I’ve always loved the Spanish language: the vibrating and melodic sound of it, the passion of Latin songs, the kindness of its people. It was on my bucket list for a few years before I finally got a chance to learn it.
If you have Spanish is on your list too, tempting yet scary, perhaps it’s time you finally gave it a go.
I know what you are thinking:
“I’m too busy this year.”
“I can’t afford it.”
“It’s too hard.”
Trust me; I’ve heard all these excuses and more. But the truth is, taking the first step is always the hardest part. Learning Spanish is totally worth it. After all, it is the second most spoken language in the world.
Have I convinced you? Great! Now let me show you some of the best ways to learn Spanish. They once worked for me and still work for my many students.
17 Tips on How to Learn Spanish Effectively
The collection of the techniques below comes from years and years of perfecting my Spanish and teaching it.
- Find a tutor.
- If you can, travel to a Spanish-speaking country.
- Get involved in a Spanish-speaking community.
- Try language exchange.
- Get a study partner.
- Look for a Spanish-speaking penpal.
- Learn from podcasts and Youtube videos.
- Sign up for a Spanish group on social media.
- Find a Spanish speaking channel on TV.
- Watch movies and series without dubbing.
- Read books, magazines, and newspapers in Spanish.
- Learn Spanish through music.
- Find a vocabulary memorization technique that works for you.
- Start a diary in Spanish.
- Use an app to practice everyday expressions.
- Work on your pronunciation regularly.
- Don’t neglect the grammar.
“Wow, that is overwhelming! I don’t think I can do all this!”
Don’t worry; you don’t have to apply ALL of these tips to learn Spanish. But I do encourage you to try as many as you can. Results guaranteed 😉
Find a Good Spanish Teacher
Let’s be honest – studying with an experienced, enthusiastic, and fun teacher can really make the whole process more enjoyable and less bumpy, especially for true beginners who are learning Spanish from scratch.
However, if you can afford and are willing to pay for actual classes of Spanish, make sure to invest your money well. Not all teachers are the same, and not all language courses are equally good.
Make sure to do some research before you settle for a specific person or school. There is nothing more frustrating and discouraging than paying for classes and not seeing the expected results.
Here’s what I’d suggest you consider when picking a Spanish tutor:
- Do they hold a teaching diploma or at least have some training in this profession? It might sound tempting to get a random native speaker to teach you Spanish (after all, it’s THEIR language). Nevertheless, the truth is that when it comes to explaining rules and patterns, they are usually of little help. Studying with a native speaker can be great at more advanced levels, but I don’t recommend it when you are just starting.
- How much experience do they have? I’m sure you’ll agree with me on this one. When you have to choose between someone who has successfully taught dozens of students and someone whose teaching diploma is still fresh from print, it is wiser to go for the first one. But don’t get me wrong here – I am not saying the older, the better, as it happens sometimes that after too many years of teaching, you get jaded, rigid in your ways, and impatient. Hopefully, you can find a perfect compromise between age and experience.
- What do their students say about them? There is no better way of checking a teacher’s quality than having a word with their former or current students. So, before scheduling your first class, ask around and find out what the common opinion about that teacher is.
- What do they promise? If a tutor you’ve found tells you it will only take a few months for you to speak fluent Spanish, leave and shut the door behind yourself. Reaching communicative proficiency takes way longer than that, so don’t let anybody fool you.
- Do they have a plan? Have they evaluated your level? Have they asked what your needs are? Have they clarified your doubts? What materials are they going to use? – these are some of the questions that help you differentiate between a teacher who knows what they are doing and one who doesn’t.
Speed up Your Progress with Total Immersion
There is probably no better way to learn Spanish than to spend some time living in the country where it is spoken. Surrounding yourself with Spanish will allow you to start communicating in this language for sheer survival.
If moving to a Spanish-speaking country for at least a few months is both doable and affordable for you – do it!
Enroll in a language summer school in Mexico, take a sabbatic and move to Argentina for a year, volunteer as a teacher in Peru, spend a semester in Barcelona on an exchange program. The world is getting smaller and smaller, and there are plenty of ways to include Latin America or Spain in your address book.
If you want the language immersion to work for you, make sure not to cheat and be ready for the challenge. There is no point in studying Spanish abroad when you spend most of your day with other English speakers. So, instead of picking a place that is popular among your fellow nationals, go somewhere where no gringo goes.
Create your Own Immersion at Home
Immersion is, without the slightest doubt, one of the best ways to learn Spanish. Can you achieve it without crossing the border? Yes, you can, but it requires a little creativity.
Do you have a classmate whose family is Hispanic? Why don’t you make friends with them, start hanging out together, talk about books, movies, music? Tell them you are learning Spanish and ask if you can communicate only in this language. I am sure they will be happy to help.
No Spanish-speaking immigrants in your school? How about your city? Find out if there is a Latino community close to where you live and get involved with them. Go to their meetings, help them organize events, or even sign up as an English tutor.
I am sure they will be happy that a local person is reaching out to them and teach you not only to speak their language but tell you many fascinating things about their culture and traditions. Who knows, they might even share a recipe for a typical dish.
“Sounds great, but I’m from a small town, and there are no Spanish speakers here.”
In that case, you’ll have to take it up a notch and get creative. Spare some time every day and surround yourself with Spanish. Books, magazines, movies, the news – they can be your daily contact with that language.
How to take the most advantage of them? I’d be happy to give you a few suggestions.
Learn Spanish through Books
If you are a bookworm, there is a world of Spanish resources out there for you. Reading is a beautiful exercise to extend your vocabulary, better understand grammar patterns and see their correct application in a context.
You don’t have to be a B2 or C1 student to start reading in Spanish. This skill should be practiced from the very beginning.
Of course, I am well aware that you can’t read Don Quixote or One Hundred Years of Solitude when you’ve only been studying Spanish for a few weeks, so don’t worry am not going to give you such an assignment.
What I do recommend for the lower levels is a series of graded readers books like this one. These are mainly simplified adaptations of novels by famous Spanish-speaking writers. They have limited vocabulary and use easy grammar patterns. As you move from A1 to A2 to B1 etc., the books start getting more challenging.
Another fun way of learning Spanish is through dual language books like First Spanish Reader, readily available on Amazon. These kinds of books are conveniently printed with the Spanish version on one page and the English version on the next one.
How to learn Spanish from books?
- Write down new words. Try to deduce their meaning from the context, and if you can’t, look them up in a dictionary. To better retain the words, practice using them with meaningful examples.
- Look for grammar patterns that you most struggle with. Note down how they are used in the book and see if you can reproduce it with your own examples.
- Make a brief summary of the book to see if you understand the plot well enough.
- Imagine that you are a teacher and ask yourself questions about the book. Learners of Spanish tend to struggle with the interrogative form, as they are more used to answering questions than asking them.
Learn Spanish from Movies and TV
Another great way to simulate language immersion at home is by watching movies and TV in Spanish. Streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime offer an interesting selection of Latin and Spanish films and series (Money Heist being one of the best-known), so you will surely find something of your interest. Most satellite or cable TV packages offer at least one channel for Spanish speakers, too.
Now, the idea is to practice your listening comprehension in Spanish, so make sure to set the language options accordingly. In case this exercise is a bit too much for you, adding subtitles in Spanish is OK.
What’s good about watching movies, series, and TV programs in Spanish? You get to hear the real, everyday language with all its idiomatic expressions and slang. You learn to recognize different accents and train yourself to understand spoken Spanish even if it is not pronounced as clearly as in the audio exercises that come with your coursebook.
I admit it can prove to be rather challenging at first, so be patient and don’t despair. Go step by step.
In the beginning, you might be only a few loose words that you’ll capture. Then it will be an occasional sentence or two. Gradually, you will understand more and more and capture the general idea until finally, you’ll follow complex dialogues, laugh at jokes, and pick up even the slightest details.
Learn Spanish through Music
Are you a fan of Shakira? Ricky Martin? J. Lo? Mark Anthony? Juanes? Alejandro Sanz? If you are, this exercise will hardly feel like a burden at all.
Learning a language through music is a fantastic tool, and more and more teachers implement it in their classes. Of course, there is no reason why you couldn’t do it on your own.
As you hear certain songs over and over again, words and phrases just stick in your head without you even realizing it. And so you can say “te amo”, “amor mío” and other simple phrases in Spanish without actually having studied them.
To explore the language learning potential in music, you’ll have to take it to the next level, though, and try to really understand what a particular song is about. Here’s how you can go about it:
- Listen to the song a few times and jot down the words and phrases that you understand.
- Get the lyrics and compare them with your notes. How much of what you wrote down was accurate?
- Listen to the song again while following the lyrics. Can you get a better idea of the topic now? Is the song about love, travel or friendship?
- Look for new words and phrases and add them to your vocabulary book for further study.
- Analyze the grammar structures: what verb conjugations and tenses does the song use? What adjectives appear in it? What is their gender, and why? Is there any example of the subjunctive mood?
I am not a scientist, but there is something extraordinary about human memory that makes you learn and remember things more easily if they come in your favorite song.
I used that way to learn Spanish myself, and I can still recall complete verses I once heard in songs.
Write in Spanish Daily
I know; this one is not going to be so easy.
Most students dread writing in a foreign language because a white sheet of paper is ruthless and shows all their mistakes and imperfections. Seeing your essay or whatever it is you’ve written bleeding in red because of the teacher’s corrections can be discouraging and depressing.
However, what I am about to suggest today has nothing to do with a school assignment. I want you to start writing in Spanish just for yourself, as part of your home immersion plan.
Some of my students keep a Spanish diary and make a daily entry about what they did on a particular day. It is a great way to practice all the grammar and vocabulary actively they’ve learned and an opportunity to look for new words and expressions.
Others write letters or emails to a fictional friend or a real study partner. Some pick a topic (climate change, technology, pets, siblings, you name it) and write short (200-300 word) essays about it.
Of course, not everyone excels in writing and I understand if you don’t. In that case, how about if you find an interesting picture on Google Images and describe it? Ask yourself what is happening and speculate about the reasons and the consequences. Or, in the worst case, just write a couple of loose sentences in Spanish. As long as you do it regularly, your Spanish writing skills will still improve.
What’s the good thing about writing in Spanish? You can do it at your own pace. When we speak, we try to make sure that our message gets transmitted instantly (we don’t want to keep the other person waiting), so we often hurry and are prone to mistakes.
However, when you write, you can take all the time you need and dig in your memory for the best words and the most appropriate grammar structures. Check the spelling if you have doubts, go back to your notes and make sure all the verbs are conjugated the way they should. Compared to speaking, writing in Spanish is almost stress-free.
Alternative Ways to Study Spanish without a Teacher
So, you can’t afford a Spanish teacher or don’t have access to one? Don’t worry. There are ways to get by without one and still make huge progress.
The Benefits of Language Exchange
The one I recommend the most is finding a language exchange partner. Oh, you don’t know what that means? It is simply someone who wants to practice English with you in exchange for Spanish, which he or she is fluent or native in.
Doesn’t it sound great? You don’t pay a dime and have someone you meet regularly (in person or online) for a Spanish conversation and then in English. It can be 30, 45 or 60 minutes each, depending on your availability.
What’s the benefit of practicing Spanish with a native speaker? Even though they might not be of much help when it comes to explaining grammar structures, they have the perfect language intuition and know what sounds right and what doesn’t.
Plus, they have just the right accent and will help you to improve yours.
Beware though! Since there are over 20 countries where Spanish is the official language, accents do vary. Latin Spanish is not quite the same as Spanish from Spain, and even within South America every nation has its version of the language.
If you are lucky, language exchange can come with a bonus: perhaps you’ll make a new best friend?
Revive the Penpal Tradition
Indeed, not everyone can find a Spanish exchange partner for regular conversation. But who said you have to TALK? What about the old, yet disappearing custom of letter writing?
Before the internet became generally available, people who studied foreign languages would look for penpals and exchange regular correspondence with them. Ask your parents or grandparents, perhaps they had one too!
As it turns out, this form of language learning has well-recognized benefits, and more and more institutions help students revive the penpal traditions. Sites like InterPals, Global Penfriends, HelloTalk and many others help people worldwide find a penpal.
Give it a chance! It might just be the answer to your needs. By the way, snail mail is just one penpalling option. Email, Skype or other instant messaging software works fine as well.
Get a Study Partner for More Fun and Efficiency
Learning Spanish on your own comes with its own challenges. It’s hard to keep your motivation high. Sitting down for regular sessions gets boring after a while. Excuses and temptation to do something else start to pile up.
Been there, seen that.
This is why I strongly recommend you find yourself a study partner. Even if you live in a small town, there must be at least one more person studying Spanish.
Just ask around.
In case you wonder why I am recommending you to study with a partner, here are my reasons:
- As humans are competitive by nature, having a partner helps keep your motivation up and do your best.
- It lowers the risk of giving up – after all, you’ve committed yourself and don’t want to let your partner down.
- It allows you to learn from each other – your partner might understand certain contents better than you and explain them in an easy way.
- It gives you a chance to practice conversation.
- It is more fun.
Trust me, these five reasons can make a big difference in how well and how quickly you’ll progress in Spanish.
Give Technology a Chance
If you are tech-savvy, a world of opportunities to practice Spanish opens up to you. The internet is an endless source of study materials that are readily available and often wholly cost-free.
All of that is at your fingertips. All you need is to do a quick research.
Another great way to use technology for Spanish learning is to find a good app. I personally recommend Langbox, as it is packed with everyday, practical examples and group content situationally.
Vocabulary Memorization Methods – Final Tips
I know this post is rather long, so thank you for bearing with me until this far. I hope I have something to repay your patience and interest.
Speaking good Spanish ultimately means that you have enough vocabulary. Yet, memorizing and retaining new words is probably one of the most challenging aspects of learning a foreign language, especially as we get older.
Would you like to learn a few great memorization techniques?
Here they are:
- Mnemonics – this technique is based on creating mental shortcuts to remember new words better. Let’s take the word “rana” (frog). You can divide it into syllables and remember that “ra” stands for rabbit and “na” for napkin. Then, imagine a rabbit with a napkin around its neck getting ready to eat a frog. This mental image will surely help you to memorize the original word “rana” much better.
- Contextualization – this method works way better than trying to memorize a list of random words. Let’s suppose that you want to learn “almohada” (pillow), “bailar” (to dance) and “ruidoso” (noisy). Each of these words on its own is plain and does not attract attention. But if you put all of them in one sentence:
“Un hombre está bailando en una fiesta ruidosa con la almohada en su barriga.”
A man is dancing at a noisy party with a pillow (tied) to his belly.
Such funny and unexpected context will make you remember the target words for longer.
- Memory palace – this technique can be used separately or as a complement to the mnemonics images. The palace is a real or imaginary place where you “store” these images. Remember the rabbit with a napkin? If you put this mental image next to your cat’s water bowls, it will be even more memorable. The table will additionally remind you that the rabbit was eating something.