Communication is the goal, do not worry a lot about grammar. Don't get hung up on perfection—we don't even speak our own languages perfectly and we've had many more years of practice than with Spanish! People who tend to wait until they have planned what they want to say to perfection often get very frustrated. Don't speak without thinking at all, but don't worry if you make some mistakes, need to take a moment to think or re-phrase. We tend to need to re-state and re-think things even in our native languages, so we need to let ourselves do this in Spanish too. Of course, if grammar gets in the way of comprehensible communication, you'll need to identify the areas you need to work on and practice, practice, practice.
AVOID using English or giving up on your message. The goal is to communicate and these habits can end communication (especially if the person you are speaking with doesn't speak English!)
Use communication strategies to negotiate meaning. CIRCUMLOCUTION (finding a way to “talk around” a word you don't know) is one of the best communication skills you can learn (you can't think of the word “mare” and you are determined that “horse” won't get your point across? How about “la esposa del caballo” or “un caballo femenino” or “caballo, pero mujer”). Don't automatically use English, jump for a dictionary, or ask “Cómo se dice?”. Re-phrase, use gestures, drawings, and other alternative means to get your message across.
Realize that you might need to SIMPLIFY your message. Many adults become frustrated with speaking in a foreign language because they cannot use the complex phrasing (including sarcasm, humor, colloquial or idiomatic expressions, etc) that they do in their native languages. At this level you often need to sacrifice complexity and personality to achieve comprehension. Don't worry, if you continue with the language you will be able to use all (or nearly all) the linguistic elements that make you who you are in your own language.
Practice THINKING IN SPANISH. If you are constantly trying to translate your thoughts before you utter them, you will become frustrated when you can't participate in a conversation in a timely manner (by the time you are ready to speak, the moment is gone)
Listening is as important as speaking. Repeating what you hear as an active listener is a helpful learning technique.You might need to hear something more than once. During a conversation don't be afraid to ask questions for clarification or request the speaker repeat something. You can try re-stating what you heard in your own words to see if you understood the main idea. (See the page on Listening Strategies for more ideas)
HOW CAN I PRACTICE SPEAKING?
· Participate actively in class and labs
· Make yourself think in Spanish (basically, talk to yourself in your head or out loud) during class, but also throughout the day. Think in Spanish about what you have to do, what you are doing, what you see, what you did, etc. For many people thinking in Spanish is not automatic, but takes practice. After a while it can become automatic (you might even dream in Spanish!)
· Attend conversation tables
· Find a partner (native speaker or a classmate) and practice, practice, practice. Make 5 or 10 or 15 minutes Spanish only while you eat, exercise, relax, etc.
· Read aloud to practice pronunciation. Read the tapescript to a listening activity after you have heard it and imitate the pronunciation. Identify troublesome sounds and seek help (from the professor, from on-line sources, etc.). Start with the vowels.
· Sing music in Spanish (though realize that just like in English, sometimes pronunciation is changed to fit the sound of the song)
· Listen to radio in Spanish and/or watch Spanish television and/or films and imitate what you hear and/or try to state a summary of what you heard/saw in your own words in Spanish. (See Listening document for a few links)
· Pronunciation sources: