Top 10 Tips For Learning Spanish
Students in class often ask me if I have any shortcuts or tips for learning Spanish for them to use by themselves to speed up and improve their understanding of the language. So I thought I'd put together a list of my top tips for Spanish beginners, but soon realised more advanced students may also be surprised at how applicable and effective some of these tips can still be for them. Hopefully you will find them useful.
1. MAKE YOURSELF UNCOMFORTABLE
I'm not talking about sitting on a lego block here. The best way to learn Spanish is to get out of your comfort zone and start speaking Spanish immediately, no matter how well, or how little you know! By making mistakes you will learn from them, so it is important to get into the mindset early on that mistakes aren't a bad thing, just a learning opportunity and nothing to be embarrassed about.
Speaking straight away through conversational classes will also help build your confidence, which will naturally add to your enjoyment and effectiveness of learning the language.
2. PUT ON YOUR DANCING SHOES & TURN UP THAT SONG
Listening is an important communication skill in everyday life, even more so when learning a new language. Developing a 'good ear' for Spanish is a crucial skill for students to develop, and one of the most enjoyable ways to do this is by listening – and dancing – to Spanish music, whether it be Spanish radio or Shakira on Spotify.
A top tip to begin with is to listen to Spanish covers of your favourite songs – you'll already know the translation from the English lyrics (which you'll know off by heart, no doubt), and the tune will already be familiar and put you in a good mood (and mind-frame) for learning, leaving you to focus on tuning your ear to the Spanish and absorbing the meaning.
Not only this, but many students are unknowingly kinaesthetic learners, meaning they learn more effectively from movement, so dancing will actually aid the learning process. You never know, you may learn a bit about Latin culture and pick up some useful dance moves along the way too!
3. PUT YOUR FEET UP IN FRONT OF THE TV
After all that dancing it's time to put your feet up, switch on that TV and watch some Spanish-language shows. Yes – you can relax and learn at the same time!
Netflix is a great resource for Spanish movies, series or telenovelas (Latin American soaps). If you are a beginner, watch them with subtitles in English so you can understand what is going on and focus on your listening skills. As your Spanish improves, switch them to Spanish so you can practise your listening and reading, and eventually you should be able to switch them off completely and still understand everything. Conversely watching your favourite English shows with Spanish subtitles can help you with your Spanish reading and translation.
Bonus tip: Watch Netflix on your laptop and install the Chrome extension 'Language Learning With Netflix'. which allows you to show and compare subtitles in two languages simultaneously and listen to subtitles one at a time at the playback speed of your choice. There's even a pop-up dictionary and suggestions for important words to learn.
4. CONSISTENCY IS KEY
To really learn a language takes time and commitment. Being consistent is by far the most important factor. If you can manage twenty minutes a day, every day, you will be far more successful than if you try to cram for an hour or two once every so often. Try to get into the habit of studying Spanish.
Struggling to find the time? Many effective learners maximize their down-time to take the opportunity to learn a little, regularly, whether it be listening to a Spanish podcast whilst you are walking the dog, or watching a telenovela on the train or bus commute each day. Perhaps you could read the news each morning in Spanish. I'm a big fan of the app Idiom which gives you Spanish news and video suggestions, and also the ability to highlight words you don't understand or know how to pronounce and provides the translation and pronunciation for you.
Bonus tip: A great way to get a few minutes every day is to always carry flashcards with you. These handy, pocket-sized, double-sided cards – with English words or phrases on one side and the Spanish equivalent on the other – allow you to convert 'wasted' waiting times (for a bus, plane, or even your Spanish class to start!) into valuable and productive study time.
5. MEET AND SPEAK WITH NATIVE SPEAKERS
Whilst listening to Spanish songs or watching telenovelas are undoubtedly a great way to learn, they are a little one-way. For some two-way interaction, and to get your ear adjusted to the various Spanish accents out there in the real world, meeting up with, listening to and talking with native Spanish speakers is an invaluable resource for students.
The best way to do this? What better way to meet native speakers than travel. Everywhere you go you'll have the opportunity to converse with Spanish speakers and get to experience and learn about the Spanish culture too!
If you aren't going on holiday any time soon, finding a conversation partner (or two) either online or near where you live is a great alternative. Although not as immersive, a language exchange with Spanish speakers looking to learn English (or your native language) is another option. Of course, taking Spanish lessons with a native speaker is also recommended.
6. MAKE LISTS
Turn your weekly supermarket visit from a chore into a learning opportunity by making your shopping list in Spanish. Going on holiday? Why not make your packing list in Spanish too. Keep organized with daily to-do list? That's right ... make it in Spanish. Literally for any kind of list you make – or calendar entries for that matter – writing them in Spanish will not only be a great way to get you frequently learning new vocabulary which will come in useful in everyday situations, but you will get valuable practice writing in Spanish too.
When you've mastered these, why not take things a step further by writing your diary in Spanish?
7. MAKE USE OF YOUR WEB BROWSER
I'm not just talking about using Google Translate here. We spend so much time in front of screens these days, why not make that time useful for learning Spanish too? There are some great extensions for Chrome and other browsers that help you translate web content, such as Readlang. Simply visit Spanish websites (elmundo.es or whatever tickles your fancy) and then highlight those words or phrases you don't understand and the app will provide a translation for you without having to leave the page. You could always take things one step further by changing the language setting on all your devices (whether it be you phone or laptop) into Spanish for an even more immersive experience.
8. GO POST-IT CRAZY
Labelling everyday objects is a great way to master useful vocabulary that you can put into conversations easily. So grab those post-it notes and get sticking – for example: la pared (wall), el microondas (microwave), la puerta (door), el esposo (husband), etc. – and only remove one once you've committed it to memory. Although you might be tempted to apply this great tip to the great outdoors, leave those post-its at home – you don't want to litter ... or scare people!
9. Re-Kindle Your Passion For Reading
Reading is one of the four core skills involved in language learning, and a great way to absorb material. Perhaps one of the most common mediums we read these days is with our Kindle (or free Kindle app), but did you know you’ve been carrying around a treasure trove of untapped language learning all this time?
If you have a Kindle Paperwhite (second generation or newer) – which has a great touch screen so you can easily tap on unfamiliar words and add them to its built-in vocabulary list builder – all you need is an e-book in Spanish, and your preferred Spanish dictionary (I suggest Spanish-English for beginners, or Spanish-Spanish for more advanced learners as all the definitions will be in Spanish).
To download a Spanish dictionary compatible with your Kindle, there are some great instructions here. Once installed, you're ready to read your Spanish e-book, and simply tap and hold any word you're unsure of to get a definition. The best bit? Tapped words will automatically get added to your vocabulary list for later reference – a great way to reenforce your understanding.
Bonus tip: Try reading out loud. That way you'll get all the benefits of reading, and great pronunciation practice!
10. Break down your learning into bitesize pieces
Like with anything in life, not just learning Spanish, smaller targets are less daunting and more achievable than larger ones. Regular progress and mastery of smaller self-contained topics helps boost a learner's confidence. With ¡Sí! Spanish's series of mini-guides found below, students can absorb a more traditional guide to learning Spanish in a more easily digestible, bitesize format. These tidbits of valuable information are almost as moreish as mantecados and polvorones (traditional Spanish cookies)! Okay, not quite that tasty, but certainly more useful ... and better for the waistline!
Wondering what the difference is between si and sí in Spanish? You're not alone! Here ¡Sí! Spanish explains the answer to the common question ¿Si o Sí?
Did you find these tips for learning Spanish useful? Which was the most effective for you? I'd love to hear your thoughts on how this list can be improved, so if you have any Spanish tips that you'd like share, please get in touch.
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