Not Confident in Your Spanish? | Handling Language Barriers

language_barriers_fiWhether you’re traveling to a Spanish-speaking country, or chatting with a native speaker, a lack of confidence in your own speaking abilities can make the conversation even harder. Here are some tips for how to understand Spanish even when you’re not confident, courtesy of online Spanish tutor Emmanuel N...


Learning a new language can be very challenging, and even when you’re able to understand, speak, and write the language, you may still feel self-conscious or timid when it comes to having a conversation. It’s one thing to know how to write, read, or even speak a language, but it’s a whole other world when it comes to having an actual (and flowing) conversation with someone. So the question is: how do you talk to someone in a language that they’re fluent in but you’re just beginning to learn?

Find Someone Who Speaks Spanish and English

When you’re not really confident in your Spanish-speaking skills, you may shy away from all conversations in Spanish. It’s understandable, but you’re never going to learn that way. So, instead of diving headfirst into a purely Spanish conversation, find someone who speaks both languages (ideally a friend or family member). When you find this person, try your best to speak to them only in Spanish, but feel free to ask how to say this or that in English. What really helps is speaking in “Spanglish,” which is basically speaking in Spanish but with a sprinkle of English words here and there. This can be very effective because at this point, you definitely don’t know all the words in Spanish, but by keeping your English words to a minimum, you’re forcing yourself to understand Spanish and practice speaking it as much as you can.

Be Patient, But Keep on Practicing

Learning Spanish takes a lot of time, and you’re not going to get it immediately or even within a couple of weeks. It takes months, a lot of practice, hard work, and daily usage. But, don’t let that discourage you. You’ll learn it; it just takes patience. The more you use the language, the more fluent you will become. Try finding as many Spanish-speaking friends you can so that you can practice Spanish with all of them. They don’t have to be fluent; as long as they know the language, they will definitely be able to help you. Just remember to do this every day if you can.

Tips on Handling Purely Spanish Conversations

Sometimes we come across someone who speaks only Spanish, and although you may know how to speak Spanish pretty well, you may feel overwhelmed. Instead of just giving up, try your best to follow along. Now, this isn’t really for pure beginners because your Spanish will be too limited for the conversation to flow. But if you’re at an intermediate level or you know your Spanish pretty well, I implore you to challenge yourself. This may seem like a daunting task, but you can learn a lot when faced with challenging tasks that force you to use all the Spanish you know. Here are a few phrases that can help you out:

  • “¿Lo siento, pero puedes hablar un poquito mas despacio?” – I’m sorry, can you speak a bit slower?
  • “¿Lo siento, no soy fluente en Español pero voy a tratar” – I’m sorry, I’m not fluent in Spanish, but I will try.
  • “¿Lo siento, pero que? No entiendo. Que es eso?” – I’m sorry, but what? I don’t understand. What is that?

You may or may not be able to have a very long conversation, but at least you’ll be able to push your limits and test out what you really know in Spanish.

How a Tutor Can Help With These Barriers

Now, for the most part, to gain confidence in Spanish, you just have to practice, practice, and practice. Having friends who can speak to you in Spanish helps a lot – especially if done daily. But working with a Spanish tutor will help you learn how to understand Spanish and speak the language, as well. This is because he or she can challenge you by changing it up every lesson and really testing your knowledge. For example, each lesson with me is a bit different. I like to keep my students on their toes so that their Spanish can really be tested. Here is a preview of my lessons:

  • We both have a normal conversation where we speak only in Spanish, but you are allowed to ask questions in English or Spanish. Once you know the new word/phrase, you must repeat it in Spanish. The conversation continues until the lesson is over.
  • We both have a normal conversation where we speak in Spanglish. This lesson is very laid-back and casual. The key here is to increase your confidence in your Spanish-speaking skills while calming your nerves, by allowing English words to be used whenever you don’t know a Spanish word/phrase.

Ready to improve your Spanish-speaking skills? Find a Spanish language tutor in your area!

Emmanuel Noriega

Emmanuel M. teaches Spanish online. A California State University, Fullerton graduate and native Spanish speaker, he also teaches essay writing, study skills, and singing. Learn more about Emmanuel here!


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