“Con los idiomas estás en casa en cualquier lugar” ("With languages you feel at home everywhere") - Edward De Waal
I could have sworn I was in Mexico.
Every word I heard spoken was in Spanish. Every word I could read—on the walls, on the products, on the doors—were all in Spanish.
Though I was already fluent in Spanish by then, my language learning senses were tingling; here was a real, genuine opportunity to practice my skills, and it had just fallen into my lap.
After all, I wasn't actually in Mexico. Or Spain, or Cuba, or in any of the other dozen-plus countries where Spanish is officially spoken.
I was in New York City. In Queens, in the middle of a small, unassuming convenience store.
Upon encountering what seemed like a small chunk of Mexico right in the middle of the United States, I finally realized the importance of Spanish as a worldwide language.
Spanish, like English, is a language with global impact. If you become fluent in Spanish, doors will fly open for you.
Allow me to share my story of learning Spanish, so that it may inspire you to begin your own Spanish journey as well.
Start Focused, Stay Focused
My first experience with Spanish was in 1996.
I had seen an ad on the television for Lo spagnolo per te ("Spanish for You"), the Spanish equivalent of the course I had used to learn German a few years prior.
Naturally, I bought it straight away. These were the days pre-Internet, so it wasn't possible to instantly pull up endless lists of Spanish courses to choose from. I had one choice, and I ran with it.
Years later, I realized that that single course had a huge impact on my becoming fluent in Spanish.
Because with one (and only one) choice available, I had no alternative but to focus. And focus can be a huge difference-maker in language learning success.
Language learners nowadays have too many options to choose from. For every language, there are dozens—or even hundreds—of books, mobile apps, classes, and courses.
This leads to what is called the paradox of choice; when presented with too many options, it actually becomes harder to make a decision, not easier.
Here's my advice: don't overload yourself with too many resources.
Start with one single book (affiliate), course, or app, and stick with it until you're done (or at least until you've gotten all of the value out of it).
Choose the Right Spanish for You
Here's another thing you need to realize about becoming fluent in Spanish:
There's not just one Spanish!
Spanish is spoken as an official language in twenty countries across the world, and the language is spoken differently in each location.
I'm from Europe, so the natural choice for me was to learn the Spanish spoken in Spain, also known as Iberian or Castilian Spanish.
For Americans and Canadians, however, the choice is far less obvious. Unless you have a clear reason or inclination to learn one type of Spanish, you may be tempted to learn the language from whatever people or resources are available, no matter the source.
So if you want to be really, truly, fluent in Spanish, you need to decide which variety of Spanish you want to learn, and do so early on.
The Spanish you choose to learn will impact:
So I recommend that you choose one variety of Spanish, and learn it exclusively for one to two years. This will allow ample time for your new Spanish "identity" to develop, and prevent your accent from becoming an unusual mixture of influences.
Focus on Lifestyle, Not Location
When people hear me speak Spanish, they immediately assume that I've lived in Spain. Which is fair, because I actually did do an exchange in Barcelona back in 2007.
However, they're usually surprised to find out that Barcelona isn't the place where I learned most of my Spanish.
Of course, I had lots of contact with Spanish during that time, but considering that my university courses were in Catalan and my housemates were Italian, I didn't speak as much Spanish as you might think.
The truth is, I truly became fluent in Spanish outside of Spain, in places like Rome, and Paris.
When I lived in those places, I made a serious effort to look for Spanish-speaking roommates and housemates.
When I eventually found Spanish speakers to live with, I spent as much time with them as possible.
Don't listen to the common advice that you need to live somewhere like Spain, Mexico, or Argentina to become fluent in Spanish.
Sure, it can certainly help, but it won't do the work for you.
The most important choices you can make as a Spanish speaker are how you learn, with whom you learn, and what you spend your time doing. That's all.
Live Your Spanish Story, Become Fluent in Spanish
At its core, my Spanish story isn't about the words I learned, the resources I used, or even the Spanish-speaking countries I've visited.
My Spanish story is really about how I constructed the new, Spanish-speaking version of myself.
I created a unique Spanish identity for myself by:
To become fluent in Spanish, you need to build your unique Spanish identity, and live your Spanish story, just how I did.
Of course, your Spanish identity and story will not be the same as mine; in fact, I'm sure it will be quite different.
But the real question is this:
How amazing will your Spanish story be?
Getting started is the only way to find out!
Thank you for the great video.
i would love if I could have the spanish subtitles.
Super inspiring. I’ve seen a YouTube video where the maker talks about if your language level is not there yet, like if you barely speak the language, going to a country where the language is spoken would be a waste because you don’t have a word bank to draw from. You would only be repeating hello, thank you, excuse me a million times which is useless, so only go if you are able to take advantage of being there
Soy hablante nativo de español, tal como se habla en Costa Rica. Me gustaría indicar que si bien es cierto existen muchas variantes del español, la verdad se trata de un solo idioma. En general, todos los hispanohablantes nos entendemos bastante bien, con excepción de alguna que otra palabra.
En conclusión, aprendan una variante a fondo, como recomienda Luca, y con seguridad se podrán comunicar en cualquier país hispanoparlante.
Hi, I have been learning Spanish for a while and have an upper beginner level and so have found myself over the easier parts and in the midst of the hard bits and have been feeling quite overwhelmed and frustrated! I just watched your YouTube video on this topic and then went on to read this blogpost – I loved it. Thank you for simplifying things for me and I will definitely take your advice.
Thanks a bunch for the nice words D’anne, glad to hear that the article was useful and if you have any question or doubt I am here =) L
Ciao Luca, grazie tanto per tutti i tuoi video. Qui, hai incluso un altro link, Imparare due lingue allo stesso tempo, ed ho deciso di aspettare un po prima di immergermi in spagnolo. Prima, devo migliorare il mio apprendimento dell’italiano. Saluti, Tom
First of all thank you very much for writing this article, it really helped me to actually make the choice to learn Spanish and (hopefully) become fluent with it!
Though I still don’t really know how to start out or rather what to start with, would you recommend going for a study book or an app? Or would you choose something completely different? I would be very grateful if you could answer that for me.
I’ve met some people who have lived in foreign countries and can’t speak a single word in the country’s language, but just like you, I’ve met people who master foreign languages without leaving their hometown.
Now, I have a question, what would you say was the most important activity you did to learn Spanish?