Traveling the world, learning languages, and immersing myself in new cultures.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

11 Techniques This American Uses to Improve in Spanish

Obviously, my Spanish is getting better, since I am saying que and no entiendo much less than I used to. Now, it's only every other sentence, instead of every other word. I'm constantly looking for new ways to improve my grasp of the language, so my Spanish improves, and then people ask me how I magically got awesome at Spanish. 

Many times when people give advice about learning a new language, you always hear cliché things like "focus" or "be the language", but I have more practical ways to get better. Here are a few techniques that I've used to improve my Spanish skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. 

1. Take a spanish class.  This one seems obvious, but learning grammar and fundamentals from a native speaker is essential for a strong foundation in the language. 

2. Put my tablet, smartphone, and laptop in Spanish. This is super irritating and frustrating at first, as you are attempting to navigate your devices and not recognizing any of the words. But over time, not only does it become easy to navigate your devices, you also learn an amazing amount of vocabulary. And if you are like most people, you use one or all of these devices several hours everyday. Lots of practice!

3. Teach English to Spanish speakers. Even before I became a teacher, I was teaching English to adults and leading conversation groups. Hearing the errors of the Spanish speakers helps me to understand how to say certain things in Spanish (i.e. word order and prepositions). 

4. Watch movies I know all the words to in English, in Spanish. This helps me to translate directly into Spanish what the characters are saying. Plus, it is a fun way to learn some slang and colloquial expressions (that you'll have to google every 5 minutes). Once I got a decent vocabulary, I began watching movies I'd never seen before, with subtitles if I could, and I understood much more than I thought I would. 

5. Listen to music and research the lyrics. When I listen to the radio, there is always a new song with a catchy tune and I have no idea what the artist is saying. Instead of just mumbling the words, I look them up online and learn the words, and then I sing them at the top of my lungs, even if the song isn't playing, and even if I'm in public and everyone is staring at me. 

6. Read children's books (and adult books too). Again, vocabulary is quite important once you have a decent grasp of grammar. Reading is a great way to improve your vocabulary, and kid's books seem to be the easiest to complete without getting too frustrated and throwing the book out the window, because you are spending more time consulting your pocket dictionary than reading the book.

7. Talk a lot and find people who like to talk a lot. When small children learn to speak, they never stop talking. That's how they learn more and improve their speaking skills. I do this now in Spanish. A good place to do this without being negatively judged or physically threatened, is at a language exchange group, or intercambio. Pamplona Speaking Time offers English and Spanish groups where people can come together and talk and have fun, without pressure.

8. Reading websites in Spanish. I have my favorite websites that I go to everyday and read articles, and most of them are offered in Spanish. My Daily Bread, tech sites like Cnet and Gizmodo, and health and fitness sites, all have multiple language options, and I opt for the Spanish.  

9. Go to the library (or somewhere quiet). I spent more time in the library in my first six months living in Spain, than nine years of secondary and university education combined. It is a good place to read, listen to music, or do whatever you want, but without many distractions. Except the cute smart girls pretending to work on their term papers, but really looking through facebook photos of their friends.

10. I write in my blog in Spanish. This is probably one of the best ways to practice writing, as I receive a lot of feedback on my mistakes and can correct them and improve. Plus, it forces me to write something relevant and to be creative and express myself, though in another language.

11. Quick daily updates. I subscribe to Spanish word of the day on my twitter account and receive a Spanish newsletter from These offer me a quick 1 minute spanish lesson, delivered right to the mediums I access the most (smartphone and computer).

BONUS CAVEAT - my French listening skills have improved dramatically thanks to learning Spanish. So, if you speak another latin-based language, learning a new one may help you improve in the other.

What do you think? 

This list is based on my experiences and I'm curious what you think. What techniques have you used to learn Spanish, or another language? Leave me a comment!

Thanks for reading! For more on my life in Navarra, check out VEN con TMax.

(some of the images/videos used in this post are from other sources and not my own)

Location: Pamplona, Navarre, Spain


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