What Are the 6 Stages of Spanish Language Acquisition?
Have you ever wondered at what Spanish level you are?
Stages of language acquisition can be either too blurry or too technical, and it can be confusing to set up exact limits.
I can promise you one thing!
After reading this article, you’ll be able to precisely define at what stage your current level is but also know what to do to reach the next stage.
The end of your linguistic confusion starts here.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What Is Language Acquisition?
- Six Stages of Language Acquisition
- Do You Need Help To Move To the Next Stage?
What Is Language Acquisition?
In psychology, language acquisition is the term for how we acquire language as children.
Different schools divide it into fewer or more stages, but the process always starts at the pre-talking phase, when we simply absorb and begin to understand. Then our vocabulary increases, and our sentences become more complex. Finally, we become fluent users of our native tongue.
This is called first language acquisition.
If you’re interested in learning more about the language acquisition of a child, check out this article I wrote for the Linguistic Society of America.
In this article, I talk about second language acquisition and Spanish levels of language acquisition.
There are many similarities between how we acquire our first language and the stages of learning a new language—it doesn’t matter if it’s your second, third, or fourth language.
First, in all processes, there is a significant delay between what you can understand and what you can say. Comprehension always comes before speaking.
Second, although each one of us will advance at a different pace, we will all go through the same stages in the same order.
Lastly: both babies and second language students learn through mistakes. Remember that!
The significant difference, and a very optimistic one, is that you can learn a second language much faster than your mother tongue. Your cognitive skills and intuitive linguistic knowledge of the first language can significantly speed up the process.
Six Stages of Spanish Language Acquisition
Remember, these periods may take more or less time, depending on the learner’s linguistic skills but also the level of immersion. The more contact you have with the language, the shorter your stages of language acquisition will be.
This stage is comparable to the pre-talking period of a child. It’s also called the “silent period” because speaking skills are almost nonexistent.
At this level, the student usually nods, smiles, or indicates with gestures only.
What should you focus on to progress as soon as possible at this stage? First, basic classroom language, for example:
I don’t understand.
¿Cómo se dice…?
How do you say…?
¿Puedo ir al baño?
Can I go to the bathroom?
Can you repeat?
Immersion is crucial at this point. Listen and watch as much as possible to get used to Spanish pronunciation and intonation. You’ll slowly understand more and more.
You should become familiar with Spanish sounds to read correctly and accumulate content. As Spanish uses the same alphabet as English, you can build a base using your native languages and quickly learn the differences between the two.
You’re lucky, in that matter! If you were learning Chinese and not Spanish, even reading would be more complicated at this early learning stage.
You should also correctly recognize personal Spanish pronouns to know who’s speaking or who they’re talking to.
Handpicked for you:
- Spanish Classroom Survival Phrases for Beginners
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2. Early Production
Here you need the same strategies as in the previous stage: lots of listening, watching, and parroting.
At this phase, students say their first words and sentences.
There’s a lot to learn at this level, and your comprehension is still significantly bigger than your production. Again, remember that!
At this level, you should be able to use the phrases you learned in the silent phase. So practice them, even if you don’t understand the grammar behind them.
Anyway, it’s good to start learning beginner conjugation, focusing on regular verbs and some most common irregular ones.
You can learn some basic, ready-to-go phrases and use them in dialogues. At this stage, you should be able to have a dialogue similar to this one:
Pedro: Hola, me llamo Pedro. ¿Cómo te llamas?
María: Hola, Pedro, me llamo María. ¿De dónde eres?
Pedro: Soy de los Estados Unidos. ¿Y tú?
María: Soy de México.
Pedro: Hello, my name is Pedro. What is your name?
María: Hello, Pedro. My name is María. Where are you from?
Peter: I’m from the United States. And you?
María: I’m from Mexico.
Get familiar with English-Spanish cognates. Learn the question words and practice basic phrases. Start building your vocabulary. Create mind maps with words useful in familiar contexts such as family, school, office, shopping, and directions.
These might vary from student to student, depending on your particular needs.
Don’t worry about mistakes. The objective now is for people to understand you, and correctness doesn’t matter much yet in this stage of language acquisition!
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- Spanish Numbers and Counting (Free Spanish Lessons for Kids)
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- 12 Amazing Ways to Memorize Spanish Conjugations
3. Speech Emergent
Here, you’ll discover that you’re able to communicate! Of course, on a very basic level, but still.
Sentences become longer, and you can construct your own sentences, instead of repeating memorized phrases.
You start to conjugate verbs with more confidence, your vocabulary increases, and words come easily to you when you talk to others.
You should be able to have interactions about familiar topics.
Communication is still limited, but you would survive in a Spanish-speaking country.
What to do next?
Work on your vocabulary. Make complex vocabulary mind maps, listen to podcasts, watch videos on YouTube, and read simple books (children’s books or young adult (YA) books). The more you see, the better.
This means that the vocabulary you already know will become a long-term memory.
Use conjugation. Keep a diary in Spanish, and create imaginary conversations. Challenge yourself to mix new vocabulary with new grammar structures. Speak, write, and produce as much Spanish as you can.
Work on your pronunciation to avoid mistakes that could be harder to correct later.
Vocabulary and Phrases Resources:
- Easily Master Numbers in Spanish: Counting, Spelling and Pronunciation
- Speak Spanish Today! 100+ Common Spanish Phrases for Beginners
- Spanish Weather Words
- Beginner’s Guide to Spanish Conjugation
- 50 Simple Spanish Questions To Ask in a Conversation (and How To Answer)
- How to Use ‘Quien’ in Spanish (and Make Better Jokes)
- Cuantos vs Cuantas: How Many in Spanish?
- How To Pronounce R and RR in Spanish
- Most Common Mistakes in Spanish Pronunciation
- Spanish Tongue Twisters for Perfecting Your Pronunciation
- A Beginner’s Guide to Spanish Syllables
- 5 Spanish Podcasts for Beginners
- Why You’re Not Learning Spanish As a Beginner (And What You Can Do About It)
- Spanish for Dummies: A Quick Guide of Essential Spanish
- Free E-books for Beginners
- 10 Spanish Audio Lessons for Beginners
4. Beginning Fluency
In this stage, you can communicate fluently in social situations, and your errors are minimal.
Maybe you still struggle with vocabulary related to new contexts and formal and academic language. You still may need some time to recall less frequent words and structures.
In grammar, you know most of the tenses, although some can still be challenging. For example, you may still make mistakes with irregular conjugation forms.
What to do now?
Challenge yourself with more difficult verbs. Start reading newspapers, and keep reading books to increase your vocabulary and push yourself closer toward the next stages of language acquisition.
Keep a vocabulary diary to write down words that you don’t understand.
Try to have fun. Watch movies and series, and find your favorite Spanish Youtuber and TikToker. Listen to podcasts. Find a Spanish pen pal or language partner. Keep surrounding yourself with Spanish.
Vocabulary and Phrases Resources:
- 100 Essential Spanish Phrases for Conversational Fluency
- 200+ Beginner Spanish Vocabulary Words PDF: Learn Spanish Fast!
- 1,000 Most Common Spanish Words for Beginners
- Spanish Sports Vocabulary and Conversation for Beginners
- Travel Vocabulary (video)
- Learn 15 Spanish Verbs for Easier Beginner Conversations [with Audio]
- Easy Guide To Spanish Irregular Verb Conjugation
- 8 Spanish Youtubers Who Make Language Learning Fun
- The Ultimate Resource List: Spanish for Beginners (PDFs, books, movies, etc.)
- How to Use Mass Media in Spanish to Learn the Language
- 15 Ways to Speak Spanish with Someone Online
- The Secret to Finding Your Ideal Spanish Language Partner
- How to Immerse Yourself in Spanish While at Home
- Spanish Academy TV (YouTube channel)
- 10 Spanish Articles for Beginners: Learn to Read the News
- The Importance of Listening With Purpose: How To Improve Spanish Listening
5. Intermediate Fluency
Now we’re talking! Literally.
Almost nothing can stop you when talking with a native speaker.
Social language situations present no difficulty to you, and you can easily cope with new contexts and academic and formal language.
Of course, there still might be some gaps in specific-purpose vocabulary.
But you know all the grammar structures and make very few mistakes.
You could function, study, and work in a Spanish-speaking country without any issues.
What to do?
Read, watch, write, and listen in Spanish. At this stage, you learn new words and phrases in context. Travel to a Spanish-speaking country.
Start the day reading the news in Spanish.
Polish your pronunciation.
Get yourself a grammar book for intermediate learners.
Vocabulary and Phrases Resources:
- How To Use Object Pronouns In Spanish Commands
- Spanish Grammar Exercises with Answers for Intermediate Learners
- 50 Irregular Preterite Spanish Verbs You Want to Use Often
- 31 Spanish Phrasal Verbs That Will Take Your Fluency to the Next Level
- Master the Subjunctive in Spanish
- How To Pronounce 10 Difficult Spanish Words (Audio Included)
- How to Master B V Spelling and Pronunciation in Spanish
- 3 Types of Spanish Pronouns to Perfect Your Fluency
- 20 Best Intermediate Spanish Books for Adults (B1-B2)
- 15 Spanish Newspapers in Latin America for Intermediate Learners
- Intermediate Spanish Reading Practice
- 12 Literature Classics in Spanish for Intermediate and Advanced Learners
10 Intermediate-Level Spanish Podcasts You Don’t Want To Miss
6. Advanced Fluency
This is almost the end of your journey—although we never stop learning.
At this level, you can communicate in all contexts, both formal and informal.
You have tamed academic language, and you can learn new terms like most native speakers.
You might still make some errors with idiomatic expressions that you don’t use daily. But sometimes, only your accent reveals your foreign roots.
Remember, you don’t have to have a perfect accent to speak like a native speaker!
What to do?
It’s more challenging to progress when you’re an advanced Spanish learner. The progress is less visible, and you might lose motivation. So prepare yourself for a new Spanish routine and stick to it!
Get yourself a novel in Spanish.
Watch even more movies and series.
Subscribe to advanced podcasts.
Practice specific vocabulary, academic vocabulary, and formal language.
Practice different forms of writing.
Vocabulary and Phrases Resources:
- The Ultimate Guide to Advanced Spanish Vocabulary
- Advanced Spanish Vocabulary: Word Families [familia de palabras]
- 10 Meanings of the Spanish Verb ‘Marcar’
- Your Ultimate Vocabulary Guide to Seafood in Spanish
- A Vocabulary Guide to Archery in Spanish
- Vocabulary Guide to Architecture in Spanish
- Your Motorcycle in Spanish: Technical Vocabulary
- Technology in Spanish: Tech Savvy Vocabulary
- Car Parts Spanish Vocabulary List: Learn Using Pictures
- 50 Useful Transition Words in Spanish for Everyday Speech
- The Most Amazing Advanced Spanish Books for Adults (C1-C2)
- 20 Free Spanish Books, Novels, and Stories in PDF and Printables
- 6 Remarkable Books by Mario Vargas Llosa
- The Magical World of Isabel Allende in 6 Essential Books
To learn more about the stages of language acquisition theory, you can also look at this very detailed pdf made by the Instituto Cervantes.
In it, you’ll find many valuable charts that describe the learner’s skill at every stage (Spanish only).
Do You Need Help To Move To the Next Stage?
As a teacher, parent, and language learner myself, I know that the initial motivation you have at the early stages of language learning can diminish with time. As a result, your progress is slower and less visible, and you’re not that motivated to study every day.
What helps in these moments is to remind yourself why you started learning Spanish.
Recall this initial enthusiasm and build on it.
Do you want to travel, study, or work in a Spanish-speaking country? Or you might just want to have better professional opportunities?
No matter where you’re at in the stages of language acquisition, you’d benefit from speaking Spanish to a certified language instructor—especially if it’s FREE!
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