So you want to learn Spanish, well good for you and bienvenidos! There are obviously tons of programs, websites, and schools you could go to to improve your Spanish, but I won’t focus on those things in this post. This a list of tips/pointers intended to supplement your classes/programs and incorporate some useful activities into your daily schedule. Some of them are quick, easy things to do, some of them require greater commitments. All of them I have done, and swear by them. Put into practice these 10 tips & you’ll be spittin Spanish in no time:
Podcast? You mean like for your iPod? Yes the ole’ podcast – it seems like a circa 2005 thing to do, but actually Podcasts are making a huge comeback. You can download them to your iPhone, Android, or whatever mp3 player (don’t hate on my iPod) you have and listen to them whenever you have a little bit of extra time. Actually, a lot of podcasts you don’t even have to download, you can stream them live.
I used to listen to podcasts every time I walked somewhere. Going to work? Pop the headphones in for the drive. Need some milk from the store? Let’s see what’s happening in the world of this podcast. They are great for improving your comprehension skills, which is really the first step towards learning a language. Some of my favorites include La Casa Rojas, Notes in Spanish, and Spanish Obsessed.
Read books/magazines/news/etc. in Spanish (out loud if you can)
Reading in Spanish is highly underrated, and rarely utilized. Half of the people I meet don’t even like to read period (I feel sorry for you), but those who don’t mind reading have unlimited opportunities. There’s nothing like a good book that hooks you, and finding that exciting book in Spanish is learning gold. I actually recommend reading a good book you’ve already read in English (or whatever language you speak) in Spanish – that way you know the storyline & context and already have a head start in understanding.
Furthermore, a good bit, if not the majority of the information you consume on the internet has a Spanish counterpart. News junkie? CNN, BBC, FOX and all the major news syndicates have a Spanish version. Sports fan? – ever heard of ESPN Deportes? National Geographic subscriber? – I bet your Grandma could figure out how to change the language preferences on your iPad.
And before I forget – LEA EN VOZ ALTA! (READ OUT LOUD). Speaking the words out loud will drastically improve your pronunciation as the muscles in your mouth will strengthen and become more accustomed to all the new funny sounds. You can find me currently re-reading the Harry Potter series, every night in bed out loud to myself before I go to sleep.
Change your phone/Facebook into Spanish
If you’re like most of the dagnab whippersnapping kids out there these days – you spend ungodly amounts of time on your phone & Facebook. What’s a way that you can make this unproductive time just a little more productive? You guessed it! Switching your FB & phone to Spanish will force you to learn the language. I say “force” because we both know you’re not going to go without your daily technological fix, so you’ll have no option but to learn how to navigate. When you start understanding notifications like “John Friend indicó que le gusta un comentario en el que se te etiquetó,” you’ll know you’re making real progress. Plus, if anyone ever hacks your account, they may not know how to blackmail you!
Download and use translation apps
This goes hand in hand with your addiction to your iPhone obviously. It’s always good to be able to look something up really quickly, you never know when one word can make all the difference. And although these translation apps aren’t always completely correct (it’s a language, not math), most of the time they are pretty helpful. I recommend Google Translate, and iTranslate.
Carry a little notebook & pen with you for new words/phrases
There is nothing more frustrating than having a conversation and stalling because you can’t remember that word that you “learned” this morning at breakfast. You did almost everything right – you stopped the person after they said the word, asked them to repeat it, then to define it, and then you repeated it, BUT YOU FORGOT TO WRITE IT DOWN.
Unless you have a really good memory, you are going to forget most of the new words you encounter on a daily basis. I realized this, and started carrying around a pen & a small, reliable notebook that could easily fit in my pocket. I would write down every new word or phrase that I didn’t know and liked. Then, you can pull out your little librito every time you have a minute to kill and re-read what you wrote. It’s great practice – and people think it’s cool & always want to contribute by writing something new for you.
Speak as much as possible!
This is the single most important thing you can do. After all, you’re learning Spanish to speak Spanish, right? You can learn to listen & read in Spanish like a champ, but if you can’t speak the language, well….you can keep listening & reading like a champ.
You should always be looking for opportunities to open your mouth. Be curious. Try not to be shy. Understand that errors are part of the process, and take them in stride. Try your hardest not to be self-conscious and insecure about your Spanish. People know that you are learning the language, you have an excuse to mess up. I have to remind myself of this all the time, and it’s so important. Think about it, everyone that you are scared to speak to is an expert in what you are trying to learn (more or less). Take advantage of the fact that you can learn SO MUCH from everybody.
Learn to like to hear yourself talk. Ask that question even if you know the answer, just to hear yourself ask it. Talk to dogs in Spanish. Talk to babies in Spanish. Talk to yourself in Spanish. Many times I have absolutely no interest in what I’m talking about, but I started the conversation just to practice stringing together sentences. A boring conversation is better than silence.
Download & listen to music in Spanish
Another great thing to download and listen to on your iPod/phone – HOTT SPANISH JAMZ YO. Music is powerful, it makes people feel things. It makes people move in funny ways. It’s started movements. Why would music in Spanish be any different?
You know how certain songs or lyrics get stuck in your head, whether they be bad or good, and you can’t stop singing them no matter what you do? That can be powerful stuff when you’re trying to learn a different language. You’ll start memorizing Spanish with advanced grammar & vocabulary before you even realize it. Then, research the significance & depth of the song’s message and you’re really internalizing Spanish. Everyone has their own musical preferences, but I particularly enjoy listening to Mercedes Sosa & Facundo Cabral for oldies, Calle 13 for hip-hop, Enanitos Verdes & Los Fabulosos Cadillacs for rock, and anything but Pitbull.
Watch movies in Spanish
Another way to learn Spanish is through entertainment. Obviously the goal would be to watch movies in Spanish, understand everything and enjoy them just as much as you would have in English, but that can take a while. Starting off, you may find it more useful & enjoyable to watch movies in English with subtitles in Spanish. As your comprehension improves, gradually switch over to movies in Spanish and see how you’re improving (tip: laugh when everyone else does).
Keep a diary in Spanish
I was never a big diary guy growing up. A few times, I tried to start keeping one every day like my friend Doug Funny, but was always too impatient to stick with it. But if you can discipline yourself to keeping a diary in Spanish at least a few times a week, you will really benefit from it.
It doesn’t have to be a novel – maybe a few thoughts you had that day, a summary of the weekend, or even a few cool phrases you learned. It will help you start to feel more natural expressing yourself in Spanish.
Move to a Spanish-speaking country!
That’s what I did – packed up and moved to Costa Rica! Moving to a country that speaks your language and fully immersing yourself in the culture is, in my opinion, the most effective way to learn a language. Daily activities become language practice – going to the grocery store, picking up the newspaper, listening to the radio, ANY phone call, etc.
I highly recommend doing a home stay, where you live with a local family and pay a single, monthly fee for a room, utilities, food, and (usually) other services like internet & laundry. It’s a great experience to instantly become the “adopted gringo,” and not only will your house be a Spanish-only zone, you’ll get to see firsthand how families in that country live. More than likely you will have a “brother” or “sister,” their friends will be your friends, you’ll do activities and spend holidays with the family – it’s a true cultural experience!
But for how long should you go? Although everyone has different commitment levels and learns at different speeds, I recommend at least 6 months in order to make any real progress. It ultimately depends on your goals as well. Do you want to be able to just to get by, or do you want to be conversational? How deep do you want your conversations to be? Maybe you want to be totally fluent. I, for example, want to be fluent, and have committed myself for at least a 2 year journey in Latin America to accomplish that goal.
Get a Spanish-speaking girlfriend/boyfriend
This one is a little controversial, but there is no denying that being in a relationship with someone who speaks Spanish is extremely beneficial to your progress. I do not advocate getting a bf/gf SOLELY for this purpose, and any relationship should not be viewed as a means to an end. It would be very selfish & disrespectful to play with someone’s emotions for your gain. Just don’t be a douche.
That being said, if it happens naturally & it feels right – go for it. But don’t lower your standards. Personally speaking, I didn’t have a girlfriend for a solid 3 years before I met Giovanna, my current girlfriend. I consider myself a very picky person, and trust me, if we didn’t think we connected & had chemistry, we would have shut it down quick. It wasn’t a goal of mine to get a Spanish-speaking girlfriend, it just happened, like most, great relationships. The fact that she is super intelligent, has conviction & standards, and smoking hott just happen to be benefits ;-).
Now go learn Spanish!
Try these tips on for size and let me know how you’re coming along with your Spanish. But please remember, nothing good comes easy and if you’re really serious about learning Spanish it will require hard-work & dedication. I have been busting my tail for over a year now learning Spanish, and I still get frustrated and discouraged all the time. But incorporating these practices into my life on a consistent, daily basis have helped me learn so much, & become pretty decent at Spanish along the way!
Let me know if these tips are helpful for you as well in the comments below, y que les vaya bien mis amigos!