The biggest compliment a language learner can receive is being confused for a native speaker.
It’s one of those things that makes you feel like you’re floating on air. So, how can you, as a student of Spanish, take your speaking abilities up a notch and fool others into thinking you’re actually from Spain? Read on to find out!
1. Use Expressions/ Idioms
Spaniards have a slew of expressions and idioms that seem to always slip into their conversations. It’s rare that you have a conversation that doesn’t include one! If you want to sound more like a native speaker, you should try to work some in as well.
Some of the most common are:
- No dar abasto– Not able to cope
Example: “Tengo mucho que hacer pero no tengo bastante tiempo. No doy abasto.”- I have a lot to do but I don’t have enough time. I can’t cope.
- Pillarle el toro– To be out of time/ to be in trouble
Example: “Mañana tengo el examen de ciencias y no he estudiado mucho. Me ha pillado el toro.”- Tomorrow I have a science test and I haven’t studied much. I’m out of time/ I’m in trouble.
- Eramos pocos y parió la abuela/ Llueve sobre mojado– When it rains it pours
“Eramos pocos y parió la abuela” literally means “there were a few of us, and the grandmother gave birth.” It’s a really weird expression, but used very frequently.
Example: “Pobre Juan. Primero perdió el gato, luego suspendió un examen, y hoy ha perdido el trabajo. Ya sabes, éramos pocos y parió la abuela.”- Poor Juan. First he lost his cat, then he failed a test, and today he lost his job. You know, when it rains it pours.
- Sacar partido– To make good use of something/ to take advantage of something
Example: “Voy a sacar partido del finde y hacer muchas cosas.”- I’m going to make good use of the weekend and do a lot.
- Darle caña– Give it all you got
Example: “Harás muy bien en el trabajo, solo tienes que darle caña.”- You’ll do really well in the job. You just have to give it all you got.”
- Írsele la olla– To loose it/ go crazy OR to lose your train of thought
Example: “¿Qué le pasó a María? Se le fue la olla.”- What happened to Maria? She went crazy.
2. Don’t Forget the Proverbs
Not unlike expressions or idioms, proverbs are fun little sayings that seem to carry with them a sort of message or meaning. These are also common in Spain, and you’ll hear them quite frequently. Using them will not only make you seem wise and insightful, but they will also help to convince the people around you that you’re more than just your typical Spanish language learner.
Here are a few fun, and commonly used Spanish proverbs to get you started.
- No hay mal que por bien no venga– Every cloud has a silver lining.
- Las cabras siempre tiran al monte– A leopard can’t change its spots.
- ¿Dónde va Vicente? Donde va la gente– Monkey see; Monkey do.
- Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres– Tell me who you’re friends with and I’ll tell you who you are.
- A quién madruga, Dios le ayuda– The early bird gets the worm.
3. Talk with your Hands
The Italians are known for using their hands when speaking, but the Spanish do this a lot as well. Not only do they emphatically move their hands about when saying pretty much anything, but they even have a few basic gestures which have their own meanings!
Picture this- you walk into a crowded bar with your friends. There’s nowhere to sit, and it’s really loud. Instead of yelling over the music and everyone else who is talking all at once, you can simply make two quick motions to let your group know “it’s crowded” and “let’s go somewhere else.”
This is just an example. There are a lot of different ways of “talking with your hands” in Spanish. If you want to fit in with the natives, make sure you move your hands a lot when speaking and try to pick up on some of the commonly used gestures.
The two videos below will show you not only some great hand gestures that are really common in Spain but also teach you a few more useful expressions!
4. Cut the Formality
This is something that is specific to Spain. In Latin American countries, you may not find this to be very common, so be careful.
In Spain, the “usted” conjugation (the formal, singular “you”) and the “ustedes” (the formal, plural “you”) are almost completely reserved for very very specific situations- with your boss, or at a meeting, or when you’re speaking to an elderly person you don’t know very well. Outside of this, you will almost always hear the “tú” (informal, singular “you”) or the “vosotros” (informal, plural “you”).
5. And, While You’re at It…
Not only will you not hear the formal “you” used very often, but you won’t hear a lot of “If you don’t mind…” or “sorry to bother you, but…”. There probably won’t even be a lot of “please” and “thank you” going around.
These little formalities are not expected. If you’re ordering at a restaurant or bar, it’s not uncommon to place your order in the form of a command (“Dame un vino blanco.”- “Give me a white wine,”) or just in the present tense (“Me das un vino blanco”- “You give me a white wine.”)
If you feel like you must, you can throw in a “please” or “thank you” but don’t be surprised if you don’t hear others around you doing so. In Spain, it’s always better to be direct.
6. Throw in some “Fillers”
Every country has it’s own fillers. In English we say things like, “um…” or “you know…”. In Spanish they have a whole bunch of their own as well!
Here are some very common ones:
- Eh…- This is the equivalent of “Um…”
- No sé qué, no sé cuántos– Blah, blah, blah
- Bueno– Well
- O sea- I mean
- A ver- Let’s see
- Sabes (lo que te quiero decir)- You know (what I mean)
7. Pick up the Pace
This is a pretty obvious one. Non-native speakers tend to talk a little more slowly, thinking out what they want to say. A lot of time we’re so obsessed with making sure our vocabulary and grammar is correct, that we end up not really saying anything. This is a dead giveaway that you’re not a native Spanish speaker.
When if you want to sound more authentic, you should not only should you work on getting past that, but, also know that in Spain people tend to speak quickly in general. This is true especially if you’re in the south.
So, if you want to sound more native you have to 1) get over your obsession to say everything perfectly and just let it flow and 2) once you get it flowing, make it flows a little faster.
8. Don’t Waste Your Breath
A lot of the shorter words in Spanish are shortened even further! For example, instead of saying “para” you’ll hear “pa’.” Or, in place of “todo” a lot of people will say “to’.”
This goes along with the whole idea of saying things a little more quickly that we just mentioned. Saying something like “no lo quiero para nada” (“I don’t want it at all”) when said by a native Spanish speaker will come out more like “no lo quiero pa’ na’.”
This may also happen with the endings of some words. It’s very common, for example, with the participle form of verbs. Take, for instance, the conjugation “he hablado” (I have spoken). When said (quickly) like a native speaker, this will sound like “he habla’o.” The “d” between the vowels gets “eaten.”
Fun Side Note: Saying you’ve “eaten” your words or letters is a very common thing in Spanish as well. Es difícil entenderle porque come las palabras– It’s hard to understand him because “he eats” (mumbles- doesn’t articulate) his words.
9. Get Excited!
The Spanish are very emotional people. It always sounds like they’re mad, when in reality they’re not. They could be excited, upset, or just merely just saying “good morning” to their neighbor.
So, don’t be afraid to be more emphatic when you speak. Get excited, let your emotions come out! It’s okay, everyone else is doing it, too.
Be careful, though. There is definitely a place and a time for this. Like everything, there is a set of social norms and expectations that go along with when it’s okay to “chillar” (yell) and when it’s not. When you’re out on the street, yell your heart out. But, when you’re sitting inside at a restaurant or walking through the grocery store, you’re going to want to keep it down to a normal volume.
10. Don’t Forget the Slang
Of course, if you want to sound like someone who speaks like a native, you have to say what the natives are saying! Slang is a great way to do this. It’s always changing, so it’s hard to catch on to. You can pick up on a lot of it by not only listening to the people around you, but also by watching TV shows and listening to the popular music that the country produces.
Some slang terms in Spain that have been around for awhile (so you know they’re not going anywhere anytime soon) are:
Example: “Necesito un trabajo. No tengo nada de pasta.”- I need a job. I don’t have any money.
Majo/a– a cool, nice, fun person
Example: “Me gusta la clase de física. Mi profe es muy majo.”- I like my physics class. My teacher is really cool/ nice/ fun.
Chulo– something “cool”
Example: “Has visto la película? Es muy chula.”- Have you seen the movie? It’s really cool.
Example: “¡Tío! Hace mucho que no te veo.”- Dude! It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you.
Es la leche/ mola mucho/ es la hostia– It’s really cool
Example: “Este juego es la leche/ mola mucho/ es la hostia.”- This came is really cool.
¡Ostras!– Dang it!
Example: “¡Ostras! Se me olvidó pagar el alquiler.”- Dang it! I forgot to pay rent.
Example: “¡Hala! Has visto el anillo de Lucía?”- Wow! Have you seen Lucía’s ring?
Being able to speak like a native doesn’t only involve vocabulary and grammar (although those are very important). It goes much deeper than that. Every country has its own way of communicating. There are different nuances to the way people interact with one another.
If you want to seem more like a native Spanish speaker, then incorporating some of the aforementioned elements will certainly help!
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!