Many of our friends, family members, and followers have on more than one occasion asked me for some insider’s tips for learning Spanish. Perhaps seeing me rattle off in near-perfect Spanish carries with it a certain shock value–which is a good thing–as it presents an opportunity to gently remind people that a book cannot be judged by its cover!
After years of growing up in the border city of San Diego/Tijuana, earning my degree in Spanish with a Masters in Cross-Cultural Education & Curriculum Development, and having taught K-12 Spanish for over a decade, I do indeed have a certain advantage and insight into language acquisition tips.
While waving a magic wand might be the desired prescription for developing a working command of written and spoken Spanish, unfortunately for most, it doesn’t come that easy and hence a little bit of focused studies and uninhibited practice is in order.
Wherever you are on the learning continuum, I hope the following five tips are helpful:
1. Examine Your Motivations
What are your reasons for wanting to learn Spanish?
Are they external—i.e. your Mother wants you to, you need a passing grade in an elective, you feel the regret of an unmet goal?
Or do you have an internal desire to learn, to connect with the people and to understand the culture? Are your motivations born from a personal hunger for intellectual stimulation, global connection, and cultural awareness?
If you are trying to learn Spanish because you “have to” or you “should”, then you likely are not feeling the necessary motivation, commitment, nor desire to learn.
If your reasons, however, come from a true desire to communicate and connect with a world outside your own immediate one, then you are at a great advantage and you will not only learn the language but also enjoy doing so!
2. Learn Like a Child
Music (including nursery rhymes), cartoons, movies with and without subtitles, talk radio, translating billboards and other print media all are engaging and very effective ways to supplement your language learning. Go to the library and check out children’s books, rent movies in Spanish, tune your car radio to a Spanish-speaking channel, listen to Spanish CD’s on your commute to work…all of these learning modalities add up to the larger picture of your desired fluency.
Learn like a child, take it all in, be curious and observant, and most of all, be patient with yourself. Seek out opportunities to practice Spanish and immerse yourself in real-life learning opportunities.
Learning in isolation only—behind a computer screen, nose in a book—-will likely not give you an adequate return on your investment. Balance and variety is the key to engaging all parts of your brain. Get out there and practice, speak, listen and engage with other Spanish speakers. Even if your pronunciation or syntax is not perfect, native speakers will likely feel honored that you are making the effort to communicate with them in their mother tongue.
3. Put In The Time, Do The Work
Yes, learning Spanish will require some work, study, practice, repetition, commitment, consistency, and stick-to-itiveness. Find what works for you.
Identify what your learning style is and capitalize on it. If you prefer to spend minimal time in grammar books, then get out there and start listening to and speaking with people. If you feel more confident with some technical/grammar knowledge first, then obtain that foundational knowledge and then put it to real-life conversational practice.
Whatever way(s) you learn best, identify it, put in the time and do the work. I promise you, it will be worth it.
4. Live, Work, Spend an Extended Amount of Time in a Spanish-Speaking Country
This is a given and why immersion programs work so well. Being in a country where Spanish is the native tongue is hands down the number one way to learn. Before I moved to Spain my junior year of college, I was very conversant in Spanish, but it was really only upon being forced to speak the language day in and day out—at the laundromat, at the post office, buying groceries, living a life in Spanish—-that all of the dots connected and before I knew it, I began to dream in Spanish!
Dreaming in the language is a tell-tale sign that your brain is making the connections and crossing over from emerging learner to more fluency. (Arguing is too!)
5. Fall in love
…with a person, the culture, the music, the sights, the sounds, the history, the vibrancy, the idiosyncrasies of the ever dynamic Spanish-speaking culture–whether it be in the Caribbean, Central or South America, Mexico, Spain or Morocco. If your fire and desire for language acquisition and cultural understanding come from within, the learning will occur.
Language is primal, organic, a birthright, essential and fundamental to the human experience. It provides a platform through which we can connect, understand, love, play, and adventure–where doors of opportunity are opened and connections are made.
Learning how to communicate and express yourself in another language is a skill you will never regret and one that can only add value to your life.
If you have any questions or comments about this post and your experience (frustrations, challenges, success) with learning Spanish, feel free to share them in the comments section below and I will get back to you muy pronto!
I wish you the best of luck on your Spanish learning journey!
Cheers y Saludos,
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