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Don't give up on speaking with natives.

Recently, I had the worst Spanish-speaking experience in my life. A man who could only speak Spanish and a few numbers and words in English came into the store where I am a part-time employee. Naturally, I was the one who ended up trying to communicate with him since I was the only one who knew more than "hola," "gracias," and "como esta" working that day.

To be clear, I have conversed in Spanish with people before--but it has always been with people who know English as well. Without the security of the other person being able to switch to English, guess what? I panicked.

The man kept repeating "una naranja" over and over, so I knew he was trying to ask something about the oranges he was buying. However, it was extremely difficult to figure out what he was asking because he would not use full sentences.

Eventually, after a lot of pointing and frustrated gestures from us both, I managed to figure out that he was asking how much the oranges weighed. I pointed to the screen.

"Five one six?" he asked. It read five and sixteen one hundredths or five point one six, so I nodded.

"Heavy," he said.

"Si," I agreed.

He smiled, thanked me, and left.

After he left, I realized that he was asking how much ONE orange weighed instead of the whole bag.

I told him that ONE orange weighed FIVE POINT ONE SIX POUNDS.

No wonder he was confused.

After beating myself up a lot and replaying the scenario over and over in my mind, I realized that I learned a valuable lesson. Not only should I calm down and be less stressed out (no doubt my panicking hindered my addled brain even further), but I also should speak my mind.

Next time, I will remember to say, "Por favor, habla en las frases completas."

April 27, 2018


[deactivated user]

    I would not suggest saying "Please speak in complete sentences" as that could very easily come across wrong and offend someone. It suggests that your problem understanding is someone else's fault. And for all you know, he was speaking complete sentences. A much better idea would be "mas despacio por favor.. todavía estoy aprendiendo español." This works much better. Anyways, I work Uber and Uber español so I'm often around people speaking other languages. A few days ago I had 4 ladies who didn't speak any English - just French and I let them know I am learning but I'm still having problems. They slowed down for me and I was able to communicate! So don't get nervous, let people know you're learning, and you'll find people want to help you learn their language.


    Typically, I would agree with you. After all, I don't claim to be super advanced in comprehending spoken Spanish. But he only said a few words (una naranja, una libra, and probably another I'm forgetting) suuuuuper slooooowly. He probably thought this would make it easier on me, which I appreciate. :P Looking back, though, I probably should have let him know that it wasn't--it would have been easier for both of us.

    He was super nice, and I wish we could have actually spoken beyond saying numbers and random words. Oh, well. :/


    I'm impressed you tried. Well done and keep it up. It's intimidating speaking with fluent/native speakers. Some days I have the courage to do it and some days I don't.


    My advice: train yourself with native speakers from your cellphone by using an app called LINGBE (www.lingbe.com) That way you'll get used to face native Spanish speakers without panicking.


    Thanks for that link. However I find that talking to different persons tends to be mainly small talk, which I don't particularly like in any language. I have a good Spanish tutor who can turn a newspaper article into an hour's lesson. However, with my French tutor, a similar article will last about ten minutes. I think I'll try the app.


    I've had many times where Russian friends tried to talk to me in Russian. I understand Russian well, but I cannot pronounce the words. So they just looked at me waiting for an answer, and then I tell them that I can't speak Russian well. LOL These are family friends btw.

    [deactivated user]

      that is a really great story! (to read, not to experience) : )


      Having just returned from the DR, I can really relate to this story. I was so intimidated by those who spoke natively. However, when I would calm down and begin to speak one on one with someone, it was a rewarding experience. Many people mistook me for being Dominican so they would begin to speak to me without giving me the benefit of first telling them that I am American and that English is my native language. That was fun!


      I always rethink conversations I have with Spanish speakers. I always think of what I should have said, but I look at it as a learning experience. I try not to be hard on myself :-)


      Yes, I agree with El_Gusano, that you should refrain from asking him to speak in complete sentences. Possibly he was speaking in full sentences, but it did not seem like it? But anyway, it sounds like you did a great job helping him!

      I had a recent experience in Dollar General where I was looking for a dress for my granddaughter, who just turned nine. I went up to a Hispanic lady and asked her if she knew where the children's dresses were. She said, No hablo Ingles," to me. So, I thought...aha, now here's the chance I have been waiting for. I asked her where the dresses were for kids and she asked me "what size?" in Spanish. I said something really stupid but didn't realize it until later. I said, "Ella tengo nueve años." I knew of course that I should have said tiene but instead I said tengo. Oh well, I will keep trying, but now I feel a little more confident. I might bring my clothes to a Spanish launderette and strike up a conversation with some of the ladies there and see how I do or maybe go shopping at the supermercado?


      Wow! Great story! That is a good lesson!


      Extra problem: if the man came from another country, maybe he wasn't familiar to pounds. When I read your post I was wondering 5,16 what. Buena suerte para la próxima vez :)


      thank you for sharing your experience.


      I believe your story means much here....too often, we become so comfortable with our own singular exercises and such that we forget to practice with those who actually speak the language natively (and wasn't that the point of learning it, anyway? To break a language barrier?;)), and so we freeze up and lose all sense of what we could do if we...

      1. did it more often (practice),

      2. calmed down a bit, and

      3. realized that to try is more important than any mistakes we could make.

      Thank you for sharing your story. I can assure you, you are not the only one, and this is definitely not the end of your talking with natives. Next time, I anticipate your success story! :D

      Best of luck! Buena suerte!


      Well said! Keeping calm is key (easier said than done). There’s so many things we learners could say to make the conversation more manageable if the nerves don’t get in the way.

      Más despacio, por favor. Estoy aprendiendo español. ¿Por favor, puede usar palabras básicas conmigo? ¿No entiendo, puede repetirlo por favor? ¿Todavía no comprendo. Lo puede explicar más para mí por favor?

      (Yeah, I can never think to say most of those cause I’m busy blushing and stammering.)


      I've been the person in the store trying to communicate in French, Spanish, or Portuguese. It helps a lot if the person to whom you are speaking is very patient and doesn't get frustrated. That's more important than anything else. I agree that "mas despacio por favor" would be the best thing to say. I've used it many times and it works very well.


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