Audrey is a licensed NC High School Spanish teacher who has experience teaching Spanish in the USA and English in Spain.
My Spanish Journey
Science confirms that the best time to learn a language is before the age of 17. Unfortunately, in High School when we take foreign language, many of us are counting down the hours to the next social interaction (or altercation) and are altogether much more interested in dating, drama, and after-school activities. As a result, we do not pay attention in Spanish class, or do the bare minimum. Trust me, I know. I teach hundreds of teenagers every year, and only about five or ten sign up for Spanish classes beyond the required courses of Spanish 1 and Spanish 2. Most of them simply do not care, and I have to twist their arms just to get them to come to tutoring or study for a test. I am compassionate though, because I remember being a teen, although the class I did not care about was Math. I loved Spanish. In fact, I lived Spanish. I started learning at 15 and was fluent by the time I was 17. I craved knowledge and motivated myself to learn all the involved grammar and vocabulary. I read novels, listened to music, and many other things to feed my Spanish addiction. I even took trips with my teacher to Costa Rica and got involved with a Spanish-Speaking church. Sure, my friends thought I was odd, but it was my pasión du jour, and I was completely enthralled. Now, the joke's on them because they would love to know more Spanish for their careers, but I have made a career out of my knowledge of Spanish.
I mentioned some of the things I did to learn a language above. Some of these things can even be used for adults! Below I outline some of the best ways to learn and improve your Spanish skills as an adult learner.
Learn the Structure of the Language
Some people eschew grammar lessons and say, "I just want to learn, not sit through a boring class." The error in this thinking is that one will, in fact, learn and retain very little if it is not in a grammar schema of a given language. A few strong audio learners may be able to be dropped-off in Mexico and learn within three months. Most people need to see, hear, and write words and understand how they fit in with the language in order for it to stick. In my opinion, the best ways to learn Spanish grammar and how the language works are:
1. Enroll in a Class
Enroll in a local community college course to learn the gist of the Spanish language. These classes can even be taken online. Our local community college charges $259 per class, and some are even cheaper. Some students may even be eligible for financial aid. You probably need 1-4 Spanish classes to get the level you want, so stick with it and be consistent.
2. Use Apps
There is an amazing, game-like app called DuoLingo that will help you learn vocabulary and compete against yourself and your friends to acquire new skills. I once had a 150 day streak in French, and my abilities improved greatly just by using the app. Beware, it is addictive!
3. Make Use of Websites
There are online grammar explanations on websites that can be very helpful. Some youtubers even specialize in teaching Spanish, such as Señor Jordan or Butterfly Spanish. You can technically start with their videos and learn skills, and then move on to greater skills at your own pace. The danger here is that, by not being formally enrolled, you will not have any accountability to keep yourself going, unless you are an extremely intrinsically motivated person. Another excellent website is WordReference.com, which contains any and all grammar explanations you would ever need. I send my students here to get correct meanings of words in context instead of using translator. Which brings me to my next point.
4. Do Not Rely On Translators
Translators, such as the one provided on Google, do not accurately translate some words unless you click on "view more translations". My mother used Google Translate with my mother-in-law while I was in the hospital birthing my son and they were both in the waiting room with a language barrier. It worked very well for that situation, but if you are wanting to learn how to speak fluently and independently, I'd say use the above resources and keep Translator as a backup.
Surround Yourself With Spanish
The best Spanish is learned when in an environment that you can use it. Even if you live in an area that only speaks English, with technology, you can easily find ways to immerse yourself in the language.
5. Watch Movies In Spanish (Or With Spanish Subtitles)
Be sure to put your movies' audio, subtitles, or both into Spanish. If you are learning the language, you can really pick up some words from this. I suggest starting with the audio in English and subtitles in Spanish so you can see the words pop up on the screen as you hear them in English. As you advance, switch languages to listen in Spanish and read in English. Finally, listen and read in Spanish. I picked up a lot of listening comprehension from movies when I was a teenager.
6. Listen to (And Learn) Songs
Something about music helps us remember and learn. When you listen to a song, really concentrate and try to say it as quick as the person singing, which will improve fluency. Challenge yourself and don't give up! Also, print out the lyrics and the translation of the lyrics so you get the meaning, too. Youtube also has many bilingual lyric videos that are fun to follow along with and there is so much amazing Spanish music that there is a style to suit all tastes. I cannot emphasize enough the benefits of learning Spanish language songs. Especially because lots of times, as in English music, the lyrics are common phrases that are spoken daily and can really add to a learner's vocabulary.
7. Get a Community
Ask Spanish-speaking friends to help you practice, employ a tutor, meet friends online, follow Spanish instagrams, join a club, join a Spanish-speaking church, or a soccer team. There are many ways to start being exposed to spoken Spanish. I even have a friend who started working at a Mexican restaurant in order to be exposed to Spanish more. I have another friend who chose to only date Latina girls. Whatever you are into, whether it be making cash, dating, scrolling online, or going to church, you can find a way to do it in Spanish. Also, when you take that morning run, listen to a Spanish podcast. They can give you a sense of community as you follow Spanish-speaking influencers and interact with their other followers.
8. Read in Spanish
Find a newspaper in Spanish to pick out words to decipher, or check out some Spanish fiction, or even children's books. There are even bilingual books that can help you improve your skills. You could even change your phone's menu to Spanish--just remember how to get to said menu!
The Most Important Thing
The most important aspect of learning another language is not giving up. Stick with it! As you learn more day by day, you will improve your skills, and if you really push yourself, you will be communicating with the Spanish-speaking population in no time. Beware, Spanish is a beautiful and captivating language that may become a passion that you are never able to leave behind.
© 2019 Audrey Lancho
Tali T Leauma from Spain on August 28, 2020:
Great article! I live in Spain and in my second year, but have studied Spanish on the go and doing part time classes. I can now speak the language in an intermediate level. I agree to all of your points and tips. However I would also like to add despite having all the help and resources your brain can not memorize & take in learned information unless it wants to so you must enjoy your learning experience and take breaks so your brain allows the plasticity process to take its course nothing worse than info overload and hating it. There are so many methods out there but learning is not necessarily about getting everything, it’s about studying smart and choosing what works with your brain rhythm.
Audrey Lancho (author) from North Carolina and Spain on May 11, 2019:
@Liz, YES it is so easy to forget. Of course I am bilingual in Spanish now so I do not easily forget that, but French is so tough for me to remember! I feel like I need a brain update, at times! :) @Dina Abdel Hady, thank you so much for the follow, and the compliment on my writing. I also love connecting with others in foreign languages. I do not know if there is a balance between grammar and vocab, but rather I believe they go hand-in-hand. Without grammar, you can't communicate complex thoughts, but without vocabulary, you have nothing to plug into your grammatical formulas! I'd say doing every-other-day is a good idea. Definitely keep learning both until you master the language! Nice to meet you, too!
Dina AH from United States on May 10, 2019:
Audrey, your writing is just so dang charming and relatable. I love it. I gave you a follow on here. Okay: I took Spanish classes (well...2 classes and that was it) in college. I loved them but I have not delved back into learning a language since then. It's been ten years. I remember it made me very happy to learn languages, but especially Spanish because it helped me connect with people I wouldn't have been able to connect with otherwise.
My struggle is in that I don't quite know how to balance grammar and vocabulary. How do you strike this balance? Do you dedicate a day to a different facet of the language?
So nice to meet you.
Liz Westwood from UK on May 10, 2019:
After a trip to Spain we noticed a course for learning Spanish in our village so we signed up. The group was big to start off with, but gradually dwindled to a few stalwarts by the end. I learned a lot, but I get rusty quickly and still have much to learn.
Audrey Lancho (author) from North Carolina and Spain on May 10, 2019:
Wow, thank you for the App! I will definitely tell my students about it. When I was learning, we had internet, but it was very slow (15-17 years ago) and we had to go to the library to connect, never connected at home! Haha! :)
Angeles from Spain on May 10, 2019:
Good advice, Audrey! I completely agree with you. You know? I also loved languages whenI was a teen, and was the only one in class with an excellent French level! (Yes, we studied French, a lot of years ago! haha, Now it's English, of course). So I started with French language, and then I tried English... and I'm still learning! When I was a teenager, we had no internet... Nada!! Now, with this useful tool, internet, you can learn and practice, it's incredible! Oh, finaly! There are a lot of apps, and I just discovered one which is very helpful if you want to learn vocabulary. It's name is Drops. (languagedrops)