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Conversational Practices

Considerations for Pragmatic Performance

This module is designed as a resource module for you as you expand your knowledge and learn more about Spanish pragmatics.

What are conversational practices?

Conversational practices refer to the elements of interaction which make the conversation successful or unsuccessful. This area of pragmatics includes elements such as negotiating turns, topic selection, and other patterns of interaction.

What do you need to know about conversational practices in Spanish?

It is important to understand something about conversational practices in Spanish in order to interact with people effectively. By learning some of the patterns people use in interaction, you will better be more adept at using different communicative acts. Also, the ability to perceive different styles of interaction around you will enable you to adapt more readily to distinct language varieties and contexts. The conversational practices we will look at here, as related to Spanish, are:

      • Turn-Taking
      • Challenge Questions

In general, Spanish tends to utilize a high-involvement style of interaction. This means that conversation tends to occur at a rapid pace with the use of many participatory listening strategies (e.g., challenge questions, overlap, hissing, gestures). For native speakers of English who are used to a less-involved listening style, this can seem overwhelming.

Turn-taking is especially important to look at in Spanish because speakers negotiate turns effectively with a high rate of overlap. It is important to get used to this style in order to demonstrate involvement and interest in the conversation. Play the conversation below, paying special attention to how both participants are talking to each other simultaneously (overlapping).

It is important to point out that this is not a universal characteristic. Less overlap often occurs in more formal or more socially distant interactions. Also, the rate and speech of overlap can vary by language variety.

Challenge questions and statements are also representative of a highly-interactive listening style. Challenge questions and statements are often inserted by the listener while the other is speaking to demonstrate interest. For someone who is not accustomed to this type of interaction, challenge questions and statements may appear to be offensive; however, their use can be critical in maintaining positive interactions. Notice Deya's (left) use of challenge questions in another part of her conversation with María (right). Click the transcript button below to follow along. This time, the challenge questions and statements have been highlighted for you.


The information you have here is just the tip of the iceberg. You should always be aware of conversational practices in your interaction. effective, well-executed communicative acts can fail if the delivery is not appropriate. As you perfect your pragmatic skills in Spanish, be sure to work on developing effective conversation practices.


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