So, you’ve been learning to speak Spanish for quite some time now, and have worked your way up to an intermediate – advanced level. Now what? You want to take your Spanish to the next level and speak like a local! Read on to find out how to speak Spanish like a local and up your language learning game in no time!
One of the best achievements for me was people mistaking me for a Spaniard. Although it was obvious that I wasn’t (I’m half Asian), it did make them think.
When learning local Spanish, it can be quite hard to drop some of the structured grammar pieces that we learnt along the way. Speaking like a local needs to flow more naturally, which may include slang and a ‘near to native’ accent.
Before I lived in Spain, I purchased a couple of books to help me learn to speak like a local and learnt a great deal. So, if you’re looking to speak like one too, please read on for my top tips on how to speak Spanish like a local!
Learn the local slang
One of the most exciting things for me when learning to speak Spanish was the slang! When I entered my second year of University, I was told that I’d be living in Seville for the second term. This gave me plenty of time to get my slang up to scratch!
Although slang isn’t as common in other countries, it’s extremely popular in Spain and widely used. I’d say that more slang is spoken in the south of Spain, than the north.
Here’s a few examples that are typical slang words and phrases used in the southern part of Spain.
Qué pasa tío/tía
This literally means ‘what’s up uncle/ auntie.’ However, in colloquial Spanish, it’s used to address your girl, or boy friends and is a way of asking them how they’ve been.
This phrase doesn’t have a direct translation, but is used in situations when things are quite hard to believe. For example, if your food bill was really expensive, or if your friend is being lazy and they need to do their chores, ‘Anda ya’ is the way to go.
This literally means ‘my child.’ In colloquial Spanish, it’s used as a term of endearment between friends, and close circles.
Get to know Spanish people and learn from them
This one is a no brainer really… As you spend more time with Spanish people, you’ll know how to speak Spanish like a local.
It might be hard talking to them at first, even if you already have a solid level of Spanish. However, you’re here to learn and will pick up new words and phrases really quickly. Ask them to repeat, or speak a bit slower. This is so you can really understand what they’re saying and for it to fully sink in.
Use informal phrases in speech
Depending on how you’ve learnt Spanish; whether that’s at school, university, or on a language learning app, chances are, you’ve probably learnt the formal version of the language. There won’t be much colloquial language or informal sayings.
It’s really common in spoken Spanish to speak informally (depending on who you’re speaking to), and if you’re planning on going to Spain for a period of time, you might want to learn a few phrases!
Here are a few phrases that you can jot down, which are universal for the whole of Spain.
How are you?
The direct translation for this is ¿Qué tal estás? Even though it’s completely fine to say this in spoken Spanish, there are alternative ways to say it, if you want to really sound like a local.
¿Cómo te va? This literally means ‘how do you do?’ Usually, this is asked amongst friends/ young adults, not family members.
¿Qué pasa? This literally means ‘what’s up?’ It’s more informal than ‘cómo te va’ and used amongst friends. It’s also more common in the south of Spain.
‘Adiós’ is the direct translation of goodbye; however, it’s very formal, and not really used in spoken Spanish – even with older people.
Hasta luego – this literally means ‘until then’ and is more common in speech than ‘adiós.’
Practice rolling your r’s
You’ll soon be caught out of not being a native if you can’t roll your r’s! It took me a long time sitting in front of the mirror to master this one – but I soon got there!
Not only will it make you sound like a native, but it can also affect the meaning of words, if not pronounced correctly. For example:
Pero vs Perro
Pero means ‘but’ and ‘perro’ means dog.
It’s not the end of the world, and most will be able to understand you based on context, but if you really want to ramp up your skills and sound like a local, you need to get practising!
‘c’ and ‘s’
Usually, if you’re learning Spanish online, or at school, you’ll be taught Castilian. This is considered the Oxford of Spain.
If, like me, you’re moving to Andalusia, or just really like the dialect, there are some distinctions.
As a rule, Andalusians as a rule don’t pronounce the letters “c” or “z” as the Castillians do. Castillians pronounce these letters like “th” while Andalusians pronounce them like “s”, so “abrazo” (hug) becomes “abraso” in Seville)
Another thing is that the Andalusians have a tendency to shorten or omit some word endings such as the letter “s” (“Qué haces” becomes “”Qué hase”). There’s also the -ado -ada ending which becomes -ao -á (pescado = pescao; patada = patá)
It’s good to be aware of these anyway, and it’s something that you’ll soon pick up.
Use linking words in conversation
In written Spanish, you’ll usually write formal Spanish and use connectives like ‘por debido de’ (because of) ‘a pesar de que’ (despite) In spoken Spanish, and if you really want to sound like a local, you’ll need to use linking words in conversation.
Spanish like to create really long sentences, and tend to go into lots of detail when talking. Here are a few linking words to use during conversation with a Spaniard:
Así means therefore.’ Here’s an example of when it’s used in context:
No puedo ir a la fiesta porque tengo trabajo, así que te doy mi billete.
I can’t go to the party because I have work, so I’ll give you my ticket.
Vale is probably one of the most commonly used words in Andalusia. It essentially means ‘ok.’
‘¿Vamos al supermercado?’
Shall we go to the supermarket?
Entonces means ‘so.’ Think of how many times you say the word ‘so’ in English… It’s used in pretty much the same context in Spanish!
‘Ay! Mañana tengo un examen! Entonces tengo que estudiar!’
Oh! I have an example tomorrow, so I have to study!
Explain like a native
Here’s a little trick that’ll make you sound like a local (or at least someone who really gets Spanish culture) without a lot of effort. Spaniards often start phrases with “es que…”, which can have different meanings depending on the context. It can mean:
‘The thing is’
‘It’s just that’
Top tip: If you need a little pause to think about what you’re going to say next, using ‘es que’ is a great gap filler in sentences, instead of saying ‘um’ all the time!
I’ve included some examples in Spanish below to put the phrase into context.
‘The thing is’
Es que ya tengo planes
The thing is that I already have plans.
Es que es la verdad.
Well, it’s the truth
‘It’s just that’
Es que no me da la gana
I just don’t fancy it
Drop the pronouns
When you first learn Spanish, you’re taught to use the pronouns in sentences (yo, tú..) However, it sounds really unnatural and can get quite repetitive, especially during conversation. Spaniards never use pronouns during conversation, so if you want to sound like a local, start ditching them!
Yo quiero comer una manzana → Quiero comer una manzana
However, pronouns can also be used to emphasise certain words. Whilst it’s not necessary to use them, it can change the intensity of the conversation.
No voy a hacerlo ( I am not going to do it) Here we have omitted the pronoun (yo) and it’s a strong action, implying that you’re not going to do something.
Yo no voy a hacerlo (I am not going to do it) Even though this sentence means exactly the same, there’s more emphasis on the fact that you’re not going to do it!
Know your false friends ‘falsos amigos’
I remember back when I first started to learn how to speak Spanish and got muddled up with some words. It was very embarrassing!
False Friends, or ‘falsos amigos’ are words that sound like they mean the same in English, but aren’t. They are many false cognates in Spanish that you need to be aware of. Of course, you’re likely to stumble across many throughout your language journey without knowing – and you’ll probably encounter some awkward, yet funny situations!
Below are a couple of the main ones to be aware of:
Embarazada vs avergonzada
Estoy embarazada (I’m pregnant)
Estoy avergonzada (I’m embarrassed)
Embarazada = pregnant
Avergonzada = embarrassed
Estar caliente vs tener calor
Estoy caliente (I’m horny)
Tengo calor (I’m hot i.e because of the hot weather)
Estoy caliente = I am horny
Tengo calor = I am hot (because of the hot weather)
Sopa vs jabón
Necessito lavarme las manos con sopa (I need to wash my hands with soup)
Necessito lavarme las manos con jabón (I need to wash my hands with soap)
Sopa = soup
Jabón = soap
Relax and have fun
Finally, and the most important one of all is to have fun. Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Don’t worry too much at the start about becoming near to native and speaking like a local. It’s going to take some time! You need to firstly focus on practicing Spanish as much as possible, and the authenticity will come later.
I hope you enjoyed my top tips for how to speak Spanish like a local. If you have any other tips and tricks to add, I’d love to hear about them! 🙂
By SusieAuthor bio:
I’m is a passionate traveller that loves a sunny beach holiday, but also appreciate the cultural side to a trip and checking out undiscovered destinations. I’m the go-to Toucan Traveller for great holiday stories, cool photos and foodie recommendations.