Six months ago, I was a total beginner. Now I have Colombian mates, can understand the slang, like to chat to taxi drivers, and have even gone on a few dates with Colombians (some good, some terrible – although that wasn’t affected by my ability to speak Spanish).
Over the past 6 months, I’ve really tried to learn Spanish. So many people said to me – ooh it’s easy, you’ll pick it up in no time. I foolishly believed them. IT IS REALLY HARD!
So if you are looking for some tips to help make the language stick, hopefully you will find this useful.
So you can pick it up quicker than me, and not be like this guy.
Here are my 7 tips for how to learn Spanish, that I wish I knew when I first landed in Latin America.
- Download these three apps
- Watch some stuff
- Listen to podcasts
- Read this
- Take taxis
- Language exchanges
📱 Download 3 apps
1. Flashcards Deluxe – this app totally revolutionised my Spanish
I used to write any new words I’d learn in a notebook. Paper-and-pen stylie, old school, notebook. I thought physically writing would make the words go in, but I never remembered anything. Then I found this app. I use it whenever I have a spare few mins – on buses, waiting for eggs to boil, people on the loo etc.
How it works:
- It’s a dictionary on your phone with words and phrases that you input – so you only learn relevant stuff
- You input each word or phrase that you want to learn as a “card”
- Each card is double sided: Spanish one side, English the other
- Set whether you want it to ask you what the Spanish word means, or if you want it to ask you how to say the English word in Spanish.
- Then “play”. I do English to Spanish.
- A word in English pops up.
- If you know the translation, you swipe up and that word won’t come up for a while.
- If you don’t know the word, swipe down and it’ll ask you again.
- When you have ‘learnt’ everything, you will have a deck of ‘active words’ and the phone goes over and over them, so the vocab eventually just goes in.
There are free versions available, but you can usually only input a maximum of 100 words here. So if you want to use it to remember a load of vocab, I would recommend paying £3.99 so you can input as many words and phrases that you want.
2. Spanish Dict – MY FAVE DICTIONARY TO TRANSLATE WORDS
- Works offline – i.e. you don’t need wifi to use it
- Cute “word of the day”
- They give examples of how to use words (not just the definition)
3. Google Translate – MY FAVE DICTIONARY TO TRANSLATE PHRASES
- You need internet for this, but it’s very accurate with grammar in sentences.
- Netflix has loads of Spanish programs, which you can download and watch offline.
- My favourite is La Niña, a Colombian drama about a girl who escaped the guerrilla movement. I started watching it for Spanish – now I’m hooked on it so much that I actually choose it over English TV
- YouTube is obviously good to watch short videos too – google & subscribe to channels around a subject you’re interested. E.g. if sharks are your thing, search for ‘tiburon’ and you’ll find a load of videos. Even just 10 mins a day will turbo charge your Spanish.
- Even if you watch a film in English, put Spanish subtitles on. You’ll pick up words without even realising.
👂 Listen to podcasts
I found the accents one of the hardest things to pick up – so listening to podcasts can really help with that.
My three favourite ones are:
Michel Thomas has a very different method of teaching to what I’d used before. He focuses a lot on pronunciation, so that people can understand you better when you’re trying to communicate – and he also presents grammar in a different way (albeit a bit repetitive) but which makes it stick. He is a bit more expensive but I found his quick lessons really easy to listen to, so I personally I think it’s worth it.
- BBC Mundo is BBC News in Spanish – available online or also you can download the app
- Get a book you’ve already read in Spanish – right now, I’m reading “Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal” – this is the link to the Latin American version (Spanish Spanish is very different!)
- Aprenderespañol is a great website to practise grammar for free
🚕 Chat to taxi drivers
- Taxis in Colombia are so cheap so I like to take them and use them as a chance to practise Spanish at the same time – a dual investment.
- Plus – you can get £5 off Uber if you sign up here.
🕺🏿 Language exchanges
- Conversation exchange – a free website which connects people that want to practise a language. I’ve actually made a good friend here!
- NB: I did get a few creepy messages from flirty people so I’d stick to chatting to people of the same sex & only meet up if you’ve skyped already
- Couchsurfing – often there are hangouts going on with people doing language exchanges or generally wanting to show you round the area. Get involved!
- Language exchanges in hostels – not only is this a great way to meet people but it’s also a good way to practise Spanish. Hostel Ondas & Wandering Paisa are two good ones in Medellin, but there are loads all over. Plus you don’t need to stay the hostel to attend, find out when it’s on and pitch up.
And finally… I can’t rate lessons highly enough. The grammar is SO hard! You’ll pick it up so much quicker – or at least, you’re much more likely to not say as much totally wrong stuff – if you take lessons.
And I found a mix of everything worked for me – so try a few of the above and hopefully you’ll be chatting away in no time.
🍀 BUENA SUERTE! 🍀
If you have any more tips for how to learn Spanish, please do let me know!
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