Here you are, speaking Spanish with someone, when, mid-sentence, an English word or phrase slips out of your mouth: “like,” “I mean,” “so,” “you know,” etc. Does this sound familiar? Rest assured you’re not alone; it’s a natural part of learning a second language. These are our nervous linguistic habits from our first language that have become more like an autonomic response to pressure, like blurting “ow” when we stub our toes. These responses are learned, therefore they can be unlearned and we can learn to replace them with their Spanish counterparts. First, you have to know what to replace them with; that’s the easy part. Second, you must resolve to actively and consciously replace them, regardless of how many times you slip up; you have to keep at it.
Replace “so” with “entonces” or “pues.”
Replace “I mean” with “digo.”
Replace “like” with “como (así como)” or “pero” or even “este,” depending on the context of your “like.”
Replace “you know” as a question with “¿sabes?” and with “como” or even “este” when used more like a pausing “umm.”
When it comes to the nervous linguistic habits that serve no communicative purpose, we would sound much more professional if we learned to simply eliminate them, but, because they are more like autonomic responses to pressure, it’s far easier to replace them, and still meet this nervous need, than to eliminate them altogether. When speaking Spanish, it’s better to adopt the bad linguistic habits of Spanish speakers than to let our bad habits from English continue to slip into the conversation.