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Improving Spanish Speaking Skills

  Tags: Speaking | Spanish
 Language Learning Forum : Advice Center Post Reply
12 messages over 2 pages: 1 2  Next >>
United States
TotalTravelers.ComRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 1784 days ago

6 posts - 6 votes
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish

 Message 1 of 12
23 July 2015 at 8:59am | IP Logged 
I actually tried to join a couple days ago to post this but the site was :( I'd like a
little advice on the best way to focus on my speaking proficiency. This being my first
post it'll be a bit of a bio at first.

Anyway I had Spanish classes all through middle school and high school but never aimed
for anything other than a good grade. Fast forward 10+ years to March of last year and
I hear about an app called Duolingo in a Ted talk. I download it and am immediately
amazed it's free and I blast through it in a month supplemented with searching google
for grammar explanations(in addition to their “Forums” in the app). I was amazed I had
learned more in a focused month with a “game” than 10 years in school. I liked
learning Spanish so much I switched vacations from an outdoor adventure through a few
National Parks out west to three weeks in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

I certainly wasn't fluent, as anyone on here would know. So after my trip(in which I
did mange to have a few basic conversations) I just began reading soccer articles on
ESPN FC in Spanish and watching cartoons in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. It was
rough at first but after a week or two I understood most things with the subtitles on
and struggled through the articles with Google Translate.

The jump to understanding them without subtitles took up the rest of the year. In fact
just three weeks ago something clicked and I was able to understand 100% of basic
stuff and maybe 70% more complicated stuff like the news, depending on the speaker of
course(I still have a lot of trouble with certain shows or speakers). Since then I
only watch Spanish language programming unless my wife is home and watching.

So now to get to the heart of the matter, I had been stalling for months on starting
speaking practice on iTalki. So three weeks ago I started text messaging in an app
called HelloTalk and that went extremely well. So then it was time to buck up I used
my three trial sessions on iTalki with three different native speakers. One was bad,
one was good, and one was excellent.

In any case, I was able to both be understood and understand all three. However my
speaking was really slow while I try to conjugate verbs or think of a certain words.
Much of the stuff I could do while texting I just can't quite do speaking. Since then
I've had maybe 7 more classes 30-45 minutes each with the two better teachers and my
speaking has definitely improved.

My question is what can I do to help accelerate improving my speaking ability besides
my classes? I am going to continue to do 4 to 5 hours a week speech practice on
iTalki. I add vocab from corrections during my sessions to Anki plus I use a
frequency list in Memrise. I have been blasting through Pimsleur at the rate of three
lessons a day(They're easy, I just started the third level a few days ago). I have
also recently stated reading “The First Law” trilogy in Spanish, it's well above my
level but I have read it before and really like it so I think I can push it. I've been
studying two to three hours a day but that can may vary as I'll be traveling again

I have been considering starting the FSI after I finish Pimsleur and have already
downloaded it. What I really like about Pimsleur is that I can walk around while doing
it. I assume the same would be possible with the FSI also? I don't know much about it
so any input would be greatly appreciated.

What else should I be doing to improve my speaking? If you haven't noticed I use my
phone for ALL of my language learning(I even Skype on my phone so I can walk around)

Sorry about the novel and thanks for your help.

Tim Czarkowski
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Senior Member
Virgin Islands
Speaks: Ladino
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2224 posts - 6708 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Creole (French)

 Message 2 of 12
23 July 2015 at 2:24pm | IP Logged 
Tim, first, welcome to the forum. I'm sorry that you've reached us in this time of turmoil, but the whole point of the forum is to help people with questions like yours.

To improve your speaking, you have to speak, but, you also have to read, write and listen. Each skill informs the other. It's a virtuous circle. It's been a long while since I learned Spanish, but I believe I can help.

Have a look at my thread on The Muli-track Approach. Bear in mind that I had to caveat it excessively because people who love courses, love their courses.

Next, there's no easy solution. First, there are other sites out there besides italki for conversation and tutors. A tutor from Guatemala can be had for $10 an hour on and I worked with a tutor in Portuguese and it helped tremendously.

Start listening to a daily newscast in Spanish, preferably with a transcript. There are two for native-speakers: NHK World Spanish and Democracy Now! en español make this a habit. After a few months solid of listening, and transitioning away from the transcript, your listening will improve dramatically. There's also "Emk's Spanish: Alittle subs2srs experiment". A daily newscast helps to broaden your vocabulary without srs.

Start writing regularly on lang8 for correction and make sure that you go beyond just crossing out words when you correct Spanish-speakers' English by going the extra mile and providing a good explanation why you are correcting. This will win you friends and possibly even a free language partner. You can't be a "drive-by" poster and really leverage lang8 to help you- meaning dropping a post for correction and not bothering with correcting Spanish-speakers' English in a detailed manner.

Even one, one hour, tutoring session twice a month via skype with the Guatemalan sites I mentioned, will do wonders for your Spanish. At $10 US an hour, it's value for money.

Start watching a telenovela. Telemundo's website has them online with accurate Spanish subtitles and even English as well.

Speak as often as you can, if you can't afford to pay for a tutor, then try to find a good language partner for an exchange in person or via skype.

Lastly, have a look at the resources available at UT Austin Spanish Proficiency Videos, especially the intermediate videos. Also, check out the free grammar exercises at The Centro Virtual Cervantes- Aveteca. Scroll down for your level. These sites may not be mobile friendly.

Please remember that it takes time. It's not going to happen overnight or even over a few weeks, over months, yes.

Edited by iguanamon on 23 July 2015 at 5:53pm

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Senior Member
United States
Joined 3742 days ago

1265 posts - 2113 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish
Studies: French

 Message 3 of 12
23 July 2015 at 5:56pm | IP Logged 
Regarding your questions on FSI... if you are doing Pimsleur 3 fairly well right now you could fairly easily transition into FSI. FSI would be great, especially if you like doing Pimsleur type stuff. FSI can be done without the book if 1) you have already done the lesson with the book or 2) the lesson is "easy" for you. Personally, the first time I did it I would do the lesson with the book the first time and then the next day I would do it without the book. It is a great course. You may also want to mix in using Assimil. that is a very helpful course too. Good luck.
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Senior Member
Joined 3005 days ago

178 posts - 354 votes 
Speaks: English*, French
Studies: Latin, German, Spanish, Japanese

 Message 4 of 12
23 July 2015 at 6:25pm | IP Logged 
Platiquemos is a popular reworking of FSI Spanish which provides more English
prompting in the audio so that it can be used without the book. I used to listen to the units in my
car without having read them and it was great. The only issue is that it's commercial
rather than public domain. But it costs less than Pimsleur at least (and it's common enough that
you might be able to get it from your local library).

Edited by AlexTG on 23 July 2015 at 6:28pm

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United States
TotalTravelers.ComRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 1784 days ago

6 posts - 6 votes
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish

 Message 5 of 12
23 July 2015 at 10:46pm | IP Logged 
I've been a lurker here for a few months and the quantity and more importantly the
quality of the information available is fantastic. Whatever happens I hope the
community stays together. I really would like to have the forum designed to be read on
phones. I do it now but it not a very good experience. Additionally I like where you
can put @username and it automatically notifies them. Other forums I've been a member
of have kept up with the times and have seen great growth others are similar to here
in that the admin had basically given up on anything more than keeping it online and
they are stagnanting severally, basically surviving from all of the great content
posted previously over the years. Clearly the most important things are the active
members and the archive of years worth of great content. Sorry I know it's off topic
(in my own topic, lol).


I have actually read quite a bit about your approach and I have been doing something
similar just spaced out. I started with Duolingo to get a base and then jumped into
native materials. Input only though, reading articles and watching television. Now
I've started a "Talking phase" I suppose. Though I'm still reading and watching TV as
noted above. I suppose the only thing I haven't done really is writing.

As I said I did some text messaging as a warm up for speaking with a tutor online. I
suppose I should start posting to Lang8, I could definitely see how that would help my
speech(I can use my phone to post too!). My tutor on Italki is a native speaker in
Mexico with a language teaching degree and I pay between $5 and $10 an hour depending
on how many classes I sign up for at the same time and their length. So I don't think
that can be beat. Additionally he does a good job of correcting me, sending those as a
message so I can add them to Anki, and can keep the conversation from stagnating. I am
a shy person so that helps. It amazes me that I can get all that and specify the
country the speaker is from for such a great price.

I do like the idea of doing a daily news broadcast with a transcript and I think
that's something I'll add along with a bit of writing. I just want to get my speaking
ability up to the same level as my listening and reading because it's lagging right
now(I hadn't spoken at all until two weeks ago).


I certainly think I could take the time to sit down and do one a day and then do the
one from the previous day while walking around. Are there instructions on how to use
FSI whether in the download or on the web somewhere else?


I'm sure I could find a copy of Platiquemos around somewhere to try...... THat sounds
like it might be a good choice for me since I really prefer to walk around and I also
prefer to do pretty much all my studying with my phone. My computer is only used for
typing large volumes(Like this reply for instance, lol). I had heard that the first
two sections of Platiquemos were from the pragmatic course and then the next to were
from FSI Basic. Is that true? Is it an advantage, disadvantage, agnostic?

Thanks for the help already. Long Live HTLAL(optimized for mobile of course, lol).

1 person has voted this message useful

United States
TotalTravelers.ComRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 1784 days ago

6 posts - 6 votes
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish

 Message 6 of 12
24 July 2015 at 1:05am | IP Logged 
Oh and I meant to also ask, what should I do to make sure I get the most out of my
speaking sessions? As I said he does not hesitate to correct and whatever he does
correct he texts to me so I can study it later(I add it to Anki). We seem to talk
about a variety of topics and some of them fairly high level(self driving cars, about
building my business). I tend to really push myself so a lot of times he's got correct
me with the proper words or conjugations. I assume that's is better than trying to
stick closely to what I already know. So far we haven't planned any particular topics
we just kind of let the conversation go where it will. Like that we've spoken of a
wide variety and probably will continue to. Sometimes I feel like I'm doing well and
then other days I'm depressed when I get off the phone.

Is there anything I'm not doing that I should or something maybe I should stop? I want
to get the most I can out of them.

It was funny today he was so interested in what I was talking about my 45min class
went an hour and he would have kept talking if he didn't have another session to do.
He genuinely seemed excited to continue the conversation tomorrow. :) That can't be a
bad sign(although I didn't feel like I did well today).
1 person has voted this message useful

Senior Member
Virgin Islands
Speaks: Ladino
Joined 3629 days ago

2224 posts - 6708 votes 
Speaks: English*, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Creole (French)

 Message 7 of 12
24 July 2015 at 2:05am | IP Logged 
Ask him to tell you what you're mistakes are in general after a session of conversation and write them down. For instance is it confusing tenses? Gender agreement? Relative pronouns, conjugation issues? Then, try to solve one problem at a time not all of them at once. The Cervantes Aveteca site I gave you has lessons geared, at your level for all of these. FSI's drills will really help, but you can also find a set of drills and exercises online by searching, like preterito vs imperfect for instance.

You can also take notes on paper while talking but try not to go crazy working on random individual errors, just concentrate on global errors. Your random errors will sort themselves out over time the more you learn and the more you speak. I still make mistakes when I'm tired or have been speaking Portuguese or reading Ladino for a while and have to switch. The key is to accept that you will make mistakes but work on them without getting overwhelmed by the totality. So say, if you have trouble with gender agreement, verb tenses, relative pronouns and conjugations. Start with, say conjugations and make a concerted effort to master them and then try to work on the next global issue as you keep moving along in your studies.

Edited by iguanamon on 24 July 2015 at 1:07pm

1 person has voted this message useful

United States
TotalTravelers.ComRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 1784 days ago

6 posts - 6 votes
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish

 Message 8 of 12
24 July 2015 at 6:02am | IP Logged 
That is a good idea, I'll have had maybe 8 classes with him by tomorrow so he should be
able to give me something specific I can focus on. Especially since I am about to be
intensely traveling and will not be able to have speech classes for a bit. I think some
FSI conjugation exercises would be really helpful. I often have to stop and think a
second to conjugate the verb correctly which obviously breaks up the conversation.

I like the idea of choosing something and focusing on it intensely and then moving to
another item. I just can't wait til I can really think in Spanish. I find that sometimes
I can with basic listening or speaking but as soon as it gets more difficult I start
translating in my head. I definitely feel like my speech is smoothing out though.

Also I appreciate the links, those look like great resources.

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