I started learning Spanish nine months ago. Since then, I have reached a point where I can have a full hour-long conversation with someone, write a story without many errors and watch a movie without subtitles. People I meet tell me I sound like I have lived in a Spanish speaking country and have been learning for years. Many people do not believe that I started in April of last year.
When I practice, many people ask me WHY I study Spanish, but recently, people have been asking me HOW. That is the right question to ask if you want to improve.
In this article I want to share with you my plan of study that has helped me to reach this level.
How I got started:
I was researching websites with good introduction training for a project I was doing for my job. I found an article recommending the introduction of a website program called Duolingo. I created an account to complete my research, and was surprised to discover that I wanted to continue using it.
First two months: Learning vocabulary
I downloaded the Duolingo application and started learning my first vocabulary. I would practise the words that I knew, and then learn a few more every day in my lunch hour. I would speak every word out loud so that when I started eventually speaking, I already had some practise with the pronunciation.
Once I finished the levels in Duolingo, I downloaded Memrise and now I’m starting to go through more vocabulary with this. No one wants to learn words by memorising lists of words, so an app with games is the best way to do it!
Knowing vocabulary wasn’t enough – to speak, I needed to find people to have a conversation with. I searched “language exchange” on Google Play and found HelloTalk. This app changed my life! I found people to chat to from every country by text, voice message, phone call and video! It is to this app that I attribute most of my learning, my confidence and fluidity. I spend a ridiculous number of hours on this app every day.
English learners have the benefit of TV and movies with English audio and subtitles. I had trouble finding movies with Spanish audio and subtitles at the same time. Either the audio or subtitles were in English, they were never both in Spanish. Then a friend from HelloTalk recommended me something that he promised would help, if I committed to it.
He told me to listen to 2 hours of radio talk shows every day. Not music. Talking. You don’t have to actively listen all the time, just have it playing in the background while you cook, drive, get ready for the day, even when sleeping (this works even better, apparently). Listen to the conversations sometimes to pick up on some words if you can. I didn’t believe him at first, but he was right. After only a few weeks, my listening improved so much that when I couldn’t find subtitles for a movie in Spanish, I was thrilled to find that I didn’t need them! I use TuneIn Radio, which features hundreds of worldwide radio stations that you can browse by country.
When you watch a movie, try to remove your dependence on subtitles. You won’t understand everything to start with, but watch a movie you have already seen first. Keep going! I PROMISE that you will understand more every week.
Duolingo is great for learning words and vocabulary, but it doesn’t really teach you the reason WHY you are saying it that way. One of the things I notice the most about self-taught English students is their lack of grammar knowledge because they learn using movies and pop culture.
Please, don’t forget grammar! I know it can be boring, but it’s important to find a comprehensive website that will teach you the grammar rules step by step. I learn one new rule with studyspanish.com every week so that it doesn’t overwhelm or bore me.
Other things that I do
- I am very selective about who I chat to now. I make sure that I choose people who write correctly, will make an effort to correct me and challenge me with interesting conversations.
- I look for opportunities to tell new stories and have interesting worldly political and cultural conversations to expand my vocabulary. I certainly don’t know every word, but I guess some words and most of the time, I am understood!
- I speak all the time. I don’t care how I sound to others. I talk, talk, talk, talk and TALK! I go out to Latin bars just to find people to speak with, I start conversations with waiters at cafes and I even speak Spanish with other English-speaking friends. It’s surprising how much we can learn from our fellow students.
Here is the truth
I won’t lie to you – I spend almost every spare moment chatting with someone to keep Spanish in my mind. I have dedicated myself to this language obsessively for several months. My housemate felt that it was necessary that I tell you this because he hardly ever hears me speak English anymore, he must get lonely!
What’s YOUR secret?
I really want to know what techniques you have employed to help you learn a language. Comment below to share your tips with all the Cookie Monsters. Let’s help each other!
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Until next time,
Your Spanish-speaking Cookie Chef
Below are some images from my incredible adventures learning Spanish in Melbourne. I wouldn’t have met these people (La Jungla) if it weren’t for my language partner, Fabiano, the Wolf in the jungle!