Finding (mostly) free resources, setting your iPhone settings español and hooking up with native Spanish-speakers are just a few of Lukas Gohl’s recommendations for Spanish students.
IT KILLS ME me when I meet other gringos here in Chile who have their Bachelor’s degrees in Spanish, but still struggle with conversation.Spanish is one of the fastest-spreading languages in the world and is often listed as among the easiest for English speakers to learn. With this in mind, why aren’t there more people fluent in Spanish?
Like all failed New Year’s resolutions, there’s saying and then there’s doing. The key is to have the right tools and mindset to help you stay focused and have fun learning. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Practice with a native.
There’s no getting around it: practice. Luckily for you, opportunities abound, as many Spanish speakers are equally eager to learn English.
- If you live in the US, take advantage of its strong Spanish-speaking population. Sites like Meetup always have a Spanish group in any sizable city.
- If you live somewhere with few hispanophones, use Skype for language exchanges with natives in other countries. I’ve found The Mixxer to be a good site to meet conversation partners.
- If you’re currently studying in a Spanish-speaking country, DON’T spend all of your time with gringos. You could do this back home. Make the most of your time abroad.
A note on exchange partners: though you may desire to have a partner who speaks great English, someone who is struggling similarly in your native tongue will help you feel more comfortable making mistakes in Spanish. Moreover, you’ll be forced to think more to communicate.
2. Make learning Spanish a part of your life.
Take every opportunity to practice. Switch your computer, cell phone and other electronics into Spanish. Certain tasks will be more difficult at first, but you’ll maximize your time learning new words and phrases.
I’ve found pairing Spanish with another interest not only enhances my enjoyment of both activities, but also allows me to do them simultaneously. For most people, simply “studying Spanish” sounds boring.
Are you a writer? Create a short story or personal journal. Lang-8 is a website where you can submit your written work and get corrections and feedback from natives.
Do you play an instrument? Learn a song in Spanish to practice pronunciation and translate the meaning of the lyrics. A tip for the gents: ladies love being serenaded in a foreign tongue, but if you’re planning on singing them a Klingon ritual mating song you might want to keep it to yourself.
Remember: the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. You could have the best teacher in the world, but practice is the key to success.
3. Take advantage of the commonalities between English and Spanish.
Don’t know a word in Spanish and can’t look it up? Guess! You might be surprised how often you’re correct, since roughly 60% of English words come from Latin. Of course you’ll often be wrong, but worst-case scenario you’ll be corrected and learn the right word for next time.
Be warned, there are false friends to consider. I once said to an older woman “permitame (allow me) introducirme,” thinking of the English verb introduce. In Spanish, introducirme literally means “to insert myself.” You can imagine her shocked expression.
Despite this, I think the learning opportunity is worth risking a beat-down from a pack of cholos or an occasional night in jail.
4. Don’t just watch and listen – ENGAGE.
Many language articles give vague suggestions such as “enjoy X thing in Spanish.” While these activities are nice, they need to be done with active engagement to be effective.
Movies/Television: Watch movies in Spanish (preferably Spanish or Latin American films – get some culture!) with Spanish subtitles. Take note of new words or phrases and look them up during or after. Cuevana is a good place to stream movies and shows– just search by language and look for Spanish.
Recommendations (Movies): “Y Tú Mamá También,” “Amores Perros,” “El Laberinto del Fauno” and “El Orfanato.”
Music: Listen to music in Spanish and search for the lyrics. Follow along with the words and look up any you don’t understand. Then attempt to translate the lyrics into English and post your work on Lang-8 for correction.
Recommendations: Camila Moreno, Victor Jara, Giulia y Los Tellarini, Orishas, and Ibrahim Ferrer. You should also check out 7 Bands and Artists To Help You Learn Spanish Through Music.
5. Read to expand your vocabulary.
Reading is one of my favorite ways to learn. It’s a constant stream of new information that exposes you to grammatical structures, usage and vocabulary.
The best site I’ve found for reading isPractica Español by Instituto Cervantes, the Spanish government’s organization for the promotion of Spanish language and culture. Here you’ll find a smorgasbord of current news articles sorted by difficulty levels and categories to suit your interests.
The interface is sleek. If you don’t know a word, double-click to get the definition. There are also activities paired with the articles for targeted acquisition of vocabulary used within the articles.
6. Learn pronunciation rules.
Spanish is pronounced how it’s spelled. This makes pronunciation a snap compared to English, where there are all sorts of exceptions. First, learn the alphabet, then the rules of stress. There’s a lot more to it than this, but the three big stress rules are:
1) If a word ends in a vowel, n, or s, the natural accent falls on the second-to-last syllable.
2) If a word ends in a consonant other than n or s, the natural accent falls on the last syllable.
Example: por fav-OR
3) Whenever there is an exception to either of the two rules above, an accent mark is used.
7. Don’t think too hard about the subjunctive mood.
Any student who has been introduced to the subjunctive knows it’s traumatizing. For the uninitiated, the subjunctive is “used in subordinate clauses to express various non-temporal states such as desire, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, necessity, or action that has not yet occurred.” Just reading that makes my head explode!
The reality is 99% of Spanish speakers use the subjunctive without thought and couldn’t explain it to you if you asked them to. Learn it and practice it, but comprehension and mastery will come naturally in time.
8. Keep it fun and interesting.
Learning any language takes persistence and practice. If your studies turn into a chore, then you won’t get much out of them. Don’t hesitate to mix up the routine and do something fun to reward your hard work and reignite your passion for Spanish.
Some Suggestions: Take a class on Latin American or Spanish history. Communication is more than words; it is a bridge to understanding. You won’t truly be an effective communicator until you try to understand Spanish speakers themselves.
Learn to cook authentic dishes, play Spanish guitar, or dance Salsa. Experiencing cultural elements will make you more comfortable speaking the language.
Are there immigrants in your community? Volunteer at non-profit organizations promoting culture or helping people in need. It will give you a practical opportunity to use your Spanish and you’ll feel good for making your neighborhood a better place.
(Mostly Free) Resources for Learning Spanish: Online Lessons: I wouldn’t endorse learning solely from website lessons or expensive software, but they can be nice supplementary tools. QueOndaSpanishhas great free beginner lessons as well as practice games. If you’re looking for an online community approach, try Busuu.
References: Find a good Spanish-English dictionary. I use Spanishdict(both the website and the iPod app). If you’re into that analog paper book thing, the Merriam-Webster dictionary is worth the investment.
Practice Exercises : I highly recommend the Practice Makes Perfect book series(particularly Spanish Verb Tenses and Spanish Vocabulary), which explains difficult concepts in plain English and is full of activities to hone your skills. EnglishnSpanish has great drill activities for the most common verbs and words used in Spanish.
“8 essential tips for learning Spanish” by Lukas Gohl – www.matadortravel.com