Practice the 5 vowels repeatedly until you’ve got them down pat.

When you do it slowly, pronounce them and move your mouth as if someone 100 feet away was trying to read your lips; really enunciate and form them properly and slowly with your mouth. First we learn how to do it correctly, slowly, then we accelerate until we’re at full speed; that way we’re not only fast but also correct (native speakers have both, so must you!). A simple sentence (containing all 5 vowels plus the double “rr”) used to teach them to young children in Spanish-speaking countries is “El burro sabe más que tú” which translates to “The donkey knows more than you”. Check out the following short video for some help:

That damned “r”!

Not only do you have to roll the “r”, but you have to do it either once or twice depending on where it is in the word, and whether or not there is just one or two in a row. The single “r”, when anywhere other than the first letter of a word, gets a single short tap or “flap” (technically known as an “alveolar flap”) of the tongue. A double “rr” OR a single “r” when it’s the first letter of a sentence gets “trilled” (technically known as an “alveolar trill”), meaning that the tongue does multiple (usually 2) quick flaps in a row.

This really tends to distinguish gringos from everyone else very quickly. Most of them can’t speak Spanish, period, and of the few that do, most can’t properly roll their “r”s, so this is something that you absolutely must be able to do, however much practice it takes. Check out this video for some basic instructions on how to roll your “r” properly in Spanish:

Improper use of the subjunctive, or just not using it at all.

I wrote up a whole post for you on it here: The Spanish Subjunctive Explained.

Watch for “false friends”.

Just because it sounds like an English word that you know doesn’t mean that it’s the same thing in Spanish. “Actualemente” doesn’t mean “actually”, that’s “de hecho”, and “sanidad” refers to the health system, not sanity!

Learn your consonants, dummy!

The soft “c” and “z” are pronounced the same. Spanish speakers don’t really use the English pronunciation of the “z” for anything, instead, their “z” is pronounced like an English “s”, as is their soft “c”. A “c” in “co-“, “cu-“, or “ca-” like “carro” or “cumplir” is the hard “c” and is pronounced as we would a “k”. Here’s some additional help with the Spanish consonants:

I’d like to note something about what he said in that video concerning “b” and “v”. The pronunciation varies, and in my experience most Latin Americans will pronounce the “b” and “v” just the way we would in English, but the Spaniards are the ones who will pronounce both of them like a soft “b”, so when they say “vida” it sounds the same as “bida”. In other words, this too varies by region.

Stop avoiding conversation. You may seem rude.

Gringos will tend to avoid using their Spanish unless absolutely necessary. This behaviour leads to a typical gringo mistake that is often seen as rudeness, when in fact it’s nervousness due to the fact that the gringo doesn’t speak the language well and is therefore hesitant to use it.

What happens is that gringos will go into a store, or some other place, and won’t greet the employee(s). They’ll be in there for half an hour browsing, and leave without so much as an “adios”. This is considered very rude in most Spanish-speaking countries and it will immediately peg someone as a gringo. Also, correcting this should be the result of doing something you ought to be doing anyway: speaking to anyone and everyone you possibly can.

Be wary of “I”.

Because we always say “I”, English speakers have this difficult-to-break tendency to do the same thing in Spanish, and it’s a huge mistake. You likely already know that you only need to mention the subject in a sentence if it’s not already obvious. For example, if you’re already talking about the car, you can just say “no funciona bien” (“It doesn’t work well”). Notice the lack of a pronoun there, “it” specifically, as it’s not necessary.

Now, with the way verbs are conjugated in Spanish for the pronoun “yo”, there is absolutely NO ONE else that could be the subject besides the speaker. So don’t ever use the word “yo” unless you really need to specifically emphasize yourself in the sentence. Remember that it’s the rough equivalent of heavily emphasizing the “I” in the same sentence in English. Quit saying “yo” unless you want to emphasize the “I” part of that sentence.

Pull back from those “crutch words”.

Getting tongue-tied and mixing in English “crutch words” such as “like” and “you know” sounds horrible and confuses the hell out of the poor Spanish-speaker you’re talking to (presuming they don’t understand English). E.g. “Quiero que…um…like…que usted deme su…you know…su…nombre!”. Basically, don’t speak Spanglish. Benny Lewis wrote a great post about this called “Conversational Connectors”, you should check out.

The silent “h”

The “h” is always silent, quit pronouncing it, it’s never pronounced.

And the soft “d”

The “d”s in Spanish are a bit softer than in English. For example, the word “David” in English has a very hard “d”, whereas the word “nada” in Spanish sounds like “not-ah” (that is, you pronounce it the way you would the word “not” in English and then add “ah” to the end). There is no hard “d” in Spanish, they’re all soft; not quite a hard “t” sound, but sort of a cross between, in English, a “t” and a “d”. The best way I can describe it is as a “soft d”. This is just one of those little things you need to pay attention to when listening to Spanish, and especially when repeating what you hear in practice.

Less speed more haste

Don’t ever sacrifice proper pronunciation for speed; we tend to do this in English and they tend NOT to do it in Spanish. Regardless of how quickly a native Spanish speaker is speaking, you’ll notice they will tend to pronounce every last consonant, whereas we slur them together when speaking English (“Kinda”, “I dunno”, “Whaaaazuuup?!!”, etc.). Don’t carry your habit of doing over into Spanish; if you have to slow down to the point where you sound like you’re whacked out on horse tranquilizers just to be able to properly pronounce everything, then so be it: pronunciation trumps all else.

“For” vs. “For”

Mixing up “por” and “para” and not knowing when to use which. To learn when to apply which one and how, have a look at this:

There’s no need to yell!

Comprehension does not increase with volume, so yelling won’t make anyone understand you better. All of Latin America will expect you to stand there in your cargo shorts and Hawaiian shirt and shout at them: pleasantly surprise them.

Simple ‘ll’ rule of thumb

In Spain the “ll” is pronounced as we would a “y” in English. In most Latin American countries it’s pronounced with a soft “j” as in “jay” or “zh” (Argentina/Uruguay only, almost everywhere else it’s “j”). This is easy to do, you just have to remember to do it.

This article was originally published on How to Learn Spanish Online: Resources, Tips, Tricks, and Techniques.