Thinking about learning Spanish, but terrified of feeling (or sounding) silly as a new learner? Don’t fret — everyone goes through the beginner stages! Here, online Spanish tutor Emmanuel M. shares his helpful tips…
Learning a new language can be difficult, but just like with anything else, all it takes is practice, confidence, and helpful tools. Common fears that new Spanish learners have tend to center around pronouncing words, understanding others, having a conversation, forgetting words or phrases, and the overall stress of learning a new language. However, here are some tips and tricks to overcome those common fears that will help you on your way to becoming a fluent and confident Spanish speaker!
1. Trouble Pronouncing Spanish Words
New Spanish learners may fear mispronouncing words. Like any language, Spanish relies heavily on pronunciation, and since accent marks change the pronunciation within a single word, reading and speaking these words correctly is important. Even words without accent marks need to be pronounced correctly if you want to be understood. When learning Spanish, it’s very understandable to be afraid of mispronouncing words; however, as long as you try to pronounce them like Spanish speakers do, you’ll be fine.
To improve your pronunciation and build your confidence when speaking Spanish, I suggest you learn from Spanish speakers. If you are afraid of mispronouncing words, listen to people who speak Spanish well, and try your best to imitate their speech. Listen to Spanish songs (repeatedly) and try to sing along, pronouncing every word the way the singer does. Watch novellas (Spanish soap operas) and movies in Spanish, and imitate the characters’ speech. Lastly, you can ask your Spanish-speaking friends (or a Spanish tutor) to help you pronounce words.
2. Difficulty Understanding Others
Another fear new Spanish learners might have is not understanding others when they’re speaking Spanish. Learning Spanish can be hard as it is, but trying to understand people who already speak the language can seem like a whole other daunting task! When you’re struggling to learn Spanish, you might feel embarrassed or anxious when you have to speak with someone who is fluent. Spanish speakers tend to speak the language quickly, and you might have trouble keeping up, let alone understanding what they’re saying.
However, there are some ways to combat this fear and overcome the language barrier. One way is to practice with your friends who speak Spanish. Tell them to speak slower than usual to give you time to understand each word. Another way is to listen to Spanish songs with the translated English lyrics in front of you, so that you can understand each phrase. Also, watching Spanish movies, shows, and novellas with the English subtitles on can help you understand what the characters are saying.
3. Anxiety When Having a Conversation
Spanish learners may also feel anxious when they have to speak in Spanish. When you’re just starting off learning Spanish, you may feel confident when reading or writing, but can still feel anxious when having conversations with actual Spanish speakers. Conversational Spanish can be very different because of the slang, phrases, and dialects involved. Also, as stated above, Spanish speakers tend to speak quickly!
Regardless of all this, you can still overcome this anxiety. I would suggest speaking to friends who know Spanish. The key to overcoming this fear is to practice your conversational skills. Perhaps start off by speaking a mixture of English and Spanish, or using English words or phrases when you don’t know how to say something in Spanish. Then, continue to limit your English usage with each conversation you have.
4. Forgetting Key Words, Phrases, and Conjugations
A very common fear new Spanish learners may have is the fear of forgetting how to say things in Spanish, saying the wrong word, messing up the phrase, or conjugating Spanish verbs incorrectly. This fear can exist for a long time, even for experienced Spanish speakers. Being fluent in Spanish takes years, and in that time, you are bound to forget things here and there. Just remember – this is OK!
My advice for overcoming this fear is simple: Use flashcards! Whenever you’re learning new words, phrases, or conjugations, write them down on flashcards, and study them for just 10 minutes each day. This simple trick will help the words “stick,” so that you’re less likely to forget them.
5. Stress Involved In Learning A New Language
Finally, you might experience stress when facing the task of learning a new language in general. You might get frustrated easily, or feel as though you don’t have enough time for it. Fortunately, there are many (fun) ways to study even when you’re short on time. It can also help to remind yourself of why you’re learning in the first place, whether it’s because you’re traveling to a Spanish-speaking country soon, or you want an advantage in the job market.
How a Spanish Tutor Can Help As You’re Learning Spanish
A tutor can be very beneficial for all students, novice and advanced. If you mess up, nobody is around but your tutor – and he or she will never insult you. A tutor is there to reassure you and give you the confidence boost you need to try again (even if you do mess up several times in a row). A tutor can take away some of the stress, make learning fun by coming up with interesting activities, and help ease your tension when it comes to having a conversation in Spanish.
My last piece of advice would be to take your time. As long as you take out 30 minutes every day to practice Spanish you will be fine. It might take a little longer, but as long as you keep at it, it will be worth it.
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!
Photo by Ana C.