Why You Shouldn’t Talk to Bilingual Spanish Speakers

When learning a new language, speaking as soon as possible is tremendously helpful in making progress.  Experience using the language in the real world is vital to being able to hold a conversation.

But to do this, you need someone to talk to.

There are many opinions on the best way to practice speaking Spanish.

Some say you should talk exclusively to native speakers.  Others say you can practice with other Spanish learners or even your pet, as long as you  practice speaking.

While you can make an argument for both approaches, I have one rule that will save you a lot of time and frustration.

Never have a bilingual language partner.

Initially it seems like a good idea to speak to a bilingual friend or language partner.  Someone who already speaks English and Spanish is a good ally to have while you’re learning.

But this person shouldn’t be your go-to for speaking practice.

These are some of the pitfalls of speaking Spanish with bilingual language partners:

1) They will switch to English

Your Spanish-speaking friends and language partners may switch to speaking to you in English out of convenience or impatience.

If you’re a beginner or even intermediate learner that struggles with listening comprehension, it will be easy for your language partner to revert to English to explain something to you.

This may be helpful for a little while if you are an absolute beginner, but if you want to really get better at speaking Spanish then this will become frustrating and counterproductive.

It’s not always intentional, and usually happens when you get stuck in a conversation.

It just happens naturally because it saves both of you time, but this doesn’t help you learn to speak Spanish.

2) They will make you comfortable speaking English or Spanglish

When talking to someone who is bilingual, when you can’t think of a word you will feel comfortable just saying the word you don’t know in English.

You can skate by with this approach because you know they will understand you.

This does not help you become proficient in Spanish.

While this is fine if you are a beginner and may help you get through conversations, it won’t fly when you have a real life situation where you don’t have the words to say what you want to say.

If you are in a Spanish speaking country or talking to someone that doesn’t know any English, you will be forced to explain yourself using only Spanish.

Figuring out how to ask the right questions and communicate the same concept in more than one way takes practice.

In the beginning you’ll probably find yourself using lots of hand gestures and other nonverbals.  Eventually, however, you will develop a skill at describing things with the Spanish you know to get your point across.

This is also a good way to acquire new vocabulary.  The association with a social interaction where you forgot or didn’t know a word makes it stand out in your mind more, thus you are more likely to remember it later.

It also increases your motivation to look up words you don’t know since you know you will need to use them.

In this end this will make you a better conversationalist, because you will have practice thinking on your feet and finding different ways to express yourself.

3) Social dynamics may get in the way

In social interactions, you want the conversation to flow naturally and be relaxed.

The point is to share thoughts, ideas, and emotions–not to win a grammar contest or show off your vocabulary (unless your friends are snobs, in which case I’d recommend finding different people to hang out with).

But if you get lost too often, it makes conversation painfully difficult.

It’s unnatural for your friends to slow down and start speaking textbook, slow Spanish to give you time to catch up.  More than likely they will just speak to you in English to make things easier for you and to move on with the conversation.

Sticking to speaking strictly Spanish with bilingual friends may be a challenge, especially if there’s more than one person in the conversation.

If you’re among a group of people, it’s common to revert to speaking the common language among you out of respect so that everyone understands the conversation.   That is often English.

So who’s the ideal language partner?

To get the most out your speaking practice, chat with Spanish speakers who know very little, if any, English.

The person doesn’t have to necessarily be a native Spanish speaker.  Although it is preferred to talk a native speaker so you can get used to pronunciation and intonation in Spanish, a language partner that speaks Spanish as a foreign language may work for you.

The key is to find someone who has a decent level of Spanish and isn’t very comfortable speaking English.

We tend to fall back to our comfort zones eventually, so finding someone who is more comfortable speaking Spanish than English will be more helpful than a bilingual language partner.

This will make relying on the ability to switch back to English less likely if not impossible.

If you are not used to speaking to native or advanced-level Spanish speakers, you make have ask them to “habla despacio, por favor” (speak slowly, please) in the beginning.  It may be a little difficult at first, but eventually you will start to understand more and more.

This is learning how the language is used in the real world and not just in a classroom or on Duolingo.

By speaking to Spanish speakers that don’t speak English, you will improve your ability to understand and speak Spanish much faster.

Resources for Finding Language Partners



4 Time Wasting Spanish Study Mistakes, And How You Can Avoid Them

You only have so much time in a day.

Once you’ve dedicated yourself to learn Spanish, you want to make sure you are using your study time effectively.

Unfortunately, there are many distractions that can pull you away from your goal.  You may feel like you’re doing something, but in the long run there are certain things that are a huge waste of time.

I’ve learned that even though some of these may seem like a good idea, they aren’t the most efficient ways of studying.

Here is a breakdown of some time wasters I fell victim to, along with strategies you can use to make better use of your time.


Time Waster #1: Reviewing the Spanish Word of the Day

You may find a site or an app that offers to send you a Spanish word of the day or flash it on your screen.

Initially, you feel like “hey, I’m learning some vocabulary here.”

But a week, or even just a few days later, try to see if you can remember all of those “words of the day.”

I know it seems like a good idea, but you will rarely retain this vocabulary.

It’s often a pretty random word selection.  One day the word is ver, the next day it’s mantequilla.

I subscribed to one of these “word of the day” services once, and 3 days in I received a message with the word for wasteland.

When would I ever have a need to use that word?

I don’t think I’ve ever even used it in English.

I immediately unsubscribed from this useless service.

Unless you have an application with vocabulary that is relevant to you (with spaced repetition built in), you are wasting your time.

Solution #1: Learn Vocabulary You Actually Need and Quiz Yourself Often

It’s best to find words that are relevant to you and your interests, and to learn them in context.

To memorize a new word, you would have to be exposed to it more than once and in different contexts.  This will help to embed it in your long-term memory.

First, find examples of how the word is used in the real world.  Searching the Internet for articles, websites, or even noting how a phrase is used by a language partner, friend, or tutor are all good ways to do this.

Next, practice making your own sentences using the new word.  This will help reinforce the new vocabulary and create another association in your mind.

Finally, review what you’ve learned. The best way to do this to maximize retention is to quiz yourself.  Recalling information is the best way to learn, even if you don’t get the answers right all the time.

Try writing your own fill-in-the-blank sentences with the new word you are learning as the missing word.  You can also write out the word with blank spaces for certain letters, and later quiz yourself by filling in the missing letters.

If you want a proven system for memorizing new vocabulary, check out Make Words Stick by my friend Olly Richards. In it, he breaks down exactly how to learn new words and some really great technology you can take advantage of to learn wherever you are.
Time Waster #2: Passively Watching TV and Listening to the Radio

Early on in my Spanish study, I would try to watch the morning news in Spanish.

There’s a morning show in Univision that’s in a Good Morning America type of format.  There are many segments on different topics, and it’s done mostly in a relaxed, conversational style.

This proved to be a struggle for me, because with so many people talking at the same time and interrupting each other, I wouldn’t understand much of what was said.

The same thing goes for the radio.  Listening to the local Spanish language music station left me feeling confused and overwhelmed.  I thought by continuing to watch and listen I would eventually just pick up the language by osmosis.

I soon learned that mindlessly listening to the language when you don’t understand is counterproductive.  Your brain gets inundated with incomprehensible input, and quickly tunes it out.

While sometimes this type of exposure is good to just get used to the sound of the language, it’s not a long-term strategy.  To really improve listening comprehension you need to concentrate deliberately and for shorter periods of time with focused attention.

Solution #2: Regularly Consume Content You Like AND Understand

Find things that are on topics you like at your level.

A good rule of thumb is that if you are reading or listening to something, and don’t understand more than half of what’s being said, you should stop and find something a little easier.

This doesn’t mean you understand every word, but you should be able to follow the main ideas and note new useful vocabulary to look up later.  This should not be every other word.

It’s important that you are interested in the content so that you are motivated to learn it.  I love the Radio Ambulante podcast because it has interesting topics with full transcripts, and an English version of most stories. I listened to an episode about  Miss Rizos, a natural hair salon in the Dominican Republic.  As a natural hair stylist this peaked my interest, so listening to the interview over and over again to improve my aural comprehension wasn’t boring.

I was excited each time I listened and understood more.

A great place to find content on a variety of topics appropriate for different levels is Spanish Pod 101.  Each podcast episode is indicated as either beginner, lower intermediate, upper intermediate, and advanced.  Even as a more advanced learner you may find some new vocabulary and interesting topics in the lower levels.

Once your listening comprehension is at a high enough level, you will be ae to enjoy movies, radio, and TV shows in Spanish. But you have to train your ear first.


Time Waster #3: Focusing Too Much on Verb Conjugation

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the different verb tenses and conjugations in Spanish.

Initially, you may feel like you have to learn them all.

In the beginning, though, this is not a good idea.  It’s easy to get bogged down with trying to memorize huge verb charts.

But how often will you need to use the verb negar in the pluscuamperfecto?

I’m guessing maybe never.

I’d also argue that learning vosotros is a complete waste of time.

It’s just one more annoying verb conjugation learn, and only relevant if you plan on visiting Europe. And even then, Spainards will understand if you use ustedes.

Solution #3: Master the Important Verbs and Tenses, Just be Familiar with the Others

Most of the time in conversation, you will be talking to someone else (tu or usted) directly or talking about yourself (yo).

Master these in the present tense, then move on to understanding the past tenses.

Only focus on learning more forms of verbs that are commonly used in other tenses.  For example, it’s useful to know the command form of verbs like venir, dar, and ir because they are used often (for example, dame (give me), ven aca (come here), and vete (go away)).

Similarly, you’ll want to memorize verbs that are both irregular and common.  Tener is an example of a very useful and common verb that is irregular, meaning it doesn’t follow the usual patter for ‘-er’ ver conjugation.

In general, it would be helpful to understand the patterns of verb conjugation instead of memorizing every single verb chart.

For vosotros, I recommend having a basic awareness of it so you will detect when someone uses it with you, but don’t make it a regular part of your vocabulary. In Latin America it’s not widely used, if at all.

I would also recommend spending a short study session to familiarize yourself with voseo.

I was under the false impression that voseo, a variation of the tu form, was only used in Argentina.  I’ve also been told it’s an archaic use of the language.

I was surprised when I heard it in Central America chatting with a friend from Costa Rica.

I even heard vos used in one of my favorite Romeo Santos songs (Mi Santa, very last line).

No one taught me this and I don’t know why. It’s not in textbooks, but it is used in other parts of South America and Central America.  In my opinion, if people are still actively using it in several countries, it’s not that archaic.

Again, I wouldn’t recommend using it in your day-to-day speech, but you should be aware of it so you recognize it when you see or hear it.


Time Waster #4: Changing Your Social Media Language to Spanish

Previously I attempted to use Facebook in Spanish but I soon got bored of it and switched back to English.

This is because most of my Facebook friends speak English.

Instead of a Spanish immersion experience, it was just odd seeing “Me gusta” replace the “like” button.

It wasn’t too effective.

Furthermore, many tech and social media terms are derived from English so there isn’t much useful vocabulary you will learn just by switching the language on Facebook, Instagram, or any of your smart phone apps.

Solution #4: Find Things That Interest You and Follow/Like Them

If you want true digital immersion or just an increase in exposure to content in Spanish, look for the Spanish version of things you already do in English.

If you read the new online everyday, find the Spanish version your favorite news site.

A good way to use Facebook is to join groups of people that are learning or teaching Spanish.

You can also look for groups that are in line with your interests.  For example, I found a parenting group on Facebook in Spanish by searching for “consejos para padres” or something close to it.

You can also “like” pages of organizations or topics that interest you in Spanish. This increases your exposure to written Spanish and expands your vocabulary in areas that are actually relevant to you.

Liking pages, following people,  and finding groups with common interests in Spanish will put the language directly into your newsfeed.  It’s a smart, effortless way to make Spanish part of your daily life.


I hope you’ve found this information useful, and that these tips will help you make the most out of your Spanish study time.


Language Goals for August 2016

#ClearTheList August 2016

So how did I do with my July Goals?


My lack up interest in French proved to be too strong.  I did have fun listening to the Pimsleur French audio lessons I got from the library, and was doing pretty OK with the pronunciation.  But in the end, I didn’t know enough by my trip to Canada to be useful.

Which, by the way, the North American Polyglot Symposium was a blast!  What a great city and what an amazing event.  I met so many great people that really encouraged me.  I feel like I’m part of a great community of language learners.

The iTalki Language Challenge Olympics is officially over, and unfortunately my French tutor flaked out on me for our lesson :-(.  I didn’t have time to reschedule before my crazy busy travel schedule during the end of July.


I had several conversations with Spanish tutors to brush up a bit before my trip to Puerto Rico.  It’s a good sign when they tell me that I really don’t need lessons anymore, and that I speak almost like a native (music to any language learners ears).

Being in Puerto Rico, however, was a different story.  It’s an island of Spanglish, and since I guess I don’t look Puerto Rican many people spoke to me in English.  I’m used to this though, so I decided to follow my own advice.  I tried not to let it bother me too much.

That’s until I was humbled trying to order breakfast at a servi-carro (drive-thru) at 10:33am when they stopped serving breakfast at 10:30am.  C’mon people, I’m on vacation and this is Latin America–since when were they such time nazis?  I barely understood what the woman was complaining about because she spoke too fast.  Until finally, exasperated, she says “ay dios mio, jovencita, en este momento lo que tenemos es almuerzo” (Oh my god! Young lady, all we have right now is lunch).  I was tired and just wanted coffee, but I finally understood what she was saying.

I made some progress on my Bilingual Avenue Family Language Plan, but haven’t implemented too much since I’ve been traveling.  Besides, my son’s Spanish language exposure was on auto-pilot since we spent the week in Puerto Rico.


Attending NAPS also inspired me to make a commitment to study Portuguese.  It’s currently still a casual interest I am flirting with, but I have been listening to episodes of Portuguese Pod 101 in my spare time.

OK, so what are my goals now?


Goals for August 2016

French – Mission aborted.  It was great fun though!

Spanish – I will complete my Family Language Plan for how to make sure my son has consistent exposure to Spanish. Based on what I learned from Tetsu Young’s presentation about raising multi-lingual children at NAPS in Montreal, I might even figure out how to incorporate some Portuguese into this plan.  Brazilian nannies, if you’re out there, you may see a job posting soon :-).

Portuguese – So I haven’t set an actual goal for Portuguese, but I don’t feel like a slacker for this.  Is it OK to set a goal to set a goal? I will have to give this some thought since I’m not on the road anymore, but the end of summer is feeling like it will be a pretty lazy month for me.



I’m Too Busy to Learn Spanish (…and Other Lies)

I have plenty of friends that tell me they would learn Spanish only if they had the time.

“Ugh, I’m just too busy right now.  If it wasn’t for <insert activity excuse> I would definitely learn Spanish.” 

I often hear this after someone tells me that they want to learn Spanish.  Then when I give a simple suggestion as to how they could get started, I get hit with the dreaded busy speech.


busyness2But You Don’t Understand, I REALLY Am Busy

I know you have important things to do in your life.  Your job, your social life, the hobbies you enjoy, the side projects you’ve started, family obligations, and social media stalking browsing, and looking for pokemon are all filling your time.

Your calendar is full of stuff to do.

If you’re an overachiever like me, most of those things on your to-do list were jotted down when you felt energetic, optimistic, and inspired.  But here is the hard fact…

Most of your to-dos will never get done.

In the US, we often use the word busy as a badge of self-importance. If you ask someone what they have going on, and they say “well, not much, I’m really not that busy” you automatically think “wow, what a loser.”

Listening to a podcast recently, I heard that the word busy indicates a feeling of lack of control over your time and a lack of prioritization in your life.

If you always feel busy, you feel rushed going from thing to thing but don’t have a deep sense that you have mastery of your time and are doing what’s really important to you.

Busyness is usually a signal of overwhelm with burnout just around the corner.


The Hard Truth: No One is That Busy

Have you ever heard anyone over the age of 3 say, “I was too busy to go to the bathroom today, so I just sat here and soiled myself.” Or, “I know I smell pretty bad but I haven’t bathed in a week because I was way too busy.”

Unless you work with people that have severe mental illness, then the answer to this question is probably no.

Why? Because we all know that these things are non-negotiable and unacceptable to social norms.

Here’s my question to you: Why not make your own desires non-negotiables.


What You’re Really Saying: I Don’t Think I Can Learn Another Language

What’s really behind the busy excuse is lack of motivation that comes from a belief that the goal to learn another language is unattainable.

We have to shift that belief.

When I first started to learn Spanish, my initial struggles with understanding native speakers and feeling overwhelmed with how much there was to learn was daunting.

I almost quit.

But I didn’t give up.

Why? I reminded myself that there are many bilingual people in the world.  Think about how many people you know that speak more than one language.  Do you really think they are smarter than you?

The answer is no.


You Need the Right Approach

Learning a language is not a secret gift given to only a chosen few.  (I address this misconception in Why You Haven’t Mastered Spanish).

It is within your reach.

With a little commitment and consistency, you can achieve your goal in less time than you think.

The problem is, most of us never get started.

We keep dreaming of “one day.”

Goals without deadlines are dreams.  The only way to get your head out of the clouds and into working towards what you want is to set realistic, achievable goals that you are motivated to achieve.

And the first step is action.

Take one action right now towards your goal of mastering Spanish.  No matter how small.

If you’re not sure what to do first, download my free guide to learning Spanish in 15 minutes a day.  In it, I provide the proven techniques I’ve learned over the years that will put you on course to speaking Spanish now.

Don’t put off your goals any longer.  If you’re still reading this, you certainly have time to learn a language.

You just need the right approach.

I want to share with you the efficient learning hacks that I’ve developed to help me learn Spanish while working full time, having a child, pursuing a master’s degree, traveling, doing volunteer work, taking dance lessons, and spending time with friends.

Get your copy of Learn Spanish if 15 Minutes a day now.




Language Goals for July 2016

To keep myself accountable, I figured I’d start to post my language goals with Clear the List this month.


Admittedly I’ve never had much interest in learning French.  I’ve decided to learn some very basic French this month for the following reasons:

  • I’m going to the North American Polyglot Symposium in Montreal later this month (my official first trip to Canada, since I’m not counting that time I went to visit Niagara Falls as a child)
  • I’m participating in the iTalki Language Challenge Olympics.  One of the challenges is to complete 1 lesson in 4 different languages.  French is the 4th language.


My Spanish goals are centered around learning some advanced grammar and maintaining my current level of conversational Spanish.  I’m continuing exposure to Spanish in my daily life by listening to some of my favorite podcasts and news sites.

I also had a conversation with Marianna DuBosq of Bilingual Avenue, an amazing community of parents raising multi-lingual children.  We chatted about ways to increase language exposure for children when you have a busy schedule, and she did a podcast about language games you can play in the car.

This month I’m committed to completing the Family Language Plan to be more intentional about language goals and exposure for my son.


Last month I sat in on a Portuguese conversation at the World Languages Cafe.  I also taught my son (and myself) how to count to 10 in Portuguese.

I have been hesitant to go all in with my Portuguese study, because I’m afraid of mixing it up with Spanish.

But in a recent conversation with a native Spanish speaker, I was encouraged not to be worried about this because my level of Spanish is pretty high.  I also had a little boost of inspiration from watching Olly Richards and Jimmy Mello chat in Portuguese.

I plan to travel to Brazil but that is more of a long term goal, so I continue to dabble in the language.  I won’t set any definite goals for Portuguese this month, but it is still on my radar.

Update: I just got a premium subscription to PortuguesePod101, and since I’ll have time to kill in the airport I will definitely be checking out a few episodes.

So what are your language goals this month?