There are many metrics one can use to measure fluency in a foreign language. These include, among other factors, authenticity of pronunciation, richness of vocabulary and sophistication of discourse. Two of three of these will get you far; all three combined really make a difference. ACTFL’s proficiency guidelines are a fantastic framework for planning lessons and assessing progress. There are many other frameworks as well; find North on your linguistic compass and set your course.
All of these measures are valid and language learners (and educators) would be wise to include a healthy mix of them all. Beyond these, I would argue that there is a simple, elegant, efficient way to improve fluency. I will call these “snappy responses.” These expressions work as well for advanced student looking to refine their Spanish as they do for novices who want to tread water.
What are “snappy responses”? They are automatic, authentic ways to respond to pretty much any personalized prompt in Spanish. There are eight of these: “Yo también,” “Yo no,” “Yo sí,” “Yo tampoco,” “A mí también,” “A mí no,” “A mí sí,” and “A mí tampoco.” The first four responses are used in transitive constructions and the other four are used with verbs like gustar. This is important because the form of the prompt will determine which four of the eight are in play. (Based on pronoun case and prompt construction, four of these eight will immediately be discarded as inappropriate.) Once you determine which four are in play, it’s as simple as determining whether you agree or disagree.
They are automatic, authentic ways to respond to pretty much any personalized prompt in Spanish. There are eight of these: “Yo también,” “Yo no,” “Yo sí,” “Yo tampoco,” “A mí también,” “A mí no,” “A mí sí,” and “A mí tampoco.”
This is a place where students get stuck. It needs to be clear that one can agree in the affirmative and the negative. One can also disagree in the affirmative and the negative.
Okay, now let’s practice.
Example #1: Yo soy de Massachusetts.
We are clearly in the “Yo…” group and we see that only “Yo también” and “Yo no” are in play. “Yo sí” and “Yo tampoco” are out here because they don’t make sense in context. That is the trick: there will alway be two in and two out. Take your pick based on what is right for you.
Example #2: Yo no soy de Managua.
Again, we are in the “Yo…” group, but since I led with a negative, “Yo tampoco” and “Yo sí” are the available options. “Yo tampoco” would express agreement in the negative and “Yo sí” would flip it to an affirmative. Again, it’s your pick based on what is right for you. “Yo no” and “Yo también” are both out in this instance.
We can go on like this for a good while. It is worth noting that there is some shortening happening here that is particular to English and Spanish…plus some messy mega-blunders happening on the English side. For example:
Yo soy de Massachusetts.
Yo también. Me too.
Yo no. I’m not.
Notice that the Spanish side is consistent: subject pronoun + qualifier. In English, we combine the subject and object pronouns in ways that are accepted but technically incorrect. In English we also use a verb in some cases “I am” and “I’m not” but not others: “Me too” and “Me neither.” Curiously, some native English speakers will over-correct in Spanish, saying “Yo soy” or “Yo no soy.” Also worth pointing out: when a native English speaker over adjust for case in English, it comes out silly/stilted.
I am from Massachusetts.
I too (am from Massachusetts.)
Okay, so far so good. Now comes the area where people can make the most improvements. These cases all include verbs like “gustar,” which you remember get used with OBJECT PRONOUNS not SUBJECT PRONOUNS. Common verbs like gustar are “encantar,” “interesar,” “molestar,” “fastidiar.” The key is to flip the script to the “A mí también,” “A mí no,” “A mí sí,” and “A mí tampoco” set once you hear these verbs. This is where most non-native Spanish speakers show their hand and scratch the needle. Consider the following case:
Example #3: A mí me gusta el frío.
We are now in the “A mí me…” group, so since I led with an affirmative, “A mí también” and “A mí no” are in play. “A mí también” would express agreement in the affirmative and “A mí no” would flip it to negative. Again, it’s your pick based on what is right for you. What we want to avoid at all costs is responding to an “A mí me…” prompt with a “Yo…” Think of it like crossing the streams in Ghostbusters: it would be very bad.
Example #4: A mí no me gusta el frío.
We are still in the “A mí…” group, but since I led with a negative, “A mí tampoco” and “A mí sí” are in play.” Make it work based on how you feel.
It should be noted that many native speakers will not lead with the “A mí…” but rather move right to the “Me gusta…” or “No me gusta…” This is perfectly acceptable, but it trips some people up because the “A mí…” is missing. Some fall into the trap of saying incorrectly “Me también” or “Me tampoco.” This is a definate no-no. As we saw above, this is one of the eight possibilities. It takes some ear training to associate the “Me…” prompt with an “A mí…” snappy response.
It should also be noted that the “Yo – Yo” and “A mí – A mí” combination is not the only one. In fact, one can provide a snappy response to a personalized prompt in any grammatical person (i.e. first, second, third.) I say “personalized” to distinguish these expressions from impersonal ones like “Nieva (It’s snowing),” “Llueve (It’s raining)” and “Es martes (It’s Tuesday).” One can’t really respond personally to these in the same way.
One can apply this same framework, nonetheless, in the following cases.
Example #5: El presidente cree que…
Example #6: Ellos creen que…
Example #7: Vosotros creéis que…
In each of these cases, we can respond with a “Yo también” or a “Yo no.”
Example #8: El presidente no cree que…
Example #9: Ellos no creen que…
Example #10: Vosotros no creéis que…
In each of these cases, we can respond with a “Yo tampoco” or a “Yo sí.”
I hope this explanation of “snappy responses” helps you improve your fluency and confidence in Spanish. Click here for a video tutorial on the topic.