Let me start by saying that I am definitely not fluent in Spanish yet.
But, I learn more every day and it's become a part of my life. I have watched how my knowledge of the Spanish language has progressed over a couple of years of learning Spanish (2 years exactly on the date of this blog).
Each time something that was difficult for me starts to make sense and is more easily used when speaking, it opens up space for the next challenging step.
So looking back at two years of progress, these are the things I feel are most beneficial for learning Spanish, and I suspect, any language.
Use a Language Learning App
When starting from nothing with a new language, you need a way to build up vocabulary and grammar and it is important to practice speaking out loud from day one.
I’ve written before about why I like Duolingo as my Spanish app of choice and even some ways you can use it to speak more frequently. Duolingo combines spaced repetition with gamification to create a Spanish language learning experience you want to come back to.
But it doesn’t have to be Duolingo.
There are plenty of language learning apps and programs out there. The most important thing, in my opinion, is finding one that you'll use regularly. The beauty of a language learning app is that it does the planning for you. All you have to do is build a habit.
Get a tutor
Speaking Spanish is how you learn to speak Spanish. Easy right? The best thing I've done as a Spanish learner is to hire a native speaker as a tutor. Occasionally he will come up with a specific lesson about grammar rules or particular Spanish vocabulary, but most of the time we just have conversations.
Twice a week for about a year and a half now, Spanish class has consisted of battling my way through a conversation in a setting where my Spanish teacher can listen to me, correct me, and expound on a particular word, teach me important phrases, and correct my pronunciation.
If you are learning a new language, I can't recommend getting a native speaker as a tutor enough. If money is an issue, using a language exchange app like HelloTalk is a great idea. I used HelloTalk for a time to speak with various native speakers from Latin America or Spain. The bonus with HelloTalk is that you also get to help others learn your language.
Listen. A lot.
I can't overstate this one. Listen to the language that you're learning. You may not always feel like it is helping, but I promise it is. I can tell you from experience, I notice a massive difference in my speaking and comprehension during Spanish class when I have been diligent in my listening practice.
Here are some ways I listen to Spanish regularly.
- Listen to music - I listen to Latin and Spanish music regularly. Even better if you try to learn the lyrics and sing along.
- Spanish TV - Spain has a lot of really well-produced movies and TV shows. I watch with English subtitles if I am struggling to understand and Spanish subtitles on a day that I'm comprehending a bit better.
- Spanish Podcast - You can find hundreds of podcasts in whatever language you're learning. I'm partial to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast because they use mostly intermediate Spanish.
- YouTube - I watch tons of language learning VLOGs and travel channels on YouTube. I love that I find different episodes, each letting me hear an accent from a different Spanish-speaking country.
One more note about listening - Don't be afraid to listen to the same thing over and over. You will not understand everything you hear. Listen until you do. This allows you to pick up new words or new phrases each time you listen.
Read Out Loud and Be Read To
Reading out loud is one of the best ways to learn a foreign language. For me, it's been great pronunciation practice and allows me to see how Spanish sentences are formed.
Reading out loud to yourself is great. Reading out loud to a native Spanish speaker is even better. Having real-time corrections of pronunciation is incredibly beneficial. If you have the luxury of a native speaker to read with, it's even better to take turns reading. This way you get the best of both worlds. You get to practice reading and pronouncing and you also get to practice listening.
Like with anything else, consistency is the key. You won't learn a language in a day, a week, or even a year. I know consistency will be the key to my Spanish fluency. Each Spanish lesson, each book I read, each video I watch, and each conversation I have gets me a little bit closer. Learning a second language requires stacking knowledge and experience over time.
You can and will forget things you've learned. So keep going. Each time I've fought through a plateau in my Spanish learning, I've made great strides on the other side of it. Consistency is the only thing that will ensure you build your language skills.