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!
The food: chuchitos, caldos, pupusas, every kind of taco, and a rainbow of colorful tortillas. ¡Qué rico!
The scenery: mountains, beaches, and famous ruins with mangrove rivers leading jungle. Beautiful.
The wildlife: viscous jaguars and scorpions, sweet llamas, and flying squirrels. Alive.
We. Love. Latin America.
So, obviously we want you to come and visit us, but not only that. Let’s plan a summer-long trip. Can you imagine? Sounds great, right? Well, summer is only 5 months away so you have PLENTY of time to pack, update your passport, and book all your hotels. But what about your Spanish?
5 months. Just give us 5 months, and we swear we can get you on the right track right for your trip to Latin America! In fact, you should probably jump over to our latest blog Spanish for Dummies which is a quick guide to get all of your basics and FUNdementals down.
How do you learn ‘Travel Spanish’ in 5 months?
That was the initial pitch. Now comes the ‘How.’ To help you out, we did some investigation. The first was with students from a local English class and we asked them, ‘What advice would you give to travelers who want to learn Spanish in 5 months?’
Oh, the enthusiasm in the ADULT classroom! We had never seen so much enthusiasm even when we brought doughnuts that one time… In the midst of all of the shouts, consejos, and ideas, the most agreed upon methods were:
- Learn key phrases and statements
- Tandem conversation partner
- Practice every day on an application
- Book classes at academies in each country that you visit
Learn key Questions: 6 Q’s
The best thing about travel is that you will most likely be making requests or basic commentary to the native Spanish speakers around you. All of the memory-making is thankfully going to be done with you and your traveling compadres. We trust that you have done the easiest things and booked all of your travel, hotel, and activities before your arrival. However, some of these phrases could possibly help in those areas too.
Learn key Statements: Compliments, Abilities, and Wants
So now that we have all of the questions out of the way, let’s add a little bit of personality to our Spanish for Travelers! Show them what you can do and what you like so you can try to participate in the culture!
Tandem conversation partners:
Woah! All of that Travel Spanish is going to be so useful for you to participate in the culture, advocate for yourself, and travel with such ease. But, what are you going to do when people respond?! Woah! There are so many different kinds of answers for these questions and any other comments that you make. Because of that, we recommend tandem conversation. Bring this list of questions and statements to a native speaker in your own community and pretend you are in the jungle or some other exotic place. You will FOR SURE learn multiple kinds of responses. Check out your local libraries or after school/university programs as well.
If you cannot find a native speaker to help you.
If you cannot find a native speaker to help you through your imaginary jungle – either concrete or full of cobras – we suggest you find recommended online sites like Homeschool Spanish Academy.
Yes, even us at HSA! After all, we are a Spanish academy based in Central America, and all of our teachers are native speakers. Because of this, our classes offer the most most life-like learning experience possible that would help you in your travels! When you get to Guatemala, you could actually say that you have friends here who you have talked to already. Check out our sign-up page to start the tandem conversing NOW!
Practice every day on an application
Tandem conversation, memorizing phrases, and asking questions will really get you far in your Travelers Spanish, but what about vocab and the BASICS? Well, in the midst of our ‘sample advice group,’ there was a HUGE agreement that using applications every day for at least 20 min will help build vocabulary and all of the basics that tandem conversation will not blatantly give you. There was even one native Spanish-speaking student who was learning English AND French on his applications. Because of his experience, he was able to provide great insight. Our top 3 suggestions are:
- Named the best app to learn Spanish by HSA, Duolingo is an interactive way to learn Spanish. Yes, there are tests and quizzes, but there are fun listening, speaking, and visual activities for every learner.
- This is a great application. Not only is it an instant phrasebook full of useful and instantly translated phrases for the country where you are going, but it is also a reliable electronic translator for those SAVE ME IN THE JUNGLE moments.
- Top 4 free Spanish apps of 2019
- Check out our own list of application suggestions! “Maybe you’re looking to start from scratch, or perhaps you are already in Spanish and just need extra support. Well, you’re in luck! We’ve compiled a list of the best Spanish apps of 2019 to learn Spanish for free! Check out which one will work best for you.”
As we talked with our ‘sample group’ of very enthusiastic English students, the final advice that they wanted to give everyone learning Travel Spanish was to keep studying even when you get to your destination. Don’t let all of the awe and wonder of your travels sidetrack you! Also, if you have a question, just ask your teacher. There are so many Spanish academies for travelers all around Latin America. Take Maximo Nivel, for example. You can take classes, have your native teacher show you the culture, and even stay at a local’s home so you can get a true Spanish immersion. How do babies learn a language? By participating to the fullest and eating as many black beans as possible! Why don’t you try it their way?
Alright, travelers! It’s time to get going!
Summer is just around the corner and these next 5 months should give you plenty of time to learn Travel Spanish! As your faithful ‘tips and trip’ advisers in the world of Spanish learning, we are always here to support you. So much so that we are even offering a free trial class with us! We want to help evaluate what your travel Spanish learning needs are and even help to give you a starting point as you work towards your 5-month travel fluency. Click here to sign up for a free class!
Exploring Spanish-Speaking Countries
Fascinating cultures and peoples.
Jaw-dropping snowy mountain peaks.
Salt flats that transform into mirrors of the night sky.
Given these points, it’s no wonder that South America is a top destination for travelers, explorers, and students the world over. If you are learning to speak Spanish, you can practice your skills by visiting some (or all!) of the nine Spanish-speaking countries in South America. Surely, this won’t prevent you from traveling to the four South American countries that do not officially speak Spanish. However, for the sake of language learning, let’s first dive into the countries that do. Together we’ll find out where Spanish fluency can take you in South America!
Which countries in South America are Spanish-speaking?
Of the thirteen countries in the South American continent, there are nine countries whose official language is Spanish. They are Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Where would you like to go to practice your Spanish skills?
Capital: Buenos Aires
Famous For: Natural wonders, unique dialect, tango
Argentina has an impressive number of natural wonders, from glacial lakes to dusty deserts. It is home to the highest peak of the Andes, a mountain range labeled the longest in the world. Uniquely, the Spanish spoken in Argentina is different from other Spanish-speaking countries because it is more similar to the pronunciation and rhythm of Italian. If you wish to study Spanish formally in Argentina, there are many Spanish immersion courses offered in big cities. For example, try places like the capital, Buenos Aires, or Mendoza, where you will learn the special dialect of Argentina. You can even learn to tango or to cook empanadas while you’re there!
Capital: La Paz
Famous For: Large indigenous population, diverse cultures, Spanish immersion
The rare treasures of Bolivia are found in its people. This is one of the Spanish-speaking countries with the largest percentage of indigenous groups. With this in mind, finding community-based tourism and local guides will allow you to learn about the customs, traditions, and native languages of over 30 indigenous groups. Interestingly, as a landlocked nation, Bolivia overcomes its blockage to the sea by positioning its navy forces in a base at the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca. This lake is located along the western altiplano (“high plateau”) at 12,500 ft. above sea level. Given that English is not widely spoken in Bolivia, it is an excellent country to visit for deep Spanish immersion. You’ll be thrust into scenarios where only your Spanish skills can help you!
Famous For: Friendly, relaxed attitude, numerous beaches & ski resorts, wine culture
Chilean culture adopts rest and relaxation as foundations of a good life. As a result of this attitude and their world-famous wines, it is clear that Chile is the best place for slow travel among Spanish-speaking countries. Surprisingly, Chile only measures 175 km east to west while being flanked by the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. This gives the feeling of closeness even after a short stay in one area. Significantly, the famous Easter Island is a historical island off the coast where the longest cave system in the world exists. Rivers of lava carved out the caves that now lie under the rocky terrain. Take advantage of the homestay option if you choose to study Spanish in Chile! You can live temporarily with a local family who will show you the true meaning of Chilean culture, which is to create lasting friendships and enjoy every moment.
Government: Unitary Republic
Famous For: mysterious archaeology, clearly spoken Spanish
Colombia is the only South American country with coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. This scenic country features heaps of archaeological ruins, dating back 13,000 years. Whispers of a lost civilization amaze us even today with their mystery. Above all, the city of Ciudad Perdida and the underground tombs called Tierradentro are great examples of this. Even though the country has suffered political unrest and civil warfare, it has been gaining economic ground and a growing sense of stability for some time. Colombians would say that “Colombian Spanish” is the clearest of all Latin Spanish-speaking countries. Due to its slow pace and cautious spoken word, it is easy to understand. There are many options to continue your Spanish studies in the capital, Bogotá. This is where you will find plenty of private tutors, college professors, and professional teachers.
Population: 16.4 million
Government: Democratic Presidential Republic
Famous For: biodiversity, quality of life, The Amazon Rainforest
Ecuador, home of the Amazon Rainforest, is the most bio-diverse of the Spanish-speaking countries. Due to the multitude of diversified life in areas such as the Galápagos Islands, Charles Darwin was able to explore and create his theory of evolution. According to InterNations, Ecuador has been voted the “best country for expats” for two consecutive years due to the high quality of life and decent cost of living it provides. Moreover, Ecuador offers Spanish-learners affordable, fun, and professional education that promotes language learning in a lively environment.
Population: 7 million
Government: Representative Democratic Republic
Famous For: Atlantic Forest
Paraguay is the only country in South America that is not a big tourist destination. In fact, tourism is so rare here that hostels, public transport, and any other tourism supports are simply not offered. However, the country features the Atlantic Forest, which runs from Brazil to Argentina, passing through Paraguay. Due to wildlife conservation projects, it is a popular attraction for biologists and environmentalists. For the strong-willed, it’s a perfect place to immerse yourself in Spanish because there are very few English speakers.
Population: 32 million
Government: Unitary Presidential Republic
Famous For: Machu Picchu, Nazca Lines, Amazon Rainforest
Home to the famous Machu Picchu and Nazca lines, Peru has an aura of mystery, excitement, and adventure. Equally important, this country offers a foodie experience like no other. It has been nicknamed “the capital of Latin cooking” because its unique dishes combine influences from all over the world. Due to a lack of slang and regional accents in Peruvian Spanish, this is a great place to practice with locals. You can also explore one of the most interesting civilizations on the planet while you learn!
Population: 3.5 million
Famous For: Low corruption, excellent economy, beautiful beaches
In a country where cows outnumber people four to one, you may think this nation is a bit backward. On the contrary, Uruguay is one of the most progressive, stable, and prosperous Spanish-speaking countries in South America. Because of its booming middle class, responsive government, and powerful free press, this country provides a strong model for the rest of the world to follow. Additionally, the most popular destination for learning Spanish in Uruguay is in the capital, Montevideo. You can enjoy the city life or spend the day at the beach before you partake in evening Spanish classes.
Population: 32 million
Government: Constitutional Republic
Famous For: Diversity of natural beauty
Even with years of political and economic friction in this great country, Venezuela is still home to some of the most charming natural beauties. From the snow-covered Andean peaks to the sunny coast of the Caribbean, Venezuela holds great pride for its many distinct features. Grasslands, islands, and waterfalls are among the many unique gems that this country has to offer. Sadly, travel at present moment is not advised due to grave economic problems.
The Four “Don’t” Countries
Can you identify the four countries of South America that weren’t mentioned? The following countries are vital parts of the continent’s identity and culture. However, they do not consider Spanish to be their primary language of communication in society and/or official government business. These countries are Brazil (Portuguese), Guyana (English), Suriname (Dutch), French Guiana (French). You can visit these countries and use your Spanish to get by, but expect to say more with your hands than your mouth!
In summary, a great way to sharpen your Spanish skills outside of the classroom is to visit the nine Spanish-speaking countries in South America. By exploring what each country has to offer, you can find which one suits your personality and traveling style. Above all, studying Spanish online or in the classroom is an open door to new places and experiences that will boost your understanding of the world. ¡Hagámoslo!Read More
Does a bilingual student stand out in class? A huge number of studies conducted around the world have confirmed that yes, a bilingual student possesses significantly higher mental stamina as compared to their monolingual peers.
Here’s a closer look at some of the findings about bilingual students and their keys to success.
They Navigate Noise
A bilingual brain has practice switching from one set of words to another. This mental side-step helps students beyond Spanish class, it improves their focus in big, noisy classrooms. They also focus without strain as their brain knows to filter out background voices or the sound of traffic outside the window.
This ability extends to understanding a completely new language. BBC.com reported on a Greek language test given to eight year-old students that students who spoke a second language, (not Greek), were able to apply their additional linguistic knowledge to the test and guess correctly more often than their peers.
They Stay in School
Several studies have looked at how bilingual students perform throughout their academic careers. Their goal was to see if the students stayed in school and why they might choose to continue their studies despite some hardships.
What they found was that a second language was a huge self esteem boost for a lot of their subjects. It also helped them develop a sense of cohesion; these students felt closer to their Spanish-speaking relatives or a group of friends who spoke Spanish with them on the playground. They dreamed more as they felt lofty goals were in fact attainable ones.
This was a major discovery as high school dropouts are more likely to experience difficulties with jobs and earning money after leaving their studies behind. A second language helps a student see the finish line and feel it’s worth crossing.
They Earn More
It can’t be overstated how badly the job market needs bilingual workers. Many companies want people who have a good understanding of English and Spanish and reward bilingual workers with higher wages.
A study conducted by Rubén G. Rumbaut of the University of California stated, “..fluent bilinguals still are seen to earn $2,234 more than English monolinguals.” He also looked at how gender and overall grade point averages earned in universities changed the numbers, but found bilinguals at the top no matter what. You can read the whole study, English Plus: Exploring the Socioeconomic Benefits of Bilingualism in Southern California, here.
They Have Better Spatial Reasoning
To speak more than one language is to ask one’s brain to do a constant workout. Even when a bilingual speaker isn’t using their second language, they have more mental stimulation than a monolingual. Like a bodybuilder who spends hours in the gym each day, a bilingual’s brain becomes more agile thanks to this constant mental workout.
The heavy lifting takes place for a lot of students when it’s time to do geometry, paint a picture or manage a space. However, bilinguals have quicker, stronger mental power that helps them navigate subjects beyond Spanish.
This study, (previewed here), looked at how well bilinguals could mentally picture a problem and then solve it. Unsurprisingly, the students with all that mental exercise did much better than those who focused on one language only.
Increased mental ability also crosses into help with science, creative thinking and arithmetic.
Scientists do these studies to demonstrate one main point – a brain that works harder is stronger and more prepared for any challenge that comes along. Students who push themselves to learn Spanish have mental muscles that make them feel able, strong and secure in their abilities.