going to live in Norway for more than four months, as initially planned, I’d better learn Norwegian. So, I found a great purpose to learn it. After that, I began to feel connected with the country, its people, and its culture. I got hooked on the language.
If you’re genuinely interested in learning Spanish, it’s because you have:
- A substantial connection with the Spanish language.
- Some knowledge about the people who speak it and their culture.
- Strong positive feelings for at least one country where they speak it.
- A willingness to read, watch and listen to Spanish speaking media.
- A meaningful purpose.
2. You Keep It Fun or Rewarding
I love running. Sometimes I run for fun, sometimes because it’s rewarding to me. Usually both. The reward? The satisfaction of thinking of myself as someone who runs. So every time I run, my self-perception improves. It makes me feel proud of myself.
As you can see, my primary motivation for running is intrinsic. It doesn’t depend on external factors. This type of motivation is the most powerful one in the long term.
How do I keep running fun? I always try to push myself a bit harder, setting ambitious goals, and reminding me how much I enjoy it. No one obliges me to do it, and I know that the benefits far exceed the disadvantages.
I know. Your goal is to learn Spanish. But I think the point is the same.
You, too, believe learning Spanish should be fun, or at least rewarding. That’s why you use methods that make studying Spanish more enjoyable. That helps you willingly put the time and effort that it takes to learn it.
Other things you do to make learning Spanish exciting are:
- Setting yourself ambitious goals.
- Reminding yourself that your self-satisfaction is the reward.
- Practicing it with people in a mindful way, without feeling embarrassed, anxious, or uncomfortable.
3. You Are Using the Right Tools and Approaches
“Todos los caminos llevan a Roma” (“All roads lead to Rome”).
Alain de Lille
Besides Spanish, I can speak both English and Norwegian.
I live in Norway, and my husband is Norwegian. So knowing the language is a given.
With English, however, it’s different. I’ve studied it since I was a child. I’ve never lived in an English speaking country, but I’ve been both in London and New York. In London, I was only a few days. In New York, I spent three weeks in an English school surrounded by Spanish native speakers. The experience was terrific!
Do you see it? Different learning strategies have made me fluent in both languages.
“How can I best learn Spanish?”
You asked yourself this question in the first minute you decided to learn Spanish. You did some research, and you came to the following conclusions:
- Taking a Spanish course
- Immersing yourself in the language
- Listening to music
- Using a language learning app
- Watching TV shows
While it’s true that people can achieve different results by doing the same things, it’s also true that they can make the same results by doing different things.
Whenever you put the time and effort but don’t see results, you know what to do: Reconsidering what you’re doing. You control how you learn. That’s why you don’t hesitate to try out new tools and methods until you find what works for you.
4. You Rely on Discipline, Not Motivation
Do you know how often I go for a run even if I don’t feel like running? Very often. But then I put on my jogging clothes and shoes and do it anyway. It feels great.
While motivation is sporadic, discipline is consistent. Because you know that, you consistently:
- Set goals
- Plan to accomplish them
- Eliminate distractions
- Schedule the time and tasks
- Stick firmly to your decisions
As a result, learning Spanish is now a part of your daily routine.
5. You Seek Opportunities to Speak
“Nunca una excusa nos hizo ganar un partido (An excuse never made us win a game).”
Toni Nadal (Tennis player Rafa Nadal’s uncle and ex-coach)
During my first stay in Norway, I met the most engaging Spanish teacher I’ve ever met. She’s from Norway, but she had been in Bilbao for ten months, and her Spanish was excellent. Her soon-to-be husband put me in contact with her, as she wanted to practice her Spanish with someone. After that, we became friends.
You know that dreaming of becoming fluent in Spanish, without taking action, won’t make you fluent. So what do you do? You actively seek out Spanish speakers or language exchange pals on the internet, or in your area and talk to them.
For two reasons:
- It’s critical for developing your language ability.
- You need to use the language with others.
Some things you regularly do when practicing your Spanish are:
- Having one-on-one conversations.
- Getting help from a Spanish speaking person who volunteers or whom you pay.
- Asking people to slow down or reword something if you don’t understand.
As for when it’s the right time to start speaking Spanish, you’re aware of these two approaches:
- From day one, which is what polyglot Benny Lewis suggests.
- After a silent period, and once you’ve got enough comprehensible input in Spanish, which is what professor Stephen Krashen recommends.
Either you start speaking Spanish right away or you wait, you know that:
- You’ll start small to go big: You’ll go from saying a few sentences here and there, to have interesting conversations with native speakers.
- In the beginning, you’ll only understand a small percentage of what native speakers say. That’s okay. I mean, Rome wasn’t built in a day, was it?
- You’ll be both proud of yourself for all the progress you make, and humble about all the Spanish you still need to learn.
6. You Keep Learning
I’ve been running for ten years now. On and off. I’ve sometimes stopped running for long periods due to different reasons. Luckily, I’m always confident I’ll be back on track at some point. The runner’s rush is too good not to miss it.
Even if consistency is essential for language learning, there’ll be situations where you might have to pause from studying Spanish. There’s nothing particular about that. That’s life. The most important is that you get back to it as soon as you’re ready.
7. You Welcome Your Mistakes
One of the first things Spanish students learn is that, in general, nouns ending in “a” are feminine (la casa), and nouns ending in “o” are masculine (el ojo). Everything seems easy until you encounter terms like el sofá, la radio, or la emoción.
I’d like you to ask yourself: What’s the worst that can happen if I say “la sofá”? Maybe someone dares to correct you. Perhaps someone thinks it’s funny. So what? It has no significant consequences. What’s more, people are commonly very thoughtful with learners trying to speak their mother tongue.
Believe it or not, we all say things wrong when speaking our native language. So, making mistakes when speaking a second language is not only usual but also expected. It’s even encouraged, I’d say.
You have this tendency to welcome the mistakes you make. It helps you. You know that, if you happen to say el radio and someone corrects you, you’ll most likely say la radio next time. Whenever you make an error in Spanish, you ask yourself: What did I say wrong? Was it helpful for me to learn Spanish? Most of the time, you know it was.
By the way, all words ended in “-ción” are feminine: la constitución, la canción, la representación, la oración. 😉
8. You Put the Effort and Time Required to Become Fluent
Language mentor Lýdia Machová says she dedicates one hour a day, during a period of two years, to become fluent in a language. In my opinion, she’s an excellent example of how to approach learning Spanish.
After all, becoming fluent in Spanish requires:
- Having realistic time expectations
- Putting the effort and time to learn it
- Using the right methods
You know that learning Spanish requires many hours of repetition, frustration, and dedication. Therefore, you’re willing to put more effort, time, and resources than using Duolingo five minutes a day.
9. You Love Spanish in ALL Its Variations
Learning Norwegian is challenging. It is not because of the language per se, but because of all the different dialects that they have in Norway. When I first started to learn it, my boyfriend would speak with me in standard Norwegian, bokmål. I wasn’t even aware of that!
He thought he was doing me a favor, making things easier for me, but he wasn’t. Why? Because unless you live in Oslo, people will speak their local dialect, which is understandable. They might adapt the way they talk with foreigners, but in authentic situations such as work or family gatherings, they’ll use their slang and expressions. That’s why I believed the sooner I familiarized myself with the local dialects, the better.
Now I’m more or less capable of understanding almost any Norwegian dialect. What’s more, I think it’s fun to recognize where people are from just by listening to them. What can I say, I’ve just come to love this diversity of dialects, which I think enriches the language.
When it comes to Spanish, many think there’re only two main variations: Latin American Spanish and Spanish from Spain, popularly called “Castillian.” I understand this dichotomy, but in my opinion, it’s way too simplistic. I’d even say it’s far from the truth. Argentinians and Colombians speak differently. Mexicans and Chileans too. Even in Spain, the way people talk can vary from region to region.
Besides the differences, we still speak the same language. We can all understand each other. That’s why both the academics of RAE and the director Alfonso Cuarón considered unnecessary that Netflix would include Castilian Spanish subtitles for the Oscar-winning film Roma, shot in Mexico. According to El País, “In the wake of the controversy, Netflix opted (…) to remove the Castilian Spanish subtitles.”
So if you’re like me, you love Spanish in ALL its variations. The different accents and local expressions give color to the language. Thus, you also think it’s beautiful that:
- Spanish native speakers from Argentina or Paraguay use vos instead of vosotros.
- Spanish native speakers from Spain (except Andalucia and Canarias) pronounce the «z» (zapato) as «th» (thing), while in Latin America, this sound doesn’t exist.
- While most Latin Americans say “¡Qué chévere!”, many Spaniards use “¡Qué guay!” to express that something is great.
Once you become fluent in Spanish, you’ll be able to converse with Spanish speaking people from everywhere. From Spain, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico to Venezuela, Cuba, Costa Rica, and Ecuador, to name a few. ¡Qué chévere! 🙂
10. You Work on Your Listening and Reading Comprehension Skills
Many Spanish learners complain about how fast native speakers talk. Above all, people from Spain and Chile, if I’m not mistaken. Even if that depends on the person, I do not disagree with that affirmation. You should hear my sister pronouncing my name at the speed of light.
I think we’ve made clear now that we cannot change the speed, dialect, or accent people speak. Not that we wanted either. So, how does one manage to understand all those accents?
Fortunately, the answer is simple: Improving your listening comprehension skills. How? By training them. How? With lots of exposure to the language, which you can get by:
- Reading enjoyable content.
- Listening to exciting audiobooks.
- Watching TV shows with Spanish subtitles.
- Listening to songs or podcasts while reading the lyrics or the transcript.
According to Krashen, the premise is that you expose yourself to native content that you can understand (Comprehensible input).
As a result of doing so for a while:
- You expand your vocabulary
- You develop an ear for Spanish
- And you improve your pronunciation.
11. You Maintain Your Spanish
“Use it or lose it.”
Where all those hours of learning French? Gone. I can hardly remember anything. Who knows, I might relearn it faster if I tried.
Maintaining your Spanish is as vital as acquiring it.
Unlike me with French, you’re not willing to let those years of hard work and study be meaningless. You’re determined to maintain your Spanish at all costs. How?
- You talk with other Spanish speakers.
- You travel to Spain or to a Latin American country where they speak Spanish.
- You read, watch, and listen to native material (films, TV shows, podcasts, etc.).
12. You Believe in Yourself
Every time our daughter struggled with something, she’d say: “No puedo (I can’t).” Every time she said so, I felt my heart hurt, but not literally. Why? Because even though she’s a kid, I still believe she’s capable of doing many things on her own.
She needs to believe in herself. So we taught her to repeat these magic words: “Yo puedo, yo puedo, soy capaz (I can, I can, I’m capable).” They do miracles. Anytime she says them, she ends up getting what she wanted. The same principle was behind Barack Obama’s campaign: Yes, we can.
Our beliefs are important determinants of our behaviors.
Being aware of this, you:
- Watch out what you tell yourself, never saying that Spanish is too complicated or that you’re not good at it.
- Feel very confident that if others have learned Spanish before, so can you.
- Believe in your learning capabilities and the power of yet.
13. You Think Strategically
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”
Everyone knows how important setting goals is to achieve anything you want in life. My running goals are: to run 3-5 times a week, a minimum of 10K each time. My overall fitness goal is to keep me in good shape for many years to come. Simple, right?
Setting goals for learning Spanish is essential for you. What’s more, all the actions you take to learn Spanish are goal-oriented. Whether you use a textbook, read newspapers, or watch TV shows in Spanish, there’s always a good reason WHY you’re doing it.
Every time and then, you:
- Think about what you want to achieve (GOALS).
- Choose what learning strategies and activities can help you get the results you desire (HOW).
- Turn your most significant goal into monthly, weekly, and daily activities.
- Evaluate what you’ve achieved and what you’ve done.
What do you think it’s most important to become fluent in Spanish? How would you like to improve your Spanish learning journey? Please, leave a comment!