How to learn Spanish for beginners
Learning a new language can be daunting – the pronunciation, the grammar, the slang, the social nuances. Even when it’s a category 1 language like Spanish, the learning process can be quite intimidating, especially when you don’t know how to start.
There were two main things that held me back several years when learning Spanish: fear of making mistakes and lack of exposure. Now, I was exposed to Spanish as young as 5 years old, and I took classes and used audio books for about 6 years in middle school and high school. One year before I graduated, I took a trip to Peru. I was expected to be a translator since I was at the top of my Spanish class, but when I got there it was a complete shock. I did not understand one. Single. Word. Then, a few years later, I went to Guatemala and truly focused on my Spanish. Once I committed myself to Spanish immersion and practice with native speakers, I was holding conversations after one month and translating for my friends by 4 months. Now, complete fluency took a few years more, but that had to do more with learning the local jargon and perfecting the dreaded subjunctive. In those first months though, I did not take one single Spanish class. So, how was I able to learn so quickly? Well, I’ve put together some important points that helped me learn Spanish as a beginner. Hopefully, they will be of service to you as well!
1. Language Journal
I’m a visual learner. Still to this day, if I learn a new Spanish word, I cannot remember or reproduce it until I see it written. If you’re a visual learner like me, keeping a language journal is critical to the learning process. You can write down new words, make connections between them, study sentence structure….and the list goes on. Even if you’re not a visual learner, a language journal is still a great idea when learning Spanish as a beginner. You can write down new words you hear in a conversation or in a movie, mark down the pronunciation, and return to your notes at later times to keep practicing.
When learning a language, you are teaching your brain to think in a completely different way. Up until now, it has always thought and used English (unless English is not your first language!). In order to work towards Spanish fluency, your brain needs to create new pathways; it’s like digging a riverbed in a desert. At first, it will be extremely difficult, but with practice and repetition, the water will start flowing with ease. That’s where the journal comes in. You can’t expect yourself to remember every word you hear in class or in a conversation – you need reinforcement. With the language journal, you can write things down how you best understand and remember them. You can refer to your notes to practice or if you forget a word that’s on the tip of your tongue. It’s also extremely useful to have a small language journal to carry with you if you know you’re going to be situations that require Spanish conversation. I can tell you from personal experience that a language journal can be a lifesaver when you start learning Spanish as a beginner.
Like I said before, lack of exposure held me back from Spanish fluency for 6 years. 6 years! When I had accurate exposure to the Spanish language, I was conversing in months. Exposure to the language is absolutely essential when learning Spanish as a beginner, whether you’re 5 or 95! It may seem absolutely overwhelming initially, but remember what I said about building riverbeds in our brain? At first, the water trickles, but with practice, it will soon start flowing.
Taking Spanish classes with a native English speaker may seem easier for you, but in the end, it will cost you – possibly even 6 years! Take the leap. Expose yourself to the Spanish language. This doesn’t necessarily mean traveling to Latin America and completely immersing yourself in the culture and language (Although, if you get the chance, I highly recommend it). There are plenty of opportunities for exposure right where you are.
- Movies and Television – You may think that it’s not possible to learn a language this way, but I have met so many people who learned to speak English just by watching movies and TV shows like ‘Friends.’ It takes commitment, but it’s possible! This is a great way to get Spanish exposure at no extra cost, especially if you have young learners. Netflix is a great option as well because you can choose from shows in Spanish (like Narcos or Reina del Flow) and shows that have a mix of English and Spanish, or ‘Spanglish’ (Jane the Virgin, One Day at a Time). Subtitles are another great tool to increase your Spanish exposure and comprehension. Learn more about how to use them to learn Spanish as a beginner here.
- Community – About 51 million people speak Spanish in the United States. Get out and make some friends! I know it can be awkward to start speaking your second language with a native speaker – trust me, I avoided it for a very long time. However, nothing can help you more than taking that step and initiating conversation with a native speaker.
- Online Classes – Here at Spanish Academy, we offer high-quality online Spanish classes to students of all ages around over the world. These classes are unique because they are taught by native speakers whose goal is to improve your Spanish fluency. You get great exposure to the language, a personal tutor to answer all your questions, and reinforcement materials. Instead of traveling all the way to Latin America, you can get the same benefits right in the comfort of your own home. Try a Free Class today to see if it’s a right fit for you!
So you have your vocabulary words written in your handy-dandy notebook. You increased your exposure to the language using one of the suggestions above. Now comes the scary part. Actually talking. I avoided conversing in Spanish for such a long time, thinking I wasn’t ready yet. Turns out, it was what I needed most of all. If you just do bookwork and never practice speaking, you’ll never be ready to hold a conversation. As uncomfortable as it may be, you need to start conversations in Spanish even as a beginner. In my personal experience, many native Spanish speakers wanted to speak English with me so they could practice. However, when I expressed my desire to learn and improve my Spanish, they were more than happy to help me. I am forever grateful to them for their patience as they listened to me stumble through sentences and repeated themselves various times until I understood what they were saying. Find someone you feel comfortable with (possibly even with a personal instructor from Spanish Academy) and ask to practice your Spanish with them.
Of course, learning a language doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient with yourself. Everyone learns in a unique way at their own speed. You will make mistakes – I still do, in both languages! However, if you are persistent in learning Spanish and use the right tools, you will progress towards fluency. Don’t get frustrated!
Also, you will be surprised at how patient people are when you try to speak to them in their native language. When I was learning Spanish as a beginner, I was afraid they would get frustrated or not understand me. However, it was quite the contrary. The people around me understood what I was trying to say and helped me express myself in a more natural way. They were incredibly forgiving and so delighted that I was making an effort to communicate with them in Spanish.
‘La practica hace al maestro.’ Practice makes perfect. This is especially true when talking about learning a language and creating those pathways in your brain. The more you practice, the easier Spanish will come. One great tool I can recommend to learn Spanish as a beginner is language apps. They aren’t the same as having your own Spanish teacher, but they are a great way to reinforce what you are learning in class or what you heard in your Spanish conversations. Check out our top 4 apps of 2019, and pick which one would best for your language needs. For complete beginners, I would recommend Drops.
To learn Spanish as a beginner, you need to make sure you have some sort of exposure to Spanish every day, whether that be through apps, TV, conversations, or classes. Taking a class here and there or using Duolingo once a month will not get you to fluency. Keep practicing diligently, and you will see impressive results in as little as a few months!
To learn more about our Spanish program and the classes we offer, click here. If you want to know why our method works, check out this blog, which also explains more about the way our brains function. And, of course, don’t forget to sign up for a free class today! When learning Spanish as a beginner, it really helps to have a native speaker help you through the process and answer all your questions. Choose your personal instructor from our 60+ teachers to guide you on the path towards Spanish fluency. ¡Empieza hoy!