How to Break into Spanish Fluency

How to achieve Spanish fluency

You probably know the feeling. You’ve been learning Spanish a decent amount of time, and you’ve got the basics – no doubt about that. You’ve studied all the tenses, have a good stock of vocabulary and you’re probably quite pleased with how your Spanish accent’s been coming along too. Then you hang out one evening with a Spanish-speaking friend, and try speaking Spanish with them a bit. You can understand everything they say, but your responses feel laboured and you can hear the mistakes you make before you even speak!

It’s a frustrating feeling, and you get this when you’ve reached a plateau in your language learning. You’ve nailed the basics, but still haven’t quite made the jump into fluency yet. I’ve been there, and I know how annoying it can be, to feel like everyone’s driving around in a Lambourghini while you’re struggling along in your rusty Beetle. The good news is that it’s now time to change up how you’ve been learning Spanish, and take these steps to break into Spanish fluency.

What I mean by fluency

We could spend all day discussing different definitions of fluency, but for me (and the purposes of this article) fluency relates to an ease of use of the language. You’re comfortable expressing what you need to in any situation, and aren’t left with that feeling of being left behind in conversations. It’s a satisfying feeling when you can keep up with native speakers and communicate your real self. So how can we get into that state?

Zoom out

If you’ve been down obsessing with the nitty-gritty of the language, now’s the time to take a step back. You need to switch your mindset to an holistic overview, as you need to be able to get a good grasp of all of Spanish, rather than worrying excessively about the subjunctive, for example.
In order to really get to grips with Spanish you need to understand it as a system, and you can only really do this with a good birds-eye view of it. Imagine Spanish as a map, where we are zoomed in fully. As you zoom out, more comes in to view, and you get a better appreciation for how all the pieces fit together.

That’s the mindset we need to get fluent. Now we’ll look at how that actually manifests itself in different areas of the learning process.

Switch your study habits

If you feel frustrated with how you communicate in Spanish, it’s a good sign to switch up how you study. We need to change our study habits so that we’re taking a more holistic view. Here are a few things we can change which will help to foster that mindset:

Learn phrases

We do go on about learning Spanish phrases here, but we really believe it’s the best bang for buck for getting a dose of both grammar and vocabulary. We like the idea so much we’ve devoted a section of our site to it. Better yet, memorise whole dialogues – we’re talking big chunks of natural language here. You could memorise a section from one of our advanced podcasts, just make sure that whatever you memorise is natural and something you could see yourself using at some point.

Focus on the “meta” language

As a pianist, I often struggle when I come to a particularly complex phrase, and stumble through it making lots of mistakes. One effective solution is to focus on an entirely different aspect as you play (the position of your feet, for example), and the part which was so difficult somehow fixes itself. Similarly, if you’re listening to some Spanish and just can’t see (or “hear”) the wood for the trees, listen to their intonation, rhythm of speech, and other people’s reactions. You can pick up a lot of cues from this, and once you stop concentrating so furiously on trying to understand every word you’ll probably start to understand more anyway.

Pick up meta-language cues from people around you when you can’t follow what’s going on

Turn up the volume

You need to increase your input of Spanish, whatever form that currently takes. Skip over details, and don’t worry about understanding every single word and grammatical construction. Listen to and read a lot more than you do now, and be content to skim and understand the broader message. This is what zooming out is all about!

Those are a couple of ways you can change the way you learn Spanish. Next, we’ll look at how to actually change your performance at the moment of speaking and interacting in Spanish.

Relax, lose your inhibitions

Some people like to have a drink to help ease them into speaking a language. Other people just enjoy a drink… Either way, there’s no doubt that those people who have lower inhibitions tend to be more fluent speakers. It’s about confidence, relaxing, and not worrying about making mistakes. Tension, shyness, and excessive carefulness all cause huge mental blocks to your fluency. Removing these barriers will help your Spanish to flow.

That doesn’t mean you have to take to drink – being aware of the points mentioned above is sometimes enough to spur you on to lower your inhibitions. Failing that, try doing exercise before you go to speak Spanish, or whatever else relaxes you. One of the most powerful tools is simply to smile. Smiling fills you with positivity, will help you relax, and also puts others at ease around you, which will have a knock-on effect on you!

Focus on the message rather than the medium

Part of the language learning process involves, essentially, a butchery of the language. We all go through that stage. As we get better at Spanish we make fewer mistakes, but the number of mistakes we make is not a good gauge of our level of Spanish, nor to how much we might have improved. Stop thinking about your mistakes (no-one else notices them!), and start worrying more about conveying what you want to say in the most engaging way you can. That means communicating concepts, rather than stringing words together. This is what real Spanish fluency is about.

Conclusion

It won’t happen overnight, but if you start to action the advice in this article you will notice differences over time. Hopefully you’ll be able to express yourself with more ease, be more comfortable in different Spanish speaking situations, and what’s more, you’ll find yourself enjoying the language more.

  • Keith Kreuz

    Robert, I like to think that I have thoroughly research the Spanish learning industry, but for some reason I did not find your site until today … in any case, I really like what you are doing and I appreciate your thoughts on Spanish Fluency in this post — great ideas!

    • spanishobsessed

      Hi Keith
      Thanks – glad you found us and like what you see!

  • Jeff

    Thanks for this article. It’s very frustrating to know the words, tenses and grammar rules, but not be able to carry on a conversation. Sometimes, I imagine that this must be how stroke victims feel!