Would you like to speak Spanish like a native speaker? …
Just imagine yourself talking Spanish completely fluent, with an accent from your favorite Spanish speaking region.
Picture people confusing you with the locals because you sound just like them. Visualize their unbelieving faces as you tell them that your first language isn’t Spanish. Imagine them saying:
“No tienes acento, pensé que eras de aquí, ¿cómo aprendiste tan bien español?”
But, wait a minute… is that even possible? How important should that be to you now that you’re learning Spanish?
I’ve asked these two questions to 3 polyglots and 10 Spanish teachers to share their insights and thoughts, so you can get an idea of how possible it will be for you to talk like a native speaker.
And stick until the end of the article because I made an infographic for you to easily remember their powerful ideas.
Here’s their answers…
1- Olly Richards, founder of the IWillTeachYouALanguage.com
More about Olly: He speaks 8 languages and shares all he knows about language learning through his blog and YouTube channel.
Here in London, where I live, I hear 100s of different English accents every day. Cockney, Scottish, Polish, American, French… The list is endless.
Which of these sound like native speakers? None of them, and all of them.
Truth is, sounding like a native speaker (in terms of accent) isn’t a very useful aim or even a useful concept.
What you should focus on instead is expressing yourself like a native speaker does, because once you can get your point across the way a native speaker does, using the same words, sentence structure, even gestures, you’ve already won.
Don’t think of your ‘foreign’ accent as a negative. It’s you – your character, personality and history.
People don’t judge you by your accent, but by how good a communicator you are.
2- Lýdia Machová, founder of LanguageMentoring.com
More about Lýdia: She speaks 7 languages fluently, and is a language mentor for people who want to learn languages by themselves.
I don’t recommend my students to try to sound like a native speaker.
It’s an extremely ambitious goal which will only leave you disappointed, even if you have a very advanced level of the language that you should be proud of.
There are people who are able to sound like a native speaker, but in my experience, not so many.
Not because it would require a special talent, but because it is a LOT of work.
All my polyglot friends who have achieved that told me they had practised the pronunciation of individual sounds and words for hours on end.
I personally can’t imagine spending so much time on improving my accent, I’ll much rather spend that time learning new vocabulary or practise my listening or reading.
In my view, it is not absolutely essential to have a zero accent, in order to speak a language on a good level.
I have an accent in all my languages, even in English, which I use widely for professional purposes, and no one ever minded that.
I know that many English learners, especially from Spanish-speaking countries, worry a bit too much about having the right accent, but what they should really strive for is to be easily understood by native speakers.
That means that when you say “wasn’t”, no one will ever think you said “was” (and reduced the ending vowel, as is common in Spanish).
If you want to improve your accent, get a lesson with a native tutor, and ask them to watch for those words which you mispronounce and which make your speech difficult to understand.
You might be surprised to realize there are just a couple of sounds or words where you struggle.
Then make sure you practise the right pronunciation of those few words until you get them right, and don’t worry about sounding like a native speaker.
3- Lindsay Williams, founder of LindsayDoesLanguages.com
More about Lindsay: She has studied 13 languages so far, and is passionate about teaching, and helping teachers and language students.
As much as the dream may seem to be mistaken for a native, there’s a lot of unsung benefits to not sounding like a native speaker.
Being an obvious learner allows more space for you to ask questions, make mistakes, and seek clarification – all essential steps along the way when language learning!
Besides, if you’re ever going to sound as close to a native speaker as possible, you need to do the work to get there, which means you have to enjoy the process of learning the language.
That’s a lot easier once we let go of the stress of “not sounding native”. So don’t sweat it, keep going, and if it happens, it happens.
4- Óscar Pellus, founder of Unlimited Spanish.com
More about Óscar: He helps people improve their skills in Spanish using stories and his podcast which has had more than 6 million downloads.
I have a friend named Matt who told me an interesting story related to the topic of this article.
Matt was living in Germany and one day he went out for a drink with some friends.
Shortly after, a girl who was a foreigner and didn’t speak German joined the group. So everyone, out of courtesy, spoke in English.
Matt ended up being complimented by his friends because his English accent was impeccable.
Matt, surprised, replied that of course he had an excellent accent since he was American. His friends didn’t believe him, so he had to show his American passport.
In fact, they thought Matt was German because he had an outstanding accent.
Amazing, isn’t it? It is true that my friend Matt, who is a polyglot, has an innate talent for learning languages and being able to get a great pronunciation.
When he was learning German, he spent countless hours perfecting his accent.
From the beginning he focused on both:
- The individual pronunciation of words
- And the intonation of sentences.
In fact, in many languages the intonation is even more important than the exact pronunciation of each sound.
Matt listened to a lot of easy content to pick up the subtleties of each sound and thus internalize the pronunciation, intonation and rhythm of the language.
In my opinion, even if you don’t have a special talent like Matt, it’s perfectly possible to sound like a native in the language you’re learning, but it requires a significant amount of time and effort.
A key element is that you need to be clear about why you do it. That is, when we start a project that requires as much effort and dedication as to sound like a native, we need to ask ourselves the reason why we are going to spend hundreds of hours trying to improve our accent.
If our motivation is weak, so will our energy and desire. After the initial novelty, we will eventually quit.
For example, many students would like to sound like a native
- Because it’s “cool”
- Or because you can impress your friends.
However, perhaps these motivations are not strong enough and require something with more substance. In any case, it’s up to the student.
Here’s some tips on how to improve your pronunciation
Apart from the “why” we do it, there is a prior issue to be resolved: you have to achieve a minimum level of fluency in the language to master the accent.
I say this because if you have to think too much about what to say, you will have less time to remember how to pronounce it.
With this in mind, we need to understand two phases in accent reduction: The first one, desirable for every student of any language, is to get an accent clear enough for any native speaker to understand you.
I think this is fundamental and unless you learn a language to just read or write it, you need to be able to pronounce clearly.
Once this is achieved, we can take the next step, the difficult one, which is to try to sound more and more like a native.
And…what do we mean by “to sound like a native“? I think there are four levels of refinement which I explain below:
1- Sound like a native to non-natives who don’t know the language.
For example, your friends hear you interacting with someone in a language they don’t know, and to them, you sound like a native.
Here you can afford small mistakes, but in general you have mastered the intonation and pronunciation of the language in a way that sounds very convincing.
2- Sound like a native to non-native speakers who are studying the language.
For example, you have an advanced level and when students of the target language hear you conclude that you sound like a native. This is useful for non-native language teachers.
This happens to many people who have been living in the country for a few years.
3- Sound like a native to a native who is not paying special attention to your accent.
That is, in a normal conversation you are talking to a native and your accent is so good that he takes you for someone from his country, but the native is just focusing on the conversation.
This has happened to me more than once with people who speak Spanish very well.
I haven’t paid much attention to their accent, and it seemed to me that they were born in the country where I live.
The fourth and final level is to graduate with honors, is:
4- Sound like a native to a native who is paying attention to your accent.
In this situation, you ask a native to assess your accent.
The native focuses on your pronunciation, intonation, rhythm, etc. And concludes that you sound like someone from his/her country.
This level is really tricky because you have to be perfect and not miss anything.
To sum up, if you finally decide you want to be like Matt and sound like a native in the language you’re learning, the good news is that it’s doable, but you need a clear and a solid reason.
If this is your case, I recommend you to look for a specialized coach so that he can guide you better and create a work plan tailored to your needs.
5- Ben Curtis & 6- Marina Diez from NotesInSpanish.com
More about Ben & Marina: They’ve been teaching Spanish online since 2005, and more than 40 million downloads of their audios have helped tons of people.
This is a great question and both parts of the answer are equally relevant.
First of all, it is possible for a Spanish student to sound very, very like a native speaker if you have a high level of fluency, have good knowledge of Spanish grammar, idioms and slang, and use these with ease in normal conversations.
And it helps a lot if you are lucky enough to be able to develop a very good Spanish accent.
All of this can take many years, and is much easier if you get to live in a Spanish speaking country and use Spanish all day.
The hardest part to pull off is probably the accent, if you learn a language as an adult it’s tough to get a 100% perfect accent in another language, but you can get close enough.
For us though, the second part of the question is more interesting: how important is it to sound like a native speaker?
We don’t think it’s important at all. What is important is to have great, fulfilling conversations with Spanish speakers with the Spanish level you have at any given time, and for that you don’t have to sound like a native speaker at all.
You can sound like a Spanish learner who is making a real effort to learn everything they can in Spanish, who is doing their best with…
- And the accent
but who cares more about having fun and speaking to people than about perfection.
If you are willing to dive in, do your best, and make mistakes without minding too much, that is more than enough.
If one day you end up sounding just like a native speaker, then that’s fantastic, and it’s a noble goal.
But if you don’t, and you love speaking the best Spanish you can at every stage of the learning process, mistakes and all, then that’s fantastic as well.
We’d put enjoyment and doing-your-best over perfection any day.
7- María Jaramillo, one of the founders of WhyNotSpanish.com
More about María: She’s one of the funniest Spanish teachers I know on YouTube. Her videos are definitely a fun way to learn Spanish.
I don’t like the expression “like a native speaker”. What does it even mean to “sound like a native speaker” anyway? …
I feel it comes from the fear amongst adult foreign language learners of sounding stupid when they say something.
The idea of “sounding like a native speaker” comes from a need of not feeling that fear and blending into a community, for example by eliminating or “vanishing” a native accent.
Nobody wants to be ridiculed and we would like to be accepted (at some degree) into a group of people. We are social animals after all.
However, there are so many accents and ways of speaking a language that really to say “sounding like a native speaker” is a very broad and abstract idea.
Consider that even groups of people who speak the language natively are made fun of or are stereotyped because of the way they sound… but they are native speakers, right?
So what are we talking about when we say “sound like a native speaker”?
It is a matter of power. Accents who are thought of as standard or “neutral” are the ones displayed on TV.
There are accents that are misrepresented or underrepresented because of not sounding “neutral” enough.
Truth is, there is no “neutral” accent. Everyone has one.
So to answer the question: How important is it to sound like a native speaker? I am a teacher and a native Spanish speaker.
As a native speaker my answer is
What matters to me is that you are able to tell me what you need and not take three minutes to come up with a perfectly grammatical sentence.
If you start wasting my time by trying to sound perfect, I am either going to zone out or just look for an excuse not to talk to you again.
As a Spanish teacher, the answer is similar:
I don’t care if you sound like me or not. In terms of how you sound, I would urge you instead to work on pronunciation, rather than trying to sound a certain way. You can have a great pronunciation and still sound like yourself.
I want you to pronounce the vowels clearly and I want you to put an emphasis on the word in the right place.
I also want you to try as much as possible to deliver your message in an organized way using words that most people would use in a real scenario.
If you mess up, which you will, I want you to pay attention to your mistakes and correct them for the next time you talk to me or anyone.
Now, how possible is it to sound like a native speaker?
It is possible. If your pronunciation is good, you could sound like a native if you wanted to start working on imitating one accent in particular (out of the many accents out there).
It takes time, a lot of attention to detail and you very well could sound like a native from a particular area.
- Some people take years mastering an accent.
- Some people never succeed.
I do think it is important to work on pronunciation from the very beginning of your Spanish learning process.
Pronunciation is not the same as accent and it will help you deliver your message clearly.
It will give you confidence that even if you forget an article, a preposition, or whatever, you will still be easily understood.
Pronounce clearly and let your accent tell us where you come from, I say.
8- Vicente Ribés, founder of La Academia de Español Online
More about Vicente: He helps people prepare for the DELE test, learn everyday vocabulary, and learn real Spanish expressions on his YouTube channel.
Sounding like a native has always been one of the most desired aspects of learning any language, but when this becomes an obsession then the learning process becomes frustrating and the students start losing the interest in the language.
What I would recommend (in fact, I do with my students) is to forget that, and focusing on imitating natives, even if they are not in an immersion environment, because nowadays is too easy to get access to real content, and for “real content” I mean:
- TV shows
All of these are made by natives for other natives or even made by teachers for students.
Is it possible to sound like a native speaker?
Depends, from my point of view and having in mind my experience examining students, those who sound more like natives are those who use their Spanish everyday and in every situation.
That is basically what I called “immersion”, but what happens when you can not be in an immersion environment?
In this case what I recommend is not to worry (tooooo much) about how the language works and just copy what natives do.
Please, have in mind that focusing on a Spanish rapper isn’t the same as focusing on a teacher. Here’s an example of what I mean:
In one of my last videos, I posted the following thumbnail:
It says “Se me ha roto el móvil” and one of the first comments was: “Se ha rompido”.
If you have a professional teacher with a huge thumbnail sayin “SE ME HA ROTO” you can not answer “SE HA ROMPIDO” this is the perfect example of what I am saying before.
9- Gordon Smith & 10- Cynthia Durán, founders of LightSpeedSpanish
More about Gordon & Cynthia: They are Spanish teachers on their site and share videos in full Spanish on YouTube, so you can practice your listening skills.
The accent that we choose to use when we are learning Spanish has often been a fairly arbitrary decision.
Many students choose the accent from Latin America because they find it easier to handle at the beginning.
What’s more, frequently our students say that the accent is not their top priority and that they would rather focus on getting the structure and the grammar right.
In fact, as a rule of thumb and for whatever reason, pronouncing like a
native seems to be last on the list.
In our experience, what this has led to is that many students have an exceptionally good level of spoken Spanish with great structures and well placed grammar and yet, virtually the same accent when speaking Spanish as they do in their mother tongue.
Is this a bad thing?
Not at all.
However, we want to highlight some of the downfalls to not choosing to adopt an authentic Spanish accent.
Do you know that one of the best compliments that you can get from a Spanish speaker from Spain is that you speak without an accent. What does that mean?
That means that when you speak, your mother tongue accent doesn’t bleed through. Your tonality is that of a Spanish speaker.
Certainly, for a native speaker from Spain, speaking without an accent
far exceeds any grammatical prowess and is what Cynthia describes as the
This is what impresses Spanish people.
Clearly, the most important objective in any kind of communication is to be understood. As long as you do a reasonable job at enunciating your Spanish, then the accent you use really doesn’t matter.
However, there have been many times when our students have tried to say something with such a heavy UK accent, that their listeners haven’t been able to understand them.
An example of this happened in a roadside restaurant when one of our students asked for ‘un bocadillo’ (a French stick sandwich).
It was 9 o’clock in the morning, he wanted to have a substantial breakfast before embarking on his long journey home.
The waiter came to the table and gave him vodka with ice. (vodka con hielo). Clearly, something had happened with his pronunciation that morphed the sandwich word into an
Embarrassed, he drank it anyway and continued on his journey, slightly worse for wear and still very hungry.
But, is it possible to speak like a native? We think that it is, with some reservations.
We are not natives, so we shouldn’t expect to be able to attain a level that has taken native
speakers their entire life to reach.
We will not be perfect. Every now and again, our native tongue will ‘bleed through’.
That said, we can get pretty close to it if we really focus on our pronunciation as an important part of our learning journey.
We have a few tips for you:
Remember that you are not native, and so you are just pretending to be
This takes the pressure off. You simply have to pretend.
Just like when someone asks you to put on
- an American accent
- Or a Scottish accent
- Or whatever.
We know that we aren’t really from that place and that we are just pretending. This is what we do with our Spanish too. So, just ‘fake it until you make it’.
Don’t make your accent random. Spanish is the most widely spoken language in the world. There are more accents than you could every copy.
Our advice is to choose to copy the accent from the region that you like to spend time in.
It doesn’t make sense to use a Latin American accent if you like to holiday in Spain.
If you are a traveller and visit lots of different places, then you want to choose what is called ‘received pronunciation’, the standard version and one that will be understood wherever you go.
To make your accent great, try shadowing. That is, listening to native speakers and repeating what they say, staying one or two words behind them as they speak.
This can really help to give you the tonality and the emphasis that you need.
Make it fun. This journey is supposed to be a hobby and should be fun. Don’t stress and make it hard for yourself. Laugh at your mistakes and celebrate your achievements.
Learning to speak with a great accent is not life threatening. You can do it, but you need to have patience and keep it light.
We wish you every success in your learning journey and look forward to hearing the new wave of fantastic accents coming through to the Spanish speaking world!
11- Nate Alger & 12- Andrea Prince, founders of SpanishLandSchool
More about Nate & Andrea: They teach Spanish on their site, and share great videos using real spoken Spanish on YouTube.
Personally, we don’t think that it is all that important to sound exactly like a native speaker.
In our opinion, the only person that really cares about you sounding like a native speaker is yourself.
Not the native speakers that you are talking with, they just want to be able to understand you and 99 out of 100 are just grateful that you are doing your best to communicate with them in their native tongue.
So, don’t be discouraged if you aren’t speaking with a perfect, native-level accent.
All that to say, we certainly encourage improving your speaking skills, tonality, and dialect as it helps other native speakers better understand you and will help you feel more confident in the language.
So yes, do take some time to practice speaking and improving your pronunciation as that will help you move forward in mastering the second language.
Lastly, is it possible to get to a native level?
In our experience, getting to the native level in a second language is much easier to obtain when you grow up speaking and learning two languages from an early age.
We have many friends who grew up like this with Spanish and English and from what we can tell, they have a perfect native sounding accent in both languages.
Through consistent practice speaking and listening and pronunciation work you can slowly and steadily improve your accent and make it ultimately go away to an almost near-native level and certainly native-level in time.
We have also seen where a native English speaker spoke with a perfect non-gringo accent after years of Spanish study and practicing and living in a Spanish context.
Hope this helps and all the best to your own language journey!
The main thing is that you are making progress towards your goal (whatever that be) each week.
13 – Andrew Bar, founder of RealFastSpanish.com
More about Andrew: He is passionate about teaching and that passion is reflected in his blog on RealFastSpanish. In fact, he learned Spanish as an adult and then he began teaching it. He is an awesome example of a successful Spanish student.
When it comes to learning a second language, an amazing outcome would be that you’re so good that you’re indistinguishable from a native. But, is it possible?
In short, yes, it’s possible.
I recently met a woman in a French-speaking part of Europe with a clearly discernible Californian accent. She sounded completely native to my ear.
When she mentioned the city of San Diego, I asked if she was from there and she said “no, I’m from here!”.
Absolutely amazed, I asked her how she developed such an authentic English accent when she grew up only speaking French. She told me she spent 2 years living in San Diego from the age of 19 to 21.
Not only that, but she also said she worked tirelessly on her accent every day. She attended a college there and asked all of her friends for feedback whenever she made a mistake with sounds or word choice.
So, again, yes, it is possible. But, this is very rare!!
In fact, I can only think of one or two adult language students that I have met in the last 15 years of studying languages around the world that were so good they were indistinguishable from a native.
So, while it’s possible, it will likely take years of practice, and you’ll probably need to work with an accent coach (or have a set of friends that can provide good feedback).
With this in mind, the next question is how important is it? Does it matter if you don’t sound exactly like a native?
No, not at all.
In fact, it can often be useful to sound like you are not perfect so that natives will adjust their speed or word choice so you can understand them.
Instead, the first and most important step is to make sure you are understood by native speakers of your target language.
Working closely with Spanish students over the last 7 years of running Real Fast Spanish, the first step I always work on with students is avoiding sounds that will confuse Spanish natives.
If a student makes a sound that exists in English but not in Spanish, they run the risk that a Spanish native won’t understand what they are saying.
In contrast, if a Spanish student gets all of their Spanish sounds close enough without being perfect, they’ll be understood by every Spanish native they encounter.
At the end of the day, this is all that really matters.
And, the good part is that this first step, of having an accent that is good enough to be understood by natives, can be achieved in only a few weeks of dedicated practice, especially with feedback from an experienced teacher.
All these experts are great language learners and really experienced teachers, and it’s amazing to see that they agree on three different points:
- It is possible to develop an accent and pronunciation in Spanish, that sounds similar to native speakers, but it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort.
- Working for the easiest goal like making yourself easy to understand to other people in Spanish is faster and it takes the pressure of sounding like a native off from you.
- Work on improving your pronunciation and if you get to sound like a native, great. If it doesn’t happen, it’ll be nice too, just focus on enjoying the ride.
Here’s the iphographic I made to summarize all we’ve considered today:
In other words, it is perfectly possible to get wherever you want to get with your Spanish, but don’t go so hard on yourself that you just can’t keep recognizing the good thing you achieve by learning this language.
Appreciate your learning process, and have fun as you get better at communicating in Spanish.
Keep yourself engaged in the language. Learn about the culture of Spanish speaking countries.
Listen to stories in Spanish, they’re super powerful tools to boost your
- And speaking skills
Actually, I highly suggest you go now and download my free guide on how to use stories to learn Spanish: 7 Steps to Understand Fast Speaking Latinos Thorugh Compelling Listening Stories:
I’m sure it’ll be super helpful for you to keep making progress with your Spanish.
Besides, there’s a complete story in full Spanish in the guide.
And before you go, let me hear your thoughts about today’s topic:
- Do you think it is possible for you to sound like a native speaker?
- How important is that for you?
Share your opinion in the comments below.