Learning Spanish is hard! Really hard.
Sure, some people seemingly take to it like a fish to water, but for the rest of us it’s a real struggle. Especially if like me you didn’t take any languages at school.
Firstly though, let’s take some solace in the fact that we’re all in the same boat. Spanish is a challenge for almost everyone, and sadly there is no magic stick that is going to change that. This said, we can certainly try and improve things with a few new tips.
No matter what level your Spanish is at today, these tips should help everyone from absolute beginner to the more experienced learner: 1. Accept that there is probably more than one right answer
This might seem obvious to some, but for those of us with more logical minds, those who perhaps consider themselves better with numbers and logic than with words, this can be a hard realisation to make. For the more logically minded, sometimes a correct answer can lead us to believe that all other possibilities must be incorrect. Whilst this might stand you in good stead when trying to pass a maths exam or solve a complex logic problem, it rarely applies when learning a language.
Yet for some, this way of thinking can be a real barrier to progression. I remember when I first started out learning a few Spanish words. I would discuss them with other learners only to end up in disagreement as to what the correct word really was. More often than not, we’d both be right, but it took me a long time to realise and accept this.
This can feel like quite an unsatisfactory outcome at times. Whereby we want to be sure we understand a specific area of the language only to be told the very thing we’ve learnt can be approximated in many other ways.
However, once we make this shift in thinking and begin to accept and expect the many different ways of phrasing things, we stop looking for binary answers to things and start to notice and appreciate the many different ways the Spanish language is really formed. 2. Read a Spanish book as soon as you can
Reading a real Spanish language book is fantastic tip for all abilities. This is not only reserved for the more advanced learner either. Anyone can pick up a Spanish book and read. The most important thing is making your sure you actually finish it.
Reasons for not finishing a book include: not finding the book enjoyable and thus losing interest or picking something that’s simply too hard. This is certainly the moment to leave the ego behind and be realistic about your level. If you’re just starting out, then picking children’s books is a great option. Even if you’re at a more advanced level, don’t expect to be able to read at the same level as you can in English.
Reading really helps cement previous acquired knowledge by showing real words in real situations. Do not worry if you do not understand every single word, as providing you’re reading a book suitable for your ability, you will be able to eventually understand even the words you may not know for sure. The context of the words will help you understand and work out any gaps in knowledge.
Remember that children’s books are designed for even the youngest of ages and thus you should be able to find something that is suitable for every ability. These books tend to be illustrated too, which will help give you some great visual clues as well as using words that are at a suitable level. 3. Make sure your pronunciation is good with both letter sounds and word emphasis
We have mentioned this a few times here on Spectrum Monkey: Take a moment to really check that you believe you are pronouncing your words correctly. Remember that in Spanish, it is extremely important to make sure those letter sounds are exactly as they should be and that you are stressing the correct part of the word. Since words like “esta” and “está” or “hacia” and “hacía“ are completely different words with different meanings.
Having a good grasp of how to pronounce each letter and where to stress the word is the bedrock being able to speak Spanish well. You will save yourself an enormous amount of time later on if you can make this a priority from the start. 4. Practice, practice and practice again
This is probably one of the greatest fears for newcomers to Spanish to overcome: Finding people to practice with and actually doing so. And by practice we mean speaking the language with others in real-time and ideally with as many different fluent speakers as possible.
It’s true that we can devote plenty of time to learning about grammar, performing verb drills over and over to help us remember those tricky conjugations, read daily, spend hours messaging people on Whatsapp and so on. Yet nothing really comes close to actually having a real spoken conversation with another Spanish speaker.
Even if you are lucky enough to live in Spanish speaking country, this is not always as easy as it sounds. Until we get to a certain level of proficiency, most of us will instinctively avoid putting ourselves in situations where we are likely to make mistakes. So even with a strong desire to learn and improve, ultimately we will avoid practicing speaking with others in favour of perhaps reading about something else, or going back over some drills.
However, whenever possible we should try and take ourselves out of our comfort zone. Real conversations in real-time leave us no where to hide. We must think and react in the moment.
Other forms of “practice”, like watching a movie in Spanish, or listening to the radio are great ways of exposing ourselves to lots of new vocabulary. But ultimately, they are forms of passive interaction where there is no consequence if one stops paying attention or simply does not understand. Whereas a real conversation not only requires that we listen and understand what is being said at the time, but also usually requires us to form a reasonable response. It is this type of practice we should seek out and force ourselves to engage in whenever possible. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, yes we will make many mistakes, but if we can build our confidence enough to try and practice real conversations all our hard work up until now will be rewarded greatly. 5. Be cautious with language apps
Don’t get me wrong, language apps are great. There are plenty of high-quality free apps for your mobile phone. All aimed at learning Spanish on the move, what could be better?
Indeed, they offer an excellent way to brush up on your Spanish during your commute to work or whenever you can grab a spare moment to yourself. And it for this reason I highly recommend them.
However, there is a tendency to believe it’s possible to learn an entire language with such apps alone. Now, I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I would suggest that it would take a very long time!
Language apps are great fun and a perfect way to get started. But once you are passed the “getting started” stage, I would consider how much time you choose to devote to using these apps. Certainly consider keeping them to a minimum and you may even find that when you return to using them that you’ve become greatly improved!