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Moving to Spain? Here are 8 tips to speak like a native

Sara's take:

Learning a language is really difficult; I lived in Brazil for four years and can say that in all honesty, the first year there was the most challenging period in my life.

I used to be super independent, but for the first time ever, I was completely reliant on my Brazilian husband to do everything for me.

That is, until I learned Portuguese.

So this week, Joe Meringolo is back with Part Three of the 3-part series on Spanish culture, and in this post, he shares some quick tips for speaking Spanish like a native.


Written by guest blogger Joe Meringolo

If you're moving to Spain and want to break from beginner Spanish, there are many fun ways to learn the language quicker.

"How" you learn is just as important as “what” you’re learning.

And although high school Spanish gave me a base of the language, I soon realized that I actually spoke little to no Spanish when I first arrived in Spain.

But while teaching English and completing a graduate program in Spain over a 4-year period, I learned many important lessons and developed some fun strategies that will hopefully serve you, too.

Hola, how to speak Spanish

When moving to Spain, speak informally

Unless you’re speaking with the police (hopefully not!) or the Prime Minister, you’ll be better off using the informal “tú” (you - informal) or “vosotros/vosotras” (you all - informal).

In some cases, you can start with “usted” and allow the other person to say “tú,” but using usted or ustedes can sound very formal to Spaniards.

My landlady once told me that when you speak formally, as a younger person communicating to an older person, you could be insinuating, “I’m young; you’re old.”

As Americans, we think of Mister and Misses as signs of respect, whereas in Spain, it might come across like you’re giving them a sense of authority or power.

Watch your use of pronouns

For the beginners out there, you won’t have to use the pronouns (yo, tú, etc.) before the verbs often.

For native speakers, it sounds like you’re calling attention to the subject.

Unless you’re using the pronoun to clarify, you don’t need to use it.

For example, saying, “Ella es lista,” literally translates to, “She is smart,” but to native speakers, using the pronoun could be interpreted to mean, “Oh, she thinks she’s smart,” or “Yeah, she is really smart.”

Context is key, but know that pronouns add more emphasis on the person.

“Pago yo

When you hear someone use a pronoun (yo, tú, etc.) at the end, you should note that the person is insisting.

So if someone insists on paying the bill, for example, they might say, “Pago yo.”

Grabbings drinks (i.e. “tomar algo”)

This phrase can mean “to grab something”: a coffee, a beer, some food, etc.

When the weather is nice, you’ll notice that Spaniards like to find a nice terrace or patio and hang out.

Key non-verbal communication

Spaniards use their bodies a lot when they speak.

As time goes on, you’ll get a better sense of these gestures and you’ll probably start to use some yourself.

If you have a friend or roommate from Spain, or know someone who's spent a lot of time in Spain, they’ll be able to show you some interesting ones, but here are some examples of Spanish gestures and what they mean.

Embrace the ups and downs

The roller coaster of language learning requires you to go with the flow.

You’ll have days where you hear and understand everything and other days that are more challenging.

You might find yourself sleeping 10-12 hours a night, as I did, the first couple of months after your arrival because you’re trying so hard to capture every sound, every word and translate it.

Refine your chit chat skills

When people approach you, they will probably not ask you a random question like, “Is the sky blue?”

They’ll probably start with basic questions and go from there.

Do your best to ask questions and navigate conversations toward areas that involve topics that you feel comfortable speaking about, at least at first.

You’ll quickly find yourself wanting to explore more topics as you expand your vocabulary.

Build a mental script and practice

In my first year living in Spain, I’d come up with a few key words and write out a few phrases to explain my weekend or my evening.

If I saw something in the news, I’d ask my colleagues about it.

When you prepare for your conversations, as if you prepare for your classes, you’ll find that you’ll learn a lot.

Some days I’d have the same conversation with a few different people to reinforce vocabulary and work on my listening skills.

However, it's important to note that the cultural and language learning journey continues even for advanced speakers, so the process never truly ends.

Joe Meringolo, guest blogger

At the end of my third year in Spain, I graduated with a Master in Teaching and Learning Spanish from University of Acalá - Instituto Franklin, but to this day, I continue to learn more about the nuances of Spanish in other countries and cultures.

My biggest piece of advice for anyone visiting Spain is to embrace your curiosity, ask questions and learn as much as you from locals.

If you put yourself into the world of Spaniards, you’ll likely find yourself surrounded by friends from Spain as well as other Spanish speakers from around the world.

So embrace the beauty of the language learning journey, and you'll be surprised how much the hard work was worth it!

Joe Meringolo, guest blogger

Joe Meringolo is the Director of Program Development at EdOdyssey. He manages EdOdyssey’s marketing content, specializes in custom short-term programs for Peru and Spain and manages select partnerships and programs. Click here to learn more about EdOdyssey.


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G'day! My name is Sara, and I'm the founder of College Apps Abroad and a Certified Educational Planner (CEP), one of only 40 CEP's in California and 300 worldwide. I have more than 10 years of experience working in international recruitment and admissions, and I've studied and lived overseas myself in the UK, Ireland, Australia and Brazil for almost a decade. I've also worked for some of the world's top institutions, including The University of Edinburgh, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and The University of Western Australia (UWA)!

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