Finding new tips, tricks, and tools for learning is part of the fun in acquiring a new language. When I was just starting out I did my fair share of searching for the right tools to help me along the way. And there was certainly quite a bit of trial and error.
While I’m fluent in Spanish, I continue to search for more tools to further improve my skills and share those resources with you. This is why we thought it’d be a lot of fun to have Madison, a writer for the sit and former Spanish immersion retreat alumna to share her Spanish journey with you. These are her best tips and tricks for learning Spanish. Take it away, Madison!Jim
If you want to learn a language, you have to get your head in the game. When you’re starting out, your attitude is way more important than learning vocabulary or grammar. It will set the tone of your language learning. So, stay positive, persistent, and patient.
Now, picture this: it’s January 2019 and I’m lounging around at home. I’m writing down those inevitable New Year’s resolutions that we tend to excitedly make, knowing that we probably won’t stick to them. Teaching myself Spanish ended up right at the top of my list. At first, I was really keen on the idea. “Yeah, this is a great plan. It’s smart. I want to travel. Languages are cool. Remember that one time I taught myself a bit of Portuguese?” Soon, it hit me that I needed to research how to learn a language properly. Surprisingly, my resolution stuck.
At that time, I was working about 60 to 65 hours a week. I was a worn-out sous chef running around her kitchen, so I empathize if you don’t think you can fit language learning into your schedule. But you can. I promise. Remember the three Ps! Positive, persistent, and patient.
Technology to the Rescue
The good news is that there are lots of ways to incorporate language learning into your everyday routine. You can fully commit to your education without buying lots of extra learning materials. Sure, apps like Duolingo are helpful, as they teach you basic vocabulary and help with memorization. However, there are so many other ways that you can use technology to help you learn a language.
Learn Spanish Through Social Media
YouTube is a mecca for every skill imaginable, and languages are no exception. You can find a channel to fit your learning style, language level, and personality.
A few of my favorite channels for improving my Spanish are: Butterfly Spanish, which helps with vocabulary and grammar; Damon and Jo, which encourages millennials to one day become polyglots who travel the world; Joanna Hausman, which posts comedic skits about Latin-American culture; and of course, Spanish and Go, which teaches travel confidence, and the most important everyday Spanish phrases. Don’t hesitate, just get watching!
Instagram is another accessible tool. Following pages that teach Spanish is such a simple way to increase your exposure to the language. Vocabulary and accents vary across the Spanish-speaking world, so look for channels that cater to your personal Spanish goals.
For example, I usually use these Instagram pages to study Spanish: Spanishacks, where Juan Diego teaches Mexican slang and language learning hacks; and Spanish Teacher Barcelona, where Vicky teaches Spanish phrases and vocabulary and often compares them to the alternatives used in Latin America.
Learn Spanish with Netflix
Yes, you can still make time for Netflix! Challenge yourself by turning on Spanish subtitles for your normal shows. Or, try watching a movie in Spanish, but with Spanish subtitles. Better still, you could go for my personal favorite: watch a telenovela (a Latin-American soap opera) in Spanish, with Spanish subtitles.
Some popular Spanish Netflix series include:
- La Casa de Papel – Money Heist, set in Spain
- La Reina del Sur – The Queen of the South, set in Mexico
- Siempre Bruja – Always a Witch, set in Colombia
- Celia – a series about the life of the singer Celia Cruz, set in Cuba
- La Casa de las Flores – The House of Flowers, set in Mexico
Practicing your listening is even more important than following the subtitles. The hardest parts of learning a language are working on your listening and speaking skills. You’ve got to be able to understand what someone’s actually asking you before you can respond! So, use these series to practice listening to people in real-time, in real-life situations, using realistic slang.
Music Streaming Services
Every time I get into my car, take a break at work, do homework for school, or have parties with my friends, Spotify is playing in the background. Music is a constant in my life. I imagine it’s the same for many of you, although you might use different streaming services, like Apple Music or Pandora.
Take advantage of an app you already use and start listening to Spanish music. Reggaeton, bachata, salsa, cumbia, flamenco… there’s something out there for everyone. If you’re not familiar with any of these music styles, here’s a chance to learn about the different cultures of the Spanish-speaking world. Plus, you can practice by looking up the lyrics and finding out what they mean.
Take it a step further by using these streaming services to listen to podcasts. They can teach you all kinds of new words, phrases, and cultural information. Play them while driving to work, enjoying your break, or even while cooking dinner.
Conversation Exchange Websites
After I taught myself a bit of basic vocabulary and grammar, I started looking for speaking partners. I mainly used two websites: Conversation Exchange and italki.
On Conversation Exchange, I made a profile explaining that I was learning Spanish, and that my native language was English. Less than an hour later, I had messages from native Spanish speakers who wanted to learn English. You can also use your profile to search the site for conversation partners.
Conversation Exchange is a platform for users to message each other and exchange WhatsApp or Skype details. If you’re lucky enough to find someone in the same area as you, you could even meet up!
italki can also act as a message center for language exchanges, but its main purpose is providing online classes. You can find professionally certified instructors, or just people looking to teach others their language.
Prices typically range from about $6 to $30 per hour, depending on the teacher’s professional background. Normally, I would find classes for about $10 per hour. I met some really amazing people – I even met one of my best friends on italki when I took one of his Spanish lessons.
Old School Meets New School
Traditional language learning methods often involve books and a standard classroom setting. When I started learning Spanish, I bought several books that I thought would be helpful. However, only one is worth mentioning. It’s the only book I could finish!
Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish by Margarita Madrigal is the best resource to use if you learn well through reading. Even if you’re not a huge reader, I’d still recommend buying this book and trying to get through as much as you can! It teaches all the grammar you’ll need to know, starting with the past and future tenses. The book uses creative teaching methods, and you’ll learn lots of vocabulary. It really does stand out from its competitors. I actually first heard about the book from Jim, when he told me about his experience of using it.
Right after I read this book, I went on Jim and Mays’ Spanish Immersion Retreat in Guanajuato. Their retreat combines old school and new school techniques. The traditional morning classes teach students new phrases, then, later on, you go out into the community to practice using them. In my opinion, the retreat package they offer is a very modern, effective way to learn. It’s the ideal way to gain travel confidence!
Lastly, there’s a company called Lingoda that offers online classes in various languages. Lingoda stands out from its competition because it offers a special marathon promotion. If you manage to complete a one hour class every single day for three months, then you get your money back. If you miss just one day, then you pay the full course price. As the package is worth $750, I think they’re really on to something there.
Of course, I only had to miss one class (by one hour) when I was traveling this summer to realize how ingenious their tactic is! But, I also know several people who have successfully completed the Lingoda Marathon and received their full refund.
Even if you end up paying the full price, Lingoda is a great learning tool. Its daily structure is helpful and really motivates you to complete the classes. You meet teachers from all over the world, with different accents, who really push you to do your best.
Language learning is all about your mindset. If you’re already worried it’s going to be impossible, it’ll be so much harder to reach your goal. After you get the basics now, speaking practice is definitely the most important part of language learning. So, you have to put yourself out there! Step out of your comfort zone so that you can kick-start your language education.
¡Buena suerte amigos!
Related: How Jim Learned Spanish