Having problems getting to grips with the Spanish language? Pulling your hair out because your level just isn’t improving? Well, you’re probably not the only one. I battle hard every day with Spanish. I get laughed at because of my accent, use the wrong words which lead to embarrassing situations, and make silly mistakes which give the impression I’ve only been here for 11 weeks, not 11 years.
Saying that, I do have a few tips on ways to raise your level. The following tips are mainly for those people living in a Spanish speaking country. If you’re not, then just use your common sense on whether they can apply to you.
Try describing that in Spanish, in your head though. Photo by J Salmoral
Talk to yourself
I do this all the time, and no, not out loud, and yes, in Spanish.
It’s something that the average human being does 90% of the day. If you think about it, you’re probably chatting with yourself most of the time. You might be having a shower, eating your breakfast, on your way to work walking through the city, or stuck on the metro without your kindle or mobile. All the time you’re more than likely having a chat in your head. So, why can’t you just do that in Spanish?
These are some things you could do:
- Go through what you have to do in your day.
- Plan a conversation you might need to have in Spanish later on.
- Describe what you can see; people, places, objects, funny looking characters.
- Think about your life, or tell yourself your life story.
The possibilities are endless, but what I normally do is just speak to myself in Spanish. It sounds a bit nuts, but it’s free, you can recap vocabulary, and also improve fluency.
I used to do this a lot when I first got to Seville, especially if I had an important conversation coming up with a friend, my girlfriend, or with my students’ parents.
Try it, what have you got to lose? No one really knows what’s going on in your mind anyway.
Make / buy some friends, or find a partner
I definitely did not get a girlfriend so I could practise my Spanish. That would be a cruel, selfish, and horrible way to start a relationship, but it could work for you.
Communicating in Spanish is your aim, objective, and goal, and if you want to make some decent friends, or find a loved one, then you’ll have to communicate by using words and phrases, eventually. The quicker you get some local mates or a girl/boyfriend, the better.
Why don’t you check out the internet for some arranged intercambios in your local town or city, as there will certainly be plenty of people out there wanting to learn from each other. I did this when I first came to Seville. It was a great way to meet people, practise Spanish, and also get to know more about the culture.
One word of advice. Try to get someone who has a similar level to you in the other language though. I tried this with people who had a high level of English, so the conversations just went to English most of the time because it just felt silly me struggling on in Spanish. If you have a similar level, you’ll also have the same level of patience, in theory.
Watch films and series in Spanish
This is probably my main way of widening my vocabulary at the moment. I pick up a lot of Spanish at work, listening to students speaking, but these days I get more from a decent film or series. Unfortunately there aren’t many decent films in Spanish, so I prefer series. It’s not only entertaining, but also adds to your knowledge of the Spanish world and you get to become more cultured.
I tried to watch Isabel, a series about the Reyes Catòlicos here in Spain. I gave up though as it got a bit complicated, plus I found the old way they spoke in the series a bit useless for me in everyday life. But if you like Spanish history then it’s a great series to watch.
Watching a series will also help you get exposure to a range of accents as the series will be based in different parts of Spain, or even South and Central America.
Here is a list of series that I’ve watched over the years with links.
As said above, this is about the Spanish Queen and King, Isabel and Fernando
This is a funny series showing cultural differences between Sevilla and Pais Vasco.
El tiempo entre costuras
This is a historical drama series about a Seamstress.
This is a humorous, but also dramatic and romantic series based on a clothes company.
Los Hombres de Paco was my favourite series, but I can’t find it anywhere officially, maybe you’ll have more luck than me.
Alternatively just watch the TV in Spanish. The news is normally a great way to gain more vocabulary and practise your listening.
Keep a vocabulary notebook
I force this issue with my English students, but it’s only the best ones who really make an effort and record notes on new vocabulary.
Since living in Seville, I’ve had to learn vocabulary with so many different areas in life. I’ve had to learn how to rent flats, go shopping, get married, buy a house, and bring up children. Each life event provides you with obstacles where you’ll have to learn, and pick up the vocabulary.
It’s so easy to forget new words though, so unless you have a system of writing them down and studying, there’s no way you’re going to convert the new knowledge to memory.
I even think widening your vocabulary is more important than perfecting your grammar. The best way, if you have time, is to jot down any new words in Spanish, with a Spanish definition, and also maybe an English translation to begin with, but the less English the better.
Listen to music
Another entertaining, free, and fun way to learn Spanish is by listening to music. Nowadays you can just search for Spanish artists on YouTube, Spotify, and even get up the lyrics on the screen to help you. Lyrics training is also a useful website to practise listening.
I picked up a lot of vocabulary and improved my listening skills from Spanish music. You can also heighten your experience abroad as you’ll build up memories connected with certain songs.
Notice this is my last on the list, mainly because I’ve only done a 2 month course. I’m not a massive fan of learning Spanish in a class. Firstly because of the cost, but also because I found everyone ended up speaking in English a lot of the time.
The best way is pure emersion. Get involved in the Spanish society in some way and make it difficult, force yourself with a way of picking up Spanish as the only option, and you should have more motivation to learn.
I’m not saying they are not useful for preparing for official exams, or for people who need well-structured guidance, but they weren’t for me. Obviously they are the first thing to do if you’re not in the country as well.
So, those are my best ways to learn Spanish. My level is okay, but I could always improve. I’ve finally managed to pronounce the rolling ‘r’ after loads of practise, and I’d like to be more fluent.
What about you? What do you think are the best ways for learning Spanish?