Are you wondering what you should do to learn Spanish? Well, I have a nice surprise for you today!
I chatted—in both English and Spanish—with Spring Spanish teacher Mariana to discuss some strategies for learning Spanish or any language in a fun and easy way! Basically, I shared my ideas and experience as a polyglot, and she elaborated on those ideas and made other suggestions from the perspective of an applied linguist and as part of the Spring Spanish collective.
Before we delve into the details of our conversation, however, I would like to tell you more about Spring Spanish.
Mariana and four other teachers publish five new Spanish lessons every week on the Spring Spanish YouTube channel. They teach Spanish using an innovative method called Conversation-Based Chunking! Mariana and I talked about this method briefly. So, if you want to find out more, you should definitely check out their YouTube channel.
While you're at it, check out the first part of my conversation with Mariana.
Oh, yeah! We had so much to talk about, that we divided our conversation into two. This is the second part:
In this second conversation, Mariana and I respond to five different questions about language learning (on my channel, you’ll find five other questions)… AND there’s a bonus at the end: a funny experience each of us had when speaking a language other than our mother tongue. It was really funny!
How to start learning Spanish?
First, write a short text about WHY you want to learn Spanish and keep it next to you as you learn. Without that, you won’t go far.
Second, pick a date and tell yourself that from that day on, you will learn Spanish every single day.
Third, invest some time into figuring out what resource or resources you want to use.
I recommend using a maximum of two resources because the more resources you have, the easier it is to get confused or distracted. Make sure you spend time figuring out what could be a resource that suits your needs. Look at reviews, peruse forums and draw your own conclusions.
Fourth, schedule a block of 30 minutes every day to use for your Spanish learning, and stick to it religiously. And fifth, embrace the idea that in order to find the best learning method for you, you’ll need to follow a trial-and-error process. As you learn, listen, read, and have fun, it will become more apparent which techniques, methods, and resources are the right ones for your learning style.
Like Luca says, first focus on why you’re learning Spanish. Try to make this as specific as possible and think of situations in which you can see yourself speaking Spanish. That’ll help you pay attention to the right things when learning Spanish.
Apart from what Luca already said, it can be useful to split your “Spanish time” in “focused studying” and “casual exposure”. During Focused Study Sessions, you sit down, use an actual course and get some ‘traditional studying’ done.
During Casual Exposure Time, you just expose yourself to Spanish through activities you enjoy:
The focus is on having fun here, and learning in a more “immersive” way!
What's the best way to learn Spanish words and chunks?
There are countless ways to learn words and chunks, but whichever method you follow should ultimately incorporate two key principles:
- 1Learning words and phrases in context
- 2Reviewing them later in a fun way
That’s why I always suggest reading and listening to a lot of comprehensible input such as short texts or dialogues, marking words with a pencil, and then creating short sentences with them that you record in a notebook.
Never, ever learn lists of isolated words. Make sure you review these short and meaningful fragments regularly and use them often—be it in a conversation on WhatsApp or Skype or a chat with yourself. With time, your daily effort will pay off.
Totally agree: NEVER learn isolated words in word lists! Always try to learn from the context of a real interaction.
The easiest way is by listening to dialogues between native speakers, where you pay special attention to the word combinations (chunks) native speakers use where you think “oh, so THAT’s how you say that in Spanish, German, or whichever language you might be learning!
By learning chunks —instead of isolated words— and by reading/listening to as many conversations as possible between native speakers, you’ll learn the fastest. Like Luca says, reviewing these chunks regularly is important. There are many ways to do that, but at Spring Spanish we use flashcard apps for this.
How to find motivation and stay consistent?
There’s a famous Italian expression that says: “Appetite comes with eating”.
Motivation is like that, too!
Motivation comes from making a strong commitment and from knowing exactly why you want to do something, even if life gets in the way. That’s why it is so important to do things you enjoy. Things that are rewarding. Things that entice you, that reward you. That makes you wake up with the idea and will of learning.
Once you have motivation, you need to develop systems that will help you learn and take action consistently. I recommend taking one hour every week to design your schedule for the next seven days. Be sure to make language learning fit in your schedule every day at the same time, because our brain LOVES routines. And then, if you need to, you can create reminders to help you remember your learning schedule.
If things get crazy and your schedule gets off track, remember that learning for even 2 minutes is a great way to maintain your learning momentum. Learning every single day for a long time is one of the most important ingredients for your language learning success.
On top of what Luca already said, make sure that what you are studying is as useful as possible in your day-to-day life. If you’re learning Spanish, but you never ever need to use it, you might find it difficult to stay on track (even if you’re enjoying it).
So, if you have a trip planned to, for example, Mexico, or if you have friends who only speak Spanish, you’ll be way more motivated. You can make Spanish “necessary” in your day-to-day life in several ways: sometimes having a weekly tutoring session planned might be enough already. But the stronger your reason for learning a language, the better!
Where to find people to practice speaking Spanish with?
The Internet has changed everything. Nowadays, there are countless websites where you can find a person you can practice with, and Spanish is one of the most popular languages in the world, so you won’t have any problems in this regard.
Just type “How to find a Spanish language partner” in Google, and you will find tons of websites where you can find your ideal partner. So, finding language partners is not the difficult part of this process. What is more difficult is to find someone you get along with well, and with whom you can have a language exchange for a long time.
When you sign up to any site that helps you find language partners, make sure you create an interesting profile and invest some time finding someone who really fits what you’re looking for. The investment is worth your time and effort.
If you don’t have anyone in your environment to practice with, the easiest options are:
The internet is your best bet here, as usual!
How can I get to a really high level in Spanish?
You have to live the language, and use it for a long time. Learning from books and courses is not enough...
If you want to speak a language well, you need to use the language in the way that native Spanish speakers do.
These are all things you can do online, without even setting foot in a Spanish-speaking country.
That being said, you also need to spend time with native speakers and live as many experiences with them as possible, such as:
Learning Spanish is a project for life! Fortunately, there are so many Spanish-speaking countries in the world, and so many Spanish speakers, that I’m sure you can find a way to incorporate more of them into your life.
Personally, the languages I speak the best are those I have lived the most intensively, and Spanish is definitely one of them: I lived in Spain, I’ve lived with native Spanish speakers from all parts of the world, spent a lot of time watching movies and reading books. I also teach Spanish, and I speak and use it on a daily basis as part of my work.
Like Luca says, you can only get there by living the life of a native speaker. Think about how much input you get in your mother tongue every day: THAT’s why you speak it so well.
Getting to a really high level will take time anyway, but you can make it faster by doing as many activities as possible in Spanish. Always keep focusing a lot on listening and reading and discovering new chunks in Spanish. Then, it’s just a matter of using everything your brain has absorbed. That means: speaking a LOT of Spanish!
Go out there and learn Spanish!
There you have it! I hope you enjoyed our little chat and have learned what it takes to learn Spanish or any language for that matter.
Make sure to watch both our videos. They are a mix of Spanish and English but you can turn on the subtitles to make sure you understand everything.
Happy language learning!