How I Learned Spanish as an Adult: How to Learn Spanish Fast

Today I want to talk about how I learned Spanish as an adult. I’m going to go over the resources that helped me and the mistakes I made along the way (and how you can avoid them).

I’m sharing this as someone who never considered themselves to have a knack for languages, and as someone who grew up monolingual. In my journey, I’ve gone from absolute beginner to fluent and I want to show you how you can too.

Transitioning from School Spanish to Self-Study

I first started learning Spanish when I was in middle school. I learned some of the basics, which laid the groundwork for when I started taking it seriously again when I was 22. By then, I was interested in travel and I couldn’t help but notice that most people in the United States didn’t speak another language. 

This motivated me. I didn’t want to be like everybody else who only spoke one language. 

So I thought, “I’m going to learn Spanish.” It’s the second most popular language in the world and I was interested in traveling to Spanish-speaking countries. Mexico was just to the south too. It made sense. 

Anyone can read, write, and speak Spanish in only a few short weeks with Margarita Madrigal’s unique and proven method.

The Right Book and Tutor Combo

To get the ball rolling, I had a coworker recommend a Spanish book to me “Margarita Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish.” This book helped me a lot when I was getting back into learning Spanish.

Now, I wasn’t hearing Spanish often in my day-to-day life so I read the book out loud to get as much practice as possible. One of my coworkers saw what I was doing, and she told me about her time in Mexico and how she lived there for seven years and became fluent in Spanish, so we’d get to practice a little bit throughout the day.

I eventually asked her if she could tutor me regularly, so we arranged an “Intercambio” — an exchange where I would give her daughter guitar lessons once a week and she would give me Spanish lessons once a week. We would go to a restaurant and practice ordering food in Spanish or go to a park and talk about being afuera (outside).

Finding a Language Partner

Having a tutor helped me a lot so I wanted to find other ways of practicing with someone (reading and studying alone just isn’t as fun). Another coworker of mine who was also learning Spanish recommended a website called italki. It’s a website kind of like Facebook, but for languages, where you can see everybody’s profiles, see what languages they speak, what proficiency level they are at, and link up and send private messages or pay for a private tutor. 

It was on italki where I met May. 

For those of you who don’t know, May is the other half of Spanish and Go, and she was already way ahead of me in terms of learning a second language. She spoke French, English, and Spanish, and she had just graduated from college, where she learned how to teach languages professionally. 

So, we met there through private messages. Usually, I would write something in English and then in Spanish. She would then write back in English and Spanish, so we were both getting some practice (although I got the most out of these conversations in terms of learning the language). 

At this point, I was about six months into learning Spanish and taking it seriously. That said, our conversations were pretty basic. I was still Google translating a lot and picking up on a ton of vocabulary and getting used to writing Spanish, which I hadn’t done while reading Madrigal’s book or with my tutor.

italki is the most loved language learning marketplace that connects students with the most dedicated teachers around the world.

In fact, I’d say most of my writing skills still stem from messages written to May via Skype and italki. Every time I would get a message from her, I would put maybe an hour or so into responding to her to make sure that I got everything right. I wanted to ensure I was analyzing sentences and getting as much out of the experience as possible. We didn’t have any idea of forming a relationship at the time. It was simply about getting to know each other through language as best as we could.

Spanish Immersion in Mexico

After four or five months of chatting, we finally decided to meet up. I had never been to Mexico and she was already teaching languages professionally so we decided to meet in Mexico. 

To calm our friends down (and maybe put ourselves at ease a little bit), we decided to get on Skype and chat face-to-face. After that, I bought my ticket to Mexico. 

From that point on, we were chatting more via Skype, which gave me a lot more listening and speaking practice because I couldn’t look up words in Google to translate when everything was live and in person.

While everything was going well, I couldn’t help but overthink my way to Mexico. “What if May doesn’t show up?” She could easily stay at home and pretend that we never talked and I would be stuck in a country where I barely spoke the language. 

Fortunately, that didn’t happen — though things didn’t go smoothly either.

I flew into Guadalajara and immediately had trouble communicating. I’d forgotten that I had a banana in my backpack, which can be problematic when you’re traveling to another country because of agricultural laws that don’t allow produce. Meanwhile, I’m just saying “no, está bien” hoping they will throw away the banana. But they’re telling me, “No, no, no, you can’t have this banana,” in Spanish. 

It was a little tense and awkward, but eventually, I got through customs. When I stepped out from security, I saw a bunch of people waiting for their family and friends. May was there too with a sign. She was real. She was there. And everything was going to go as planned.

After all the stress of arriving and going through customs and dealing with the language barrier, I decided to download the best Spanish to English dictionary I could find, Collins Complete Unabridged Spanish to English dictionary. Even to this day, it’s the most expensive app I have ever purchased. But I’m so glad I got it because from that point on, I was able to look up all the words I didn’t understand. There were examples and phrases and context and different meanings. I still use the app to this day. It’s a great resource because you can bookmark words and quickly build up a vocabulary list to practice as you’re learning new words as you travel.

During that first visit to Mexico, I was pushing myself hard. May and I mainly were speaking Spanish but I would respond to her in English a lot of the time. I would understand what she was saying but respond in English, and she would push me to stick to Spanish. She was so patient; I couldn’t ask for a better teacher because any time I made a mistake, she would politely correct me or push me to think about what I just said and whether it was the right way to say what I said. And that helped me a lot. 

May also bought me some children’s books in Spanish while we were there. I was able to go through them later and practice reading, which was super helpful because I already knew how some of the stories went so I wasn’t completely out of my league. 

The Start of a Serious Relationship and Conversational Fluency

On that first trip, I spent a week in Mexico and May and I hit it off. We weren’t just friends anymore. We realized that we had many things in common and that we had a shared love for travel. We were both getting to see new places and have new experiences in Mexico. 

A little less than a year after May and I first met in person, I moved to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, to live with her. That’s where I finally began to feel comfortable in most basic Spanish-speaking situations. Overall it took me about a year and a half after studying Spanish seriously to feel like I could travel comfortably on my own. But I’m still learning new stuff every day, You can always get better, be more fluent. You can continuously improve your vocabulary because the language is just that rich.

My Best Advice for Spanish Beginners

So, if you’re new to learning Spanish, I have two main tips to pass on from my experience:

Tips and ideas for language Spanish.
  1. Listen to authentic Spanish as soon as possible.
  2. Get comfortable speaking as soon as possible.

Additionally, keep in mind that there is no single resource that will give you everything you need to know. There’s no magic bullet. Your best bet at learning Spanish faster is to try to create your form of “virtual immersion,” or learn and experience face-to-face “Spanish Immersion Retreats,” as I like to call it, where you’re listening to Spanish as much as possible. That could be through podcasts or news or music, or any online classes, and you’re also getting some practice speaking. 

Listening and speaking will be your most important tools because no matter how well you can read Spanish, they’re not going to come out correctly when you try to speak them because you need to train your tongue to move in the way that it needs to pronounce the words correctly. It is a bit of muscle memory to be able to speak Spanish fluently. If I could learn Spanish again from nothing, I would jump to listening to as much Spanish as possible right away.

I can’t stress this enough. 

Listening to Spanish, even if you don’t understand everything that is said, will help you more than almost anything else. When you listen to Spanish, you are training your ear to the rhythm and flow of the language. It will help you a lot more than you think. Sure, you are going to hear words that you don’t understand or barely remember from the conversation, but when it comes up again, you’re going to recognize it. 

Focus on listening and speaking as much as you can. At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to allow you to learn a lot more a lot faster.

Want to hear about what I’d do differently if I were to learn Spanish all over again? Check out episode 85 of the Learn Spanish and Go podcast. As with all of our podcast episodes, this conversation is entirely in Spanish, and the transcript, breakdown section, and quiz is available in our Podcast Membership.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *