Understanding the language and not speaking it well is actually a very common problem among expats. And there are many reasons for it.
Most expats find that the reason they are having trouble speaking Spanish is that they tend to focus too much on the grammar rules, draw too many parallels with their mother tongue as they speak, or simply feel anxious.
If you feel this way, too, it’s OK and it’s not your fault. The good news is you will definitely improve if you keep practicing.
As a Spanish learner, you’ve spent a great deal of time and effort in order to be able to understand the language – be it practicing grammar, vocabulary, idioms, or colloquialisms. To speak well, you need to practice just as much, if not more.
Think about it this way.
You may theoretically know everything about running – how to breathe correctly, what shoes to wear, how to stretch, pace yourself, etc. But you won’t become a good runner just by knowing all of that – you need to get out there and run regularly so that you can gradually improve. The same goes for speaking another language.
One thing you need to remember that having difficulty communicating in Spanish isn’t because your abilities are somehow inferior to others. You just haven’t spent enough time practicing that skill, speaking.
Speaking time tends to be limited in most Spanish classes, where most of the time is spent on explaining the lesson, taking notes, listening, and exercises. Speaking typically gets the least amount of attention.
By repeating a classroom routine over and over, your brain gets used to a certain type of activities: reading and extracting meaning, listening and getting used to the voice of your instructor, filling in the blanks, etc. In other words, your brain is in a “reading and writing mode.”
During these activities, you accumulate a great deal of passive grammar and vocabulary. The only way to activate all that knowledge is by speaking and practicing a lot so that you start getting used to natural speech patterns. This is why, when choosing a Spanish instructor, choose one that will act more like your speaking partner rather than a traditional teacher.
The takeaway message is this: the only way to improve speaking is by speaking… a lot!
Make sure to dedicate most of your learning time to it if you are looking to improve that skill. Spend most of your practice time on speaking, active listening and writing, and less reading and passive listening.
Speaking is fundamentally different from reading or listening. Speaking requires altogether different skill.
Idiomatic usages are a constant difficulty for many. Although your listener may understand what you are trying to say, though very little of what you say is how a Costa Rican would say it.
Don’t be afraid or shy to speak Spanish whether your pronounciation is correct or not. You just need to let it out. You will not know unless you let the words out of our mouth as much as you can.
Once you make Spanish a part of your normal daily communication, you will see the results.
Our friend Christopher Howard has put together a series of useful one-of-a-kind e-books on Spanish spoken in Costa Rica, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama.