Learning a language is something most of us want to do. Yet it’s something we never get around to. We buy the Rosetta stone, listen to a few lessons and then stop.

My theory is that we stop because:

  1. We see no progress
  2. We have no feedback

Progress and feedback are crucial to learning, and without them it feels like you are stumbling around in the dark.

Your Classroom Spanish Means Nothing Here

I spent years learning Spanish in school, the usual one hour a day in the classroom kind of thing. After say 8 years I thought I was actually a good Spanish speaker.

Fast forward to the study abroad program I signed up for in Oaxaca, Mexico. I landed in the airport feeling all cocky and ready to blow everyone away with my skills.

I could not understand a word anyone was saying.

Luckily there was another girl who spoke English living with my host family.

My failure was that I did not know enough “real” Spanish, and I had very few hours speaking to actual people.

That’s what we all want to do when we learn language right? To speak to actual people. 

Unfortunately, in the classroom we spend most of the time being spoken at by the teacher, and then reading scripted conversations with other students.

In those next few months on study abroad I really struggled with my Spanish. Every day at the end of the day my brain felt like it was aching. But eventually at the end of the term, I could hold a conversation in almost anything with any person there.

It probably wasn’t a great conversation, but I was speaking to people, which is what I wanted to do in the first place.

How to Learn Spanish Quickly

I’m going to outline a method David Bailey did to learn French, which I think is very effective. (He did this all in 17 days).

Note: David was in France while doing this so of course his progress was sped up, you can create a similar experience if you learn with your spouse or kids by installing an only Spanish at home policy

  1. Spend 1.5-2 hours each day writing out Spanish Verb conjugations

Particularly irregular verbs. This book is the holy grail of Spanish verb learning. It’s important to actually to repetitively write them out, we learn much better writing than simply reading.

2. During this time, listen to a Spanish language learning course.

David used Michel Thomas’ language learning MP3’s. I prefer these guys, they are more modern and responsive.

3. Listen to music in Spanish throughout your day.

When you are doing chores, or exercising make sure what you are listening to is in Spanish. Luckily there are tons of great music in Spanish. Check out the Latino section in Spotify. I’ll also add that you should watch TV in Spanish, try watching shows you’ve already seen so you can follow along easily.

4. Talk to a Spanish speaker each day. For at least 30 minutes.

You can do this with Italki. This one is really important, do not skip it because you’re shy!

5. In the evening spend time reading children’s books in Spanish.

This is a great way to learn because the language tends to be simple. David read Winnie the Pooh, here it is in Spanish.

6. Spend an hour each day writing a basic essay about yourself.

Most likely when you are learning a language you will need to introduce yourself a lot and answer questions about yourself. This is a great way to learn all of the vocabulary and sentence structure that goes along with that.

7. Brush up on filler words.

This is a great way to make it sound like you know more Spanish than you do. For example: “entonces” and “pues” are the most popular, but you can take a look at full list here.

This will feel overwhelming at first. Learning language is similar to being a kid, you won’t be able to express yourself very well and this will make you frustrated. Just keep going even if you feel like you are not learning. Studies show that when we feel like we are not making progress is when we are actually learning the most.

8. Learn the 100 most popular words in Spanish

I would do this by type of word (ie noun, adjective). Here is a website with lists of the top 100 most popular words in Spanish in different categories. This will make it seem like you know so much more Spanish than you do.

9. Learn regional slang

If you are in the United States you will most likely want to learn Mexican slang. What you will notice is that native speakers, like in English, use a lot of slang. In school, you will probably learn that job=trabajo in Spanish, but  often times when talking with a Mexican Spanish speaker job=chamba.

This is a great blog with Mexican slang words and phrases. When you are listening to a (casual) conversation between two friends in Mexico I swear 80% of the words are from this list.

Read these blogs for more tips:

4-hour work week: How to Learn a Language

Quora: How to Learn a Language as an Adult

Benny Lewis: Why Spanish is Easy

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