There are many reasons that motivate people to start on their language learning journey such as travelling, work or a romantic partner for example. The idea of learning a new language is fun and exciting however the reality can be very different. That’s not to demotivate you but it is important to have in mind some useful tips to help you along the way.
Sometimes people think that signing themselves up for a Spanish intensive course for a couple of weeks will help them on their way to being fluent in 30 days. It doesn’t work exactly like that. An intensive course or intensive practice especially with native speakers can surely help you establish a great foundation of the language on which you can continue to build your language skills. But it’s important to be realistic with our language learning goals and understand that it requires dedication and commitment to reach your desired level.
Everybody wants to be able to hold a conversation almost instantly or to be understood with what they are trying to say. So what is the best way to learn Spanish?
For Spanish beginners
As a beginner, it is smart to learn useful phrases that will help you get by and allow you to be comfortable in your conversations. This includes some of the following phrases:
Asking people to repeat what they just said – ¿puedes repetir por favor? (can you repeat please?)
Saying that you don’t understand – Lo siento, no entiendo (I’m sorry, I don’t’ understand)
Asking someone to speak slowly – ¿Puedes hablar más despacio, por favor? (Can you speak slowly please?)
These phrases are essential in the early days of starting to speak Spanish, once memorised they are easy to remember when you find yourself in a situation when your mind goes blank or the only word you can think of saying is erm… .
When starting to learn a language, learning grammar and vocabulary is the most logical first step. Although it’s important not to overwhelm yourself with information because there are so many tenses and grammar points to learn. Fear not, you don’t need to study every tense to be able to start to have a conversation in Spanish. It is often easier to break down your learning into stages. Starting with the past, present and future tenses and intentionally using them in conversations until you feel like you have consolidated that knowledge. Once you feel confident and comfortable with those tenses you can challenge yourself to move on to learning the next grammar points. These manageable bitesize chunks of learning may see you progressing faster than you thought.
For Intermediate Spanish learners
As you begin to improve it is important to look for alternative ways to keep you motivated with your learning. Learning a language is not meant to be boring and dull, instead, it should be a fun experience. Learning through doing is a big factor in this part of continuing to better your language skills. Suggestions for this type of learning could be taking a dance class in Spanish or going to the cinema to watch a movie in Spanish. These experiences will challenge your language skills and vocabulary as you will have to manage a few different skills at the same time in these situations.
Another big factor to continue improving with your Spanish is keeping it present in your everyday life. This could be purposely meeting up with friends a few times a week, reading books, or listening to music. When we don’t hear or practice the language for a little while we can become rusty. Some say learning a language is like riding a bike, once you know how to do it, you never forget.
By the time you reached this stage, you are normally more confident with your spanish skills and not second-guessing yourself every time you go to speak. As you gain confidence with a language you gain momentum and your brain starts to absorb more. A helpful tip for this stage of learning Spanish is to correct your own mistakes as it helps internalize the learning. For example, by writing a journal or recording yourself speaking in Spanish, you can come back to review your own language, correct mistakes, and remember the correct way of saying it.
For advanced Spanish learners
As you start to reach a level of Spanish that feels like it comes as second nature or simply that you don’t have to think about everything like you once did as a beginner, it is important to think about ways that you can continue to challenge yourself to learn. In the workplace, this might look like public speaking or presenting in Spanish if you never have before or perhaps starting to intentionally include more difficult expressions, vocabulary and grammar in your conversations. You may want to start to read more complex reading materials or listen to a podcast or interview that you wouldn’t have been able to before.
The Spanish language is spoken worldwide and there are 10 different dialects between Europe, The Americas and Africa. All of these dialects sound different and have their own nuances which is why as an advanced learner having an already strong foundation, it can be fun to start to diversify the dialects you are interacting with. You will find that there are different words for different things in these dialects and this can be a fun way to keep yourself motivated with learning as well as expand your vocabulary.
As you become comfortable with your speaking ability it can become easy to neglect the other language learning skills. For example, if at work you have to speak a lot of Spanish but you don’t necessarily need to write, it can mean that naturally some of your skills are stronger than others. Or if you have to write emails but never have to actually interact with anyone in person, your listening and speaking skills are not going to be as strong. The point is, don’t neglect any one skill and be conscious that you are developing all of the necessary skills.
For all Spanish learners
Don’t be shy! Learning a foreign language is understanding and learning the grammar, vocabulary, etc. but what are you going to do with that information once you feel like you know enough? Are you confident enough to strike up a conversation at your local language exchange? Part of the language learning journey is about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and not being shy! Spanish people are very expressive and most of the time very kind when it comes to foreigners trying to speak their language. Throw yourself in at the deep end and start a conversation and see how far you can go. You will surprise yourself and see that you can talk and remember a little more each time.
Get comfortable with making mistakes
Everyone likes to do things properly and the truth be told, making mistakes can be an uncomfortable experience – if you let it be. However, the more you make the mistakes the less you will make the same mistakes again! Errors are an essential part of the language learning process and they really don’t matter as much as you think they do.
What is your definition of fluent? Some people are happy with speaking the language to a level that they can be understood and exchange with native speakers, whereas other people want and maybe need to dominate the language for different reasons. Whatever level you want to get to, you are bound to make mistakes along the way. Laugh about them, write them down, and study them so the next time you remember not to make the same mistake. Remember your sentences do not need to be absolutely perfect to be understood.
Practice with native speakers
Learning from a book or online course can be a great start to learning a language but there is nothing better than being fully immersed in a conversation with a native speaker. Those conversations are the ones that are going to test you to think on the spot and push you to improve. This will look different for everyone, for it may be going to a meetup in your city or a language exchange whereas for other people it might be whilst traveling or at an important work event. Wherever it is, take full advantage of talking with native speakers because it is a sure-fire way to rocket your success with speaking Spanish.
Spanish Learning Technology
In the world of today where technology develops faster than it ever has, there are so many options available to help facilitate learning a new language. From language learning apps, translating tools and an unlimited amount of resources there is no shortage of help on the internet to help you progress with your Spanish.
An app that you may find particularly useful is Wordreference, this is like having a dictionary and textbook at your fingertips. Not only can you look up vocabulary and find words of products you need whilst at the supermarket but you can also find the full conjugations of verbs in all tenses.
The unlimited amount of resources includes music, podcasts, Youtube channels, the list is endless and there is a large majority of them that are free. Find something that interests you and you are passionate about in your own language then find the equivalent in Spanish.
With all of these tips, it is fair to say that there are so many different ways to learn a language and there are various tips and tricks that will help you no matter what level you are at. So excuses, start today!