Sounding like a native

I am now into the third week of my short 5-week Spanish Challenge! I’ve been practicing about half an hour a day. As always, this has included a lot of listening. Last time I wrote about following the World Cup in Spanish, this post focuses on Pa’ que sepas (“so you know”) – one of my favourite podcasts for Spanish.

Because Pa’ que sepas responds to user-generated questions, the show invariably focuses on common grammar problems and the finicky little details that are difficult to learn from a textbook. The episodes Um, like, collocations ‘n stuff (11.03.2014) and Tip of the Day and That Thingy (01.08.2012) look more closely at how hispanohablantes speak in everyday situations, and really demonstrate why I like the show so much.

In Um, like… the panel discusses filler words “sorta”, “kinda”, “um”, “ah”. As a learner who has never spent any meaningful time in a Spanish-speaking country, I found this really interesting and helpful. Knowing these types of expressions boosts my confidence and helps me to get ‘in character’, if you like. It also helps me better understand naturally-spoken Spanish. For example, o sea appears in the dictionary as or rather” but is used much like the English nonsense word “liiike”. Similarly, “Tip of the day” covers phrases like “how’d you go with that thing?” or “what do you think of whatshisname?”.

Collocations are pre-fab chunks of words that just ‘go’ together . There are no rules to them. For example, “I worked overtime yesterday” is just said a lot more often than “I worked extra hours yesterday”. In “Um, like…”, Erica recommends consciously trying to learn words with their collocates to help you sound more natural in your target language. I agree with JP, though: There’s only so much you can learn from dictionaries or books, and the effectiveness of rote learning is limited by your attention span.

That is: The ability to sound natural in a foreign language comes with time spent listening, reading and interacting with native speakers. The important thing after that is to be on the lookout, make notes, and be prepared to forget. You can get away with understanding just the gist of things when you’re listening, while reading is better for closely scrutinising new words and phrases. You’re in business when you can find audio with transcripts. Check out my Spanish Resources category for ideas – I’ll be writing more soon!

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Did you know that Ben Affleck lived in Mexico for a year when he was thirteen? Here he is trying his best to talk about his film Argo in Spanish:

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