/ / DON’T PANIC When You Forget a Word in Spanish, Use THIS SIMPLE TRICK Instead

DON’T PANIC When You Forget a Word in Spanish, Use THIS SIMPLE TRICK Instead

DON’T PANIC When You Forget a Word in Spanish, Use THIS SIMPLE TRICK Instead 🤯

So, you’re in the middle of a conversation… entirely in Spanish! It’s exciting, maybe a bit scary, but everything is going well….

SPANISH SPEAKER
¿Y qué hiciste ayer? 
(And what did you do yesterday?)

SPANISH LEARNER
No mucho; tenía mucho trabajo. 
(Not much; I had a lot of work)

But suddenly, in the middle of your sentence, there’s a WORD in Spanish you don’t know…

SPANISH LEARNER
Y, después, fui a…
(And then, I went to…)

And you freeze… PANIC, PANIC!! What do I do now?! “Oh, no! How do I say “play basketball”? I don’t know what to say…”

… so, your brain freezes and you just stop talking…

I’m sure you have been in a similar situation, where not knowing one word made you feel tongue-tied.

¡No tengas miedo! (Don’t fear!) I, María Fernanda from Spring Spanish, am going to share a secret trick polyglots use when speaking a foreign language. This trick allows you to keep the conversation going, even if you miss a word. Best of all: your conversation partner won't even notice! 

Learn this trick from the polyglots

The key to get out of a situation like the own described above is a technique called paraphrasing. You might be doing this in your mother tongue already.

The trick is to train yourself to do this FAST enough in Spanish too. Let me show you what I mean:

SPANISH LEARNER
Y, después, fui a… jugar este juego con una pelota; también LeBron James lo juega…
(And then, I went to… play this game with a ball; LeBron James plays it too…)

SPANISH SPEAKER
¿Baloncesto?
(Basketball?)

SPANISH LEARNER
¡Sí!
(Yes!)

Or another way where your conversation partner won’t even notice that you didn’t know the word:

SPANISH LEARNER
Y, después, fui a… hacer deporte con mis amigos.
(And later I went to… do sports with my friends.)

SPANISH SPEAKER
¡Qué padre! ¿Cómo te fue?
(How cool! How was it?)

SPANISH LEARNER
¡Bien!
(Good!)

So, what did you do here? 

  • In the first example, you described what you meant with other words and references.
  • In the second example, you used a different word to say more or less the same. Is it really that important that you played basketball anyway? Just saying “I played sports” will be enough to keep the conversation going.

Again: you might be doing this in your mother tongue already without really thinking about it.

The key is: you have to train yourself to do this in high-pressure situations in Spanish too… especially in conversations with a native speaker. If you don’t practice paraphrasing, you’ll just freeze. But if you get good at this, you’ll be amazed at how much easier conversations in Spanish become, even if you don’t know a lot of Spanish words! 

So, let’s practice a bit more! I’ll give you a situation and pause to give you a second to think about a way to say this differently. Then, I will give you my solution. By the way, all solutions work here. We’re not aiming for accuracy, but speed!

Ejercicio #1

SPANISH SPEAKER
¡Hola! ¿Puedes ir mañana al cine?
(Hello! Can you go to the cinema tomorrow?)

SPANISH LEARNER
¡Ay! No puedo. Tengo que ir al… 
(Oh! I can’t. I have to go to…)

How would you say veterinarian if you can’t remember the name?

I would say:

  • ¡Ay! No puedo. Tengo que llevar a mi perro al doctor. (Oh! I can’t. I have to take my dog to the doctor’s.)

As you can see in this example, I don’t know the word “veterinarian” (which is veterinario, by the way), but I get away with it by saying “I have to take my dog to the doctor’s” and my conversation partner does not even notice!

Ejercicio #2

SPANISH SPEAKER
Quiero comprarme un vestido para la boda del sábado.
(I want to buy a dress for the wedding on Saturday.)

SPANISH LEARNER
Tiene que ser un vestido “fresco” porque será en… 
(It has to be a tropical dress because it will be…)

How would you describe the venue instead of saying outdoors, the park, or whatever you have in mind?

SPANISH LEARNER
Tiene que ser un vestido “fresco” porque será en un lugar que no es cerrado y, por lo tanto, hace calor. 
(It has to be a tropical dress because it will be in a place that is not closed and, as a consequence, it is hot.)

SPANISH SPEAKER
¿Te refieres que será al aire libre? 
(You mean that it will be outdoors?)

SPANISH LEARNER
Así es, será al aire libre.
(Yes, exactly, it will be outdoors.)

Ejercicio #3

SPANISH SPEAKER
¿Cómo te fue en la cita anoche?
(How was the date last night?)

SPANISH LEARNER
Pues, aunque no lo creas, ¡muy bien! Era una persona muy… 
(Very well, even if you don’t believe it! They were somebody very…)

Here, you have a blank canvas, use your imagination to describe a person.

SPANISH LEARNER
Pues, aunque no lo creas, ¡muy bien! Era una persona muy inteligente. No sé como se le dice a alguien que lee mucho o que tiene muchos temas que decir.
(Very well, even if you don’t believe it! They were somebody very intelligent. I’m not sure how you call someone who reads a lot or who has a lot of topics to talk about.)

SPANISH SPEAKER
¿Era una persona intelectual? O, tal vez, ¿interesante? 
(They were an intellectual? Or maybe interesting?)

SPANISH LEARNER
Sí, a eso me refiero.
(Yes, that’s what I meant.)

CHUNK ALERT! 

A eso me refiero (That’s what I mean/what I’m referring to) is a perfect chunk to learn by heart. It’ll help you while paraphrasing and to keep the conversation flowing. 

If you’d like a list of the most frequent chunks, like this, that’ll help you sound more fluent in conversations, you can download your free Spanish Essential Chunks kit on our website!

Homework: Practice to learn this trick in the next few days

Your homework: practice paraphrasing at least once a day in the coming week! How? Write down a sentence in Spanish, scratch out one word and try to say a similar thought without using that word, without thinking too much about it. 

Speed is key here. It’s not that important that you find the best way to paraphrase, but it’s important that you do it quickly. 

In case you need help here are 5 words for you to start doing your homework:

  • ir de compras (go shopping)
  • una cita (a date)
  • hacer las maletas (to pack)
  • carnicería (Butcher’s)
  • dentista (Dentist)

The more you practice this, the faster you’ll become and the quicker you will sound natural and fluent in Spanish! 

I hope you’ll start using this fluency trick in Spanish already… But there’s more! I have 5 other great tricks like this one for you to get fluent even faster in Spanish. Find my 5 top Spanish learning tricks here that you must start using this year!

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