HomeQ&ANever Quit Trying to Talk to People in Spanish!

Never Quit Trying to Talk to People in Spanish!


I just ended a business trip to Las Vegas, and while checking out of my hotel I could hear the man in line behind me speaking in Spanish.

I smiled and said, ´Buenos días señor. ¿De donde es usted?"

He was from México. I didn't ask the city. I couldn't remember "mucho gusto." I forgot to ask his name. I'm not real sure what else was said, but he barely spoke English at all, and I didn't do too well in Spanish. He did tell me that my Spanish was better than his English, but I knew I wasn't doing as well as I should. I felt uncomfortable and totally at a loss. I froze up.

A few minutes later he encountered me at the Bell stand. We exchanged strained pleasantries, but I wasn't ready for him to say something again and I think I didn't do too well that time either.

As I left the hotel I went over and over and over in my mind all the things I could have, would have, should have said. I knew so many things to say, but when the time came, I couldn't manage. It was discouraging that I didn't do so well, but I didn't lose hope. Rather, I just made up my mind to keep trying and hope that the next time I have an opportunity it'll be better.

Later that day I boarded my plane for Kentucky. I sat down next to an older lady that seemed shy. She acknowledged me with her eyes but didn't say a word. I got out my "Practice Makes Perfect - Spanish Pronouns and Prepositions" workbook and started working on that, and before long she noticed that I was writing in Spanish.

It turns out that she couldn't speak English at all, and was flying alone from Guadalajara to stay with her son and his family in Kentucky. I put my workbook away, and we started talking. Our conversation started off very slowly, but the more we talked the more relaxed I became and the easier it flowed out of me.

Irma and I had a blast talking together for 3 hours straight. What might have been a very lonely trip for her became something that she really seemed to enjoy. Sometimes when I couldn't remember a word, I could figure out how to ask her in Spanish using words I did know! For instance, I used suegra when I meant cuñada, and she reminded me that la suegra es la madre de mi esposa, pero la hermana de mi esposa es mi cuñada. Oh, yeah, that's right! smile

We even spent some time with me trying to teach her English! I know I loved every minute of it, and swaggered out of that plane with such confidence in myself and my ability to converse en español. What a difference from the experience I had earlier in the day!

I think the lesson learned is that even when we do poorly, it doesn't mean we don't have the knowledge to converse. It may just mean that when we're put on the spot, anxiety may take over and cause us to do more poorly than we otherwise would. And the way to overcome that is to keep trying until we succeed.

updated JUN 1, 2012
edited by Eddy
posted by Goyo
¡Qué buena historia! Fue muy inspirante, Greg. Gracias por compartirla con nosotros. :) - Izanoni1, ABR 15, 2010
¡Eso es gran mi amigo! - MattM, ABR 15, 2010
I know the freezing up moment well! - caza, ABR 15, 2010
Way to GO, Goyo!! What an awesome experience. - Valerie, ABR 15, 2010
cuñada = la hermana de mi esposa, no la hija :)) Wonderful story! - Issabela, ABR 15, 2010
lol thanks Issa. :)) - Goyo, ABR 15, 2010
Very inspirational my friend , i hope I can do half as well as you did. - ray76, OCT 12, 2011

21 Answers


Great story - I think it should become the standard reference thread for the regular "How can I learn to speak Espanyol fast?" questions! LOL

To me, that really is the one and only key. The more you practice, the better you get!

Thanks Goyo!

updated OCT 12, 2011
posted by Gekkosan
Oh definitely! I vote for that! :) - Valerie, ABR 15, 2010
Encoiraging response, Gekko:) - FELIZ77, OCT 12, 2011

Greg, this is such a great story! I, too, have some times where I freeze up and can't remember what I want to say, but when I'm relaxed and there's no pressure I realize that I know a lot more Spanish than I thought I did.

Thanks for sharing...you made me smile today. grin

updated OCT 12, 2011
posted by --Mariana--

Great story, you are my man!!cool smile

I have always said, you got to try , everybody has to try at least, you don't try, you will not get anywhere at all!

There are so may oldies here, they never ever post in Spanish, so self-conscious and omg, I might make a mistake and somebody may laugh...so what??????????

Good job, Greg, you have made my day with this attitudesmilesmilesmilesmilesmile

updated OCT 12, 2011
posted by 00494d19
We can take the laughter...just not the dunce corner mi amiga!! :) jejeje - Nicole-B, ABR 15, 2010
:-) point taken, mi reina - billy-jones, ABR 15, 2010
Tiene razón, Heidita. Debería escribir más en español y enfrentar las consequencias! :-) - MLucie, OCT 12, 2011

What a super great story!!!!!!!!!! Thank you for sharing. How many times I have had similar problems with freezing up! How many times have I skipped beginner exercises out of fear of looking bad. Or had a freeze-up even here on spanishdict. What a real man and winner you are! A few of us sort of painted ourselves into a corner...We studied hard and made a lot of points, we know a ton of words but I/we (speaking only for myself) don't have the basics down pat. We can get our point across with one or two word sentences, a Bible verse, song lyric or phrase, but not actually converse very much in original thought. However we feel people expect us to be super-fluent. Your story (and Heidita's beatings) have given me the courage to let go of my pride and start doing beginner exercises.

A small story along the same lines. A few of my friends here know that I don't gamble but I do go to a casino every Wednesday and eat at their buffet because it's free. A few weeks ago I was there and it just so happened that there was this older lady in front of me that appeared to be Mexican. I thought little of it as we have a good many Mexicans here and most speak enough English to get by. Anyway the hostess came over and asked her if she wanted to sit in the smoking section or sit in the non-smoking section. The poor lady didn't understand a word of what the hostess was asking. The hostess was beginning to get rude and they both were becoming frustrated. I butted in and said "just a minute" to the hostess and said "fumar o no" to the Mexican lady. Then she understood and all was great. I felt like I was the Ambassador to Spain or something.

Thanks again, Goyo.

updated OCT 11, 2011
edited by billy-jones
posted by billy-jones
omg..my beatings, what will people think!! I dont care, you did the Pepa, wonderful:) - 00494d19, ABR 16, 2010
Gracias, mi reina. - billy-jones, ABR 16, 2010

As everyone else has said, this is a great story, and should help to inspire people who feel they are having trouble with the language. I have lived in Spain for 2 or 3 years, and while my written Spanish isn't too bad (as long as I have internet access to look things up on spanishdict.com!), I still have trouble speaking and especially understanding. I'm constantly trying to think in Spanish, just thinking about what I am doing and how I would say that in Spanish, and the conversations I have in my head sound great, but when I put it into practice I can't keep up with the pace of native speakers and I always end up closing the conversation and then thinking of more things I could have said 10 seconds later as I'm walking away! But it /is/ getting better with practice, so if you are feeling discouraged just keep plugging away. We are all at different points on the same journey, there will always be people ahead of you as well as behind you. Don't panic!

I have a short story from a couple of years ago, soon after I moved here. I love going to the local Ferretería (hardware shop) rather than the big DIY stores, partly to support the local businesses but also because it's a great place to practice. Some of the staff there speak some English but they prefer it if you try Spanish and they never seem to be in a hurry - even if there is a queue of people they will patiently wait for you to dig around for the words for what you are looking for (on occasions I've resorted to drawing or even miming what I wanted!). This one time I wanted some wood glue. There were loads of different types of glue hanging up behind the counter but I couldn't see wood glue. When it came to my turn I told the assistant I wanted "pegamento" but I couldn't see what I wanted. She asked "¿Para que? and for some reason the word "bolsa" came into my head (perhaps because of balsa wood). Cue a very confused assistant, luckily there were some broom handles nearby so I grabbed one and said "Como esto" to which she replied with a relieved smile "Ahh, madera", and immediately took me to the other side of the shop where they kept the wood glue grin I've never forgotten that word since!

updated ABR 15, 2010
posted by Richard-Thomas
Good story! - --Mariana--, ABR 15, 2010
¡Qué divertido! - Izanoni1, ABR 15, 2010
... and it's SO true that the embarrasing moments help us remember better! :S - Valerie, ABR 15, 2010
The words you make a fool of yourself over are the words that always stick! :) - Nicole-B, ABR 15, 2010

Nice story and good points. If I knew you were in the other Las Vegas I would have waved as you flew over.

updated OCT 12, 2011
posted by nizhoni1

Hi Goyo...

Don't worry and keep it up. Showing your interest is the most important and people will understand that... No matter what you are saying verbally. It is hard to speak to strangers, specially if they speak another language, so I commend you for your effort. Keep it up.


updated OCT 12, 2011
posted by LuisaGomezBartle

A good story. This is very good for us to talk to a native speaker. It always makes us enthusiastic like a fire.

updated OCT 12, 2011
posted by Fidalgo

Great story Greg! I think this has happened to most of us in one form or another. Where I live, there are so many opportunities to practice "meet and greet" situations. However, once I was thrown in a foreign country and forced to get a bit deeper into conversation, I started to freeze up for a day or two. I was so mad at myself. I had practiced and practiced what to say and what to ask in so many situations. When we were working on jobs on the mission field, I forgot simple vocabulary, like the word for "broom". tongue rolleye I said "barrer" instead. I wanted to kick myself.

When I was trying to fall asleep the second night, I started contemplating on what was going on. I realized that I was concentrating too much. I was trying to be too perfect. You can't concentrate, try to have a perfect accent, over think things and speak at the same time. It is impossible. But, once you relax, laugh a little and enjoy communicating, everything starts to flow. Was I sharing my hopes, dreams and aspirations with these people...no. But I was able to communicate my needs and the needs of those around me who didn't speak Spanish. I was able to learn a lot about my new friends and even have a laugh or two.

So thanks for your story. It gives us all hope. smile

updated OCT 12, 2011
posted by Nicole-B
You are ABSOLUTELY right!! This happens to me all the time. If I focus on expressing myself perfectly I stammer and stutter and hesitate and make no sense at all. jeje But if I give up on trying to be perfect and focus on COMMUNICATING... - Valerie, ABR 15, 2010
... I get much better results! :) - Valerie, ABR 15, 2010

Your seat assignment sounds like providencia. I always freeze up as well. Sometimes it seems I am learning so much but as soon as I get around my Spanish friends, I can't even say the simplest things.

updated OCT 12, 2011
posted by scottdoherty
Me neither! Mi esposo habla español, pero no hablamos bastante. - foxluv, ABR 16, 2010

I had to explain someone's problems to a doctor recently. Wow! The doctor said nothing as I explained the quite long problem coupled with allergy warnings and so on. As he gave no response, just listened and barely raised an eyebrow I began to get more and more halting and worried.

Luckily, as I stood there sweating and wondering if he understood, he then proceeded to explain what he proposed to prescribe and all was well. That feeling of nervousness due to no response is horrible. It made me realise how important it is if someone is using English as a second language, to signal, even if non-verbally, that you understand and encourage them to continue.

updated OCT 12, 2011
posted by lagartijaverde
Absolutely Bird people need encouragement to continue speaking in another language even if it is only positive NVC (Non verbal communication) :) - FELIZ77, OCT 12, 2011

Great story Goyo, especially the good part with the lady on the plane. I can certainly relate to the first part. :(

updated OCT 12, 2011
posted by Yeser007
;) I'll bet she was beautiful. - EL_MAG0, OCT 12, 2011

I should make an appointment also but I'm afraid I'll freeze up like Greg did with the guy. - yesero

There we go again! rolleyes

Everybody here should take advantage of the enomous generosity shown by Carlos offering to talk to people, I mean, if you want to practise you have to start somewhere, and nobody better than Carlos with his patience and wonderful diction, I may addsmile

And what about the chat room? We often go on voice and I have seen Greg there, only Greg mind you! he stumbles over the words, we have to repeat like a dozen times...SO WHAT???? We all love him, Valerie gives him a hand, scolds me for talking too fast, but we love having beginners there, after all, why don't you listen at least? You can just listen in, if you wishgrin

I admire his attempts and he is slowly but surely getting theresmile

Greg, you are the man!! I drink to that!

updated OCT 12, 2011
posted by 00494d19
You're right - I posted Carlos's thread, because I talk to him once a week. But of course your talkbox meetings are beneficial as well :) - Issabela, ABR 16, 2010
And judging from your emoticon, it seems to me that you have already drunk for that, jejeje :) - Issabela, ABR 16, 2010
rofl jeje y yo también :) - EL_MAG0, OCT 12, 2011

I decided to bump this up after reading billy- jones post. All the posts are good but I could relate to his.

updated OCT 12, 2011
posted by swampy

During my last trip to Mexico I had a half-hour taxi ride to the hotel. The taxi driver wanted to work on his English, and I wanted to work on my Spanish. That half-hour was invaluable in putting the vocabulary in my head into practical use. Even a little bit of practice with the waiters at the local Mexcian restaurants helps immensely.

Goyo's story also reminds me of another lesson. When I was learning to drag-race motorcycles, the man who was helping me said, "Tell me what you are going to do when you get to the starting line, step-by-step, because if you don't know your routine and you can't tell me what it is now, you certainly won't be able to do the right thing under the stress of racing."

updated OCT 12, 2011
posted by 008f2974
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