Spanish is one of the great languages of the world. Over 400 million people speak it today, and these are scattered across more than 20 countries worldwide. Only Mandarin Chinese is more widely spoken among the world’s languages. Even in countries like the USA where Spanish isn’t an official language, you’ll find a considerable portion of the population speaking it.
Needless to say, if you’re learning Spanish, you’re in good company. It’s a romance language, so it’s comparatively easy to learn if you come from an Italian, French, or Portuguese background–not to mention English, which has a lot of Latin roots itself. Learning a language can be a long process, and it requires daily practice and study. Here are a few ways you can speed along the process.
Getting yourself to a Spanish speaking country will do more for your language skills than anything else could. It will set you up for success–but be prepared to fail again and again! Making Spanish mistakes in conversation with native speakers can feel embarrassing. Just be lighthearted about it, and remember that people usually aren’t as hard on you as you are on yourself.
Spanish opens the door to a lot of wonderful destinations. You can choose a country in Central or South America, the Caribbean, or go right to the source in Europe itself by visiting Barcelona or Madrid.
Very little research has been done to test how much immersion speeds up the language learning process. But any language learner can tell you from experience that when you’re forced to use the language to get through your day, you’ll start picking it up much more quickly than you do in the classroom.
The theory behind this is predictably called ‘immersion theory,’ and it’s usually credited to Professor Michael Long. He published a paper called “The Role of the Linguistic Environment in Second Language Acquisition” in 1996 that explores the idea.
Start a Spanish Notebook
There’s a great moment that every Spanish learner will encounter. You say or think something in your native language, and suddenly realize that you know how to say it in Spanish! At moments like these, have a notebook handy so you can write down the sentence or phrase that occurred to you. Writing it will help cement the words in your memory, and having a written record reminds you of how much you’ve learned.
Writing itself is an important part of language learning. Practice writing a phrase again and again, until you’ve filled a page with it. Then try another one you’re learning. Keep double checking to make sure you’re getting all the accents in the right places. This is especially good for retention if you do it just before going to sleep.
Learn the Most Important Phrases First
If your goals in learning Spanish are business-related, then start by learning how to introduce yourself to associates, how to describe your job or industry, and how to speak with polite formality. Or if you’re going to study abroad, learn some academic terms.
Most self-teaching programs start you off with the kindergarten stuff. It’s important to know the basics, but you won’t be spending a lot of time saying “my elephant is green.” So complement these types of programs with more specialized lessons–even if you have to craft them yourself.
Listen to Spanish Movies
Turn off those subtitles and start to absorb. Watching a Spanish movie you’ve already seen is a good place to start. You won’t feel completely lost, and you can focus on trying to pick up words and phrases here and there.
At first you’ll probably feel like you need to hire interpretation services, but stick with it and you’ll start to pick up the meanings little by little.
It’s a lot of fun to practice Spanish, but it also takes some focus and hard work. With these handy tools, you’ll speed up the process and set yourself on the path to Spanish success. And remember, the number one most important–and most exciting–thing you can do for your Spanish skills: get out there in the Spanish speaking world! You’ll go far.
Brian Oaster is a writer for translation services provider Day Translations. He has worked all over the world as an arts educator, English teacher, basket exporter, bookstore owner, Tarot reader, and as the first mate of a private sailing yacht. Follow him on Twitter @brianoaster.