When I was 15, I had my first real conversation in Spanish.
I was on my first trip abroad, in rural Guatemala with my dad and an organization called Cooperative for Education. We’d been there for several days and I hadn’t worked up the courage to talk to anyone in Spanish yet.
I had two full years of school Spanish and zero real practice speaking.
I’d built this trip up in my head as the perfect opportunity to Finally Practice My Spanish.
Since we were traveling in very remote areas far from help, our group had a couple of bodyguards. We squeezed into these red and white 4WD Nissan Frontiers and spent hours a day bumping through the rockiest roads I’ve ever been on.
The guards doubled as drivers. I was amazed watching them walkie-talkie and steer with one hand and shift with the other.
I listened to them speak, picking out words here and there, but still never spoke myself.
But we spent a lot of time with these guys, and I started to build up some courage. Somewhere around the 3rd or 4th day, I found a target to inflict my Spanish on: Hugo the bodyguard.
It was less scary than I thought, once I got the words out.
We stood in the back of the pickup and I asked him a simple question and we chatted. Maybe about lunch, or about his family. It wasn’t anything complex, and I was definitely not a wordsmith.
But back then, I loved the idea of speaking fluently (whatever that meant). I looked up to the other American adults on the trip who could speak Spanish. I knew trying to speak was the first step, and that it would get easier.
That conversation boosted my confidence for the rest of the trip.
Speaking was still hard. I planned out everything I was going to say before saying it (not the best strategy, but I didn’t know what else to do).
That first chat helped me realize that, for me, speaking with others was the whole point and the best part of learning.
The rest of the trip, I spoke with anyone who’d listen to my broken Spanish.
As soon as I got past the initial conversation, I stopped stalling and started trying to see how much I could say.
It sent me on the path of living in Chile as an exchange student, spending tons of time in Latin America, and ultimately sending you this email today.
Don’t put off your first conversation
If you’ve been learning for more than 5 months and haven’t had your first 20-30 minute conversation in Spanish, don’t keep waiting (italki.com is a great place to start). The longer you wait, the more pressure you tend to put on yourself to get things “exactly right”.
The first conversation may or may not go smoothly. But either way, you’ll get past that initial roadblock. You’ll start consolidating your knowledge about Spanish into the ability to use Spanish.
And you’ll probably do better than you think.
But more importantly, you’ll start connecting Spanish to engaging experiences — not just conjugations.
Buena suerte y feliz sábado!
P.S. I’ve had lots of requests for a video on how to roll your R’s in Spanish — I’m filming it today and releasing it on Monday on my YouTube channel, so keep an eye out if that sounds helpful.