Speaking Spanish like a Native by Brad Kim and Erika Dominguez

articles Living, Working, Retiring

Reviewed by Alan Cogan

Cogan’s Reviews

coverHere’s a rather unusual approach to learning Spanish. It’s not intended for beginners but rather for people who have already spent some time studying the language and want to go further, especially in the direction of becoming more adept at conversation. It is specifically aimed at we people who have some ability to make ourselves understood in encounters with native speakers but who are no doubt often speaking ungrammatically and in a rather clunky and colorless way. What Brad Kim has done here is to give us a collection of everyday expressions, exactly like the expressions we use when we speak English, which will enhance conversational skills. Start using a few and you’ll sound more down-to-earth and impressive to your listeners.

You learn from hundreds of examples given here how to become more expressive by adding common phrases such as “go from bad to worse,” “go for broke,” “street smarts,” “play hardball,” “make a big deal,” “play hard to get,” “beat around the bush,” “cut one’s losses,” “do as one pleases,” “change the subject” and so on. With most examples Kim provides explanatory notes or alternative ways to make oneself understood. For instance:

Do one’s best

Doing one’s best is sometimes all we can ask for. Echarle ganas = to do one’s best or to try one’s hardest. It is much like hacer un buen papel (to do a good job) but these two expressions differ in one subtle aspect: Echarle ganas is used more as encouragement for someone to try his or her best, whereas hacer un buen papel implies a stronger determination and need to succeed.


In Spanish, to have something physically handy or convenient is to have it a la mano. Guardar a la mano is “to keep something handy.” Guardar tu dinero a la mano por si lo ocupas = Keep your money handy in case you need it. Estar a la mano is used when describing something that is physically close like a convenience store or a hospital. El area donde vivimos me gusta porque el hospital está a la mano = I like the area where we live because the hospital is so handy.

Get the better of. Get the best of.

The verb ganar means to beat, defeat or win. Ganar also means “to get the better of” or “to get the best of.” For example, if you failed to hold back those tears while watching a tearjerker movie with your girlfriend, then she might tell you, “Te ganó el sentimiento.” This translates to “Your feelings got the better of you,” or “That movie really got to you.” Of course, anything can get the better of you – a propensity to lie, to be greedy, or to have bad habits. Pedro no puede dejar de fumar. Le ganó el vicio = Pedro can’t stop smoking. His bad habit got the better of him.

There’s lots more. Hundreds more, in fact. For example you can learn many ways to meet and greet people so you’ll be able to come up with variations for ” Buenas días,” which we all seem to say so many times a day. The same goes for ways to excuse oneself or say goodbye. You can even learn a few words and expressions that you wouldn’t normally use in front of your mother.

There’s a chapter on describing human characteristics – physical features as well as personality traits. Thus you can get to learns the words for chubby-cheeked ( cachetón), skinny ( flaco), redhead ( pelirojo), sunburned ( quemado del sol), big-breasted ( chichona) and many, many more.

In the human characteristics category there is bossy, ( mandón), conceited ( presumido), clumsy ( torpe), picky (exigente), rude ( grosero), show off ( fachoso), tacky ( cursi) and a walking disaster ( contingente). With, of course, the “a” ending instead of the “o” ending for the feminine gender.

I must admit I was amused for the Spanish for someone who is “clueless”.


Would you believe it’s buenas tardes? Buenas tardes, of course, means “good afternoon.” However it’s also a slang term used to describe clueless individuals who are unconcerned, distracted, and oblivious to the world around them. These persons epitomize the saying, “Ignorance is bliss,” because they are happier not knowing what’s going on. For example, you can say, ” Ese muchacho es muy buenas tardes” (“This guy is so clueless”) about the guy driving at a snail’s pace on the freeway while talking to a friend on his cell phone, and slowing down and changing lanes at his leisure with no regard for other drivers.

I asked Brad Kim how the book came about? As he explained: “I am not a Spanish teacher. The book is my personal story of how I learned Spanish. While living and working in Mexico I decided to start a journal of every interesting word or phrase I heard spoken among the locals. I also wrote down everything I wanted to learn and had locals translate for me. After about nine years I had compiled a ton of information and decided to alphabetize it in my computer. I did not have to do any further research on the words and expressions in the book. I already had them written down in my journals. Then I decided to turn my notes into a book. A great many examples in the book are from real situations. Today, I speak only Spanish to my Mexican in-laws as they speak no English. I also speak Spanish with my wife at home.” Co-author Erika Dominguez is Brad Kim’s wife.

The book was rigorously edited by a bilingual editor five times and the entire content was verified by various native speakers. It’s now required reading in a couple of language schools. It’s really an excellent place to go to find words and expressions being widely used out there in the street but not necessarily in textbooks on Spanish.

In compiling his book of useful phrases Brad Kim and his wife have performed a useful service for the many of us who are learning a new language.

Speaking Spanish Like a Native
By Brad Kim and Erika Dominguez
Golden Zone Publications: 2005

Available from Amazon Books: Paperback


Published or Updated on: March 15, 2006 by Alan Cogan © 2008
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