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Photo courtesy of David Dennis Photos

Finding (mostly) free resources, setting your iPhone settings to 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.

Photo by Tomas Fano

  • 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.

Photo by tawalker

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.” 

Recommendations (TV): I primarily watch news and sports. Many people enjoy telenovelas (soap operas), but I’m not a masochist.

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.

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Language Learning

 

About The Author

Lukas Gohl

Lukas is traversing the globe indefinitely on an existential journey. Currently he is teaching English in Santiago, Chile and spends his free time writing, playing music and exploring South America. He maintains a personal blog at Mañana en la Mañana.

  • Cat

    As an American living in Spain, I 100% agree with these tips. But I did it the easy way – I got married to a Spaniard!

  • Kaley

    A lot of people who have degrees in Spanish are, to be frank, horrid at Spanish. They can read and write, but converse? Nope. I admit to being sort of that way when I arrived in Spain, but I’m pretty sure I’ve improved 100%, due to everyday conversation with a, yep, Spanish significant other. 

  • http://www.aswetravel.com/ Sofia – As We Travel

    Learning Spanish through music is a great idea. I don’t play any instruments, but I always like to be able to sing along with the lyrics, so that would work too ;)

    I think the main obstacle is getting over your fears of making a fool out of yourself. 
    Just start talking, you will find that most people don’t judge you for your Spanish, they are happy that you try, and what would they know, maybe you’ve only been there a week?! If they judge you before they even know you, they’re not worth your time anyway :)

    • http://twitter.com/lukasgohl Lukas Gohl

      Sofia,

      I agree. One thing I stress as an English teacher is practice. I battle my students’ anxiety about speaking in class daily. Soliciting their input sometimes makes me want to cry, but it’s redeeming to see their faces light up when they realize they’re learning and commanding their second language with more and more ease.

      I try to approach learning like a Yogi. It’s not a yoga class, it’s a yoga PRACTICE. No one ever truly considers themselves as a master. We’re all students and we’re all in this together.

  • Mmgohl

    Thanks for all the tips, it is encouraging to me to have all the resources I can have to help me with my Spanish language! 

  • http://www.lengthytravel.com/ JB

    Another good free online resource is dado que (http://www.dadoque.com)

  • HISPANIOLA HISPANIOLA

    The given tips are so essential that one can realize when anyone would use it …..

    Thanks a lot…

    Spanish language school
    http://www.hispaniola.org/

  • http://chile-or-bust.blogspot.com/ Msjsielerjr

    Hey thanks for the great article Lukas! I hoping to go to Chile in a year or two. Right now I’m learning Spanish and it’s great to get some fresh new tips! Thanks.

  • lixiangl
  • http://www.spanishintour.com Alisoncooper71

    Thank you for these tips. Learning Spanish in Spain can be very enjoyable if you travel to Spain to learn it. Some websites as http://www.spanishintour.com help you to choose which city suits you better, depending if your are looking for a more relaxed place for instance.
    By staying in the country itself one can get words and phrases faster and learn about Spanish culture and traditions too.

  • ArchieMathew

    Thanx for this nice and useful post. Learning Spanish is not a hard procedure. Online learning is one of the best method to learn at home. There are many online products which helps to learn Spanish online.

    spanish lessons brisbane

  • Christineterry1988

    I am planning to spend some time in Spain to learn Spanish and experience its wonderful culture. My Spanish is still not that good so I am thinking of getting a Spanish software program to help me out. Is this Spanish program http://learnspanishprograms.org/Reviews/Rocket-Spanish-Course-Review.html  good enough for a beginner like me?  I would really appreciate your help guys. thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sarah-John/100002792994202 Sarah John

    I have planned to learn Spanish next month. Will follow your instructions, i also arranged private tutor from http://www.tutorz.com/ to learn Spanish, lets see what happens

  • Noa

    I had an amazing Spanish immersion experience in Puerto Rico. I get close to the culture and history of Puerto Rico and South America.  I was able to visit beautiful places such as El Yunque Rainforest, Culebra Island and Fajardo Bioluminescent Bay etc. San Juan is an extremely secure place. The best part is, if you are American, you enter Puerto Rico as a domestic traveler because is a self- governing commonwealth in association with the United States, so no visas or fees are need.The programs in the school allowed me to progress at my own pace. If you are looking for an unforgettable experience, recommend GoSpanishpr in San Juan, Puerto Rico! (gospanishpr.com)

  • Petrius

    In aditions to yours tips, it could be ver useful practice in your free times the grammar and increase your vocabulary, but nothing better than going a conversation with spanish speakers. I can recommend this http://goo.gl/mFbxK to practice grammar.

  • Guest11

    Lukas, Cuevana.tv is compromised, be aware of this .cx.cc attack!  http://community.websense.com/blogs/securitylabs/archive/2011/09/26/cuevana-tv-is-compromised-be-aware-of-this-cx-cc-attack.aspx

  • Ike

    If you have a smart phone, you should download an app called “TuneIn Radio.” It allows you to tune into radio stations throughout the world. Just type in the geographic location and it will provide you with stations from that region. This is very helpful with Spanish since several countries pronounce words differently.  You can also use it on your computer! There is a free version and a paid one ($1 when I bought it). It’s been extremely helpful in preparing me for my trip to Buenos Aires!

  • Andersonsteve321

    Exactly what this kind of usually requires is a expert instructor or even teacher which concentrates not to only the phrases you have already memorized but in addition the way in which you say the phrases .  Quite simply , a great university whether or not online or otherwise not will involve a professional The spanish language speaker that modifies the tuning and enunciation from the Speaking spanish phrases .
    Often times , individuals are intimidated in terms of studying a brand new terminology . However , when Spanish is but one terminology you’ve always wanted to master , you should go ahead and take initial step and enroll oneself in the   College in intensive spanish courses .  Remember that because you’re not in Spain does not mean that you’ll be able to find the most effective kind of college there is certainly . Understanding speaking Spanish will allow you to visit countries where Speaking spanish will be the very first vocabulary . 

    URL: http://www.addvalue.com.au

  • Andersonsteve321

    The spanish language terminology along with take pleasure in television shows which are in Spanish . You will no longer question what exactly is becoming said and you will be in a position to be involved in the discussion where Spanish is being been vocal .

    URL: http://www.addvalue.com.au

  • http://twitter.com/fyght Fyght Widget

    fucking shit

  • http://twitter.com/shaunapple Shaun Apple

    Learning a new language is a beautiful art.

  • Ryan Tippens

    My wife is colombian, we’ve been married for over 5 years and been together for about 7 so naturally I want to learn spanish.I purchased rossetta stone for spanish which cost nearly 400 dollars and about 8 months into it I don’t speak spanish, I cant understand anything anyone says to me in spanish.I cant make a single sentance in spanish so rossetta stone is totally useless.My wife speaks it daily talking to friends and family and I hear it daily but I understand NOTHING she says at all.Its more than depressing and I cant figure out why I’m not picking anything up at all.Ive thought of taking classes but Ive found nobody teaching them in my town.I honestly don’t know what to do.

    • saquoia89

      Really..I have Rosetta Stone..I got mine off of Craigslist for only 40 bucks..I practice for 20 min everyday and also take courses at the community college, and I am slowly but surely progressiing…you get out of it what you put into it, just keep practice speaking it..dont’ overthink it…and soon it will come natural to you.

    • Sarah Laverty

      There are lots of online courses you can do, have you thought of looking into that? Open Universities often offer them. Also could your wife not try to teach you? If she teaches you the very basics first, then buys a spanish grammar book and takes you through the general tenses you should get a firm enough basis to start reading simple articles. Try http://www.elpais.es and use http://www.wordreference.com to look for vocab- it’s one of the best translation sites. Practise makes perfect, but you have to keep trying, there will be a point, probably a number of months or a year into learning that you’ll have an “Ahaa” moment, but it takes a lot of perseverance and work to get to that stage.

    • Ryan Tippens

      Sarah Laverty Ill keep plugging away at it but no longer with rosetta stone.Im going to try everything else I can find that teaches it but rosetta is not for me,for me it simply doesnt work at all.8 months or so into it I have basically no concept of it .Ill check out that site you mentioned,THANKS.

    • Ryan Tippens

      saquoia89 ….over think it….thats an interesting way to put it for sure..LOL….for me its more like I DONT THINK IT.What Ive learned is that everyday things are male or female,I dont know why and the subject comes first…like; the store,we are going to her or him,I dont know which a store is……but anyway Im going to try something else ,rosetta is useless and doesnt work AT ALL.It doesnt make me understand spanish AT ALL and if I have to leave town and go to a nearby town to take classes I will.I find no adult spanish classes in my town but Im searching for some in towns up to 25 miles away from this one…..GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR SPANISH.

    • Sarah Laverty

      Ok, (btw I’m currently studying for a spanish degree and moving to spain next week for my year abroad). One of the first things is that you ARE over thinking it. You’re asking why things are masc/fem. They just are. That’s it, and you just have to learn which is which. There are some rules you can follow but mostly you’ll just learn as you go. Think about english, why do we say “walk and walked but go and went rather than go and goed.” There is no reason, we just do. One of the best grammar resources you’ll ever get is a grammar book by Butt and Benjamin, you can look it up on amazon. However I don’t agree with throwing yourself into the complexities straight away. Just listen to spanish and read it using a dict and stop questioning why the language does quirky little things you can’t understand- it just does, it’s a bithc but english is farrrr quirkier and eventually you won’t even question the fact that some verbs are irregular. If you want you could start by reading an english grammar book and it’ll get you used to the diction used in grammar learning.

  • Anonymous

    I recommend Livemocha for you guys. There’re lessons (oral, written…) and you can chat with/without webcam. It helps a lot!

  • Shira Terasee Houlihan-Morris

    I think the tips here are very sound. They are applicable for any language. Practice, practice, practice and be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Learning another language is a wonderful hobby. Even if you never use it!

  • Shira Terasee Houlihan-Morris

    I think the tips here are very sound. They are applicable for any language. Practice, practice, practice and be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Learning another language is a wonderful hobby. Even if you never use it!

  • Shira Terasee Houlihan-Morris

    I think the tips here are very sound. They are applicable for any language. Practice, practice, practice and be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Learning another language is a wonderful hobby. Even if you never use it!

  • Brie

    Also going along with free resources: try Duolingo! It’s an app for iPhone (not sure if there’s a droid or iPad version). It has great vocabulary building exercises and also gets you writing, translating, and speaking. Definitely recommend trying it!

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