We asked three beginners to spend just 15 hours learning Spanish with Babbel, and then compete in a series of challenges to show off their skills. The challenges were designed to test the contestants’ abilities to have real-life conversations. Speaking and listening in Spanish only, the contestants had to grocery shop, take a dance class, and go on a blind date — which, to be honest, is a nerve-wracking prospect even in English. While we think every contestant did great across all the challenges, there could be only one winner. (If you haven’t watched the videos yet, consider this your spoiler alert.) Here are the winning strategies that helped our winner Deb become conversational in Spanish after just 15 hours of study.
1. Could You Repeat That Please?
If you’re having a conversation with someone and you don’t completely understand what they said, it’s totally normal to ask them to repeat it, or for you to say it back to them to make sure you have it right (because we all know that simply nodding and smiling through your confusion is a dangerous game to play!). This is key in learning truly conversational Spanish.
Deb employs this active listening strategy during the grocery challenge. As the customer lists the items Deb will need in order to cook her favorite dish, Deb repeats each ingredient back to her. This not only made the conversation flow more naturally, it also helped slow things down just enough so that Deb was able to absorb and understand each word.
When you’re learning a new language, there’s nothing wrong with asking the person you’re speaking with to talk slower or to slow things down yourself by asking clarifying questions. After all, to have a conversation, you need to be able to understand what the other person is telling you.
2. Don’t Infuse English Into Your Spanish
Throughout the Spanish challenge, Deb never reverted to English or tried to incorporate English words into Spanish sentences. She really committed to speaking only in Spanish, and even though she made mistakes, this commitment to the new language made her conversations much more fluid. When you know that you only have one source to pull from — even if it feels like there’s not a lot there — it really forces you to use that language and to find a way to express yourself, even with your limited vocabulary. The most important thing is to keep at it. Over time your skills will expand and you’ll surprise yourself with your newfound abilities.
3. Embrace The Accent
In addition to only speaking in Spanish, Deb used the accent, which helped her conversation sound more natural. Fully embracing the accent and trying to sound like a native speaker when you first start learning a new language can be daunting. It requires not being too self-conscious or overly self-critical, and just diving right in. But adopting the accent is a crucial part of learning a new language, and it gets easier with practice.
4. Don’t Strive For Perfection
This is perhaps the most important strategy of all. No one speaks and writes perfectly in any language, not even native speakers. Remember, language is about communication. As long as you’re able to communicate, no matter how rough it is, then you’ve succeeded, and you can only get better the more you practice. That’s how you become master conversational Spanish, or become conversational in any other language. Throughout the challenge, Deb always asked plenty of questions and stayed open-minded. She viewed each challenge as an exciting opportunity to try something new, and isn’t that what life’s all about, anyway?