5 Ways To Improve Spanish Fluency Without Moving To A Spanish Country
When it comes to learning a new language, we all know the advantages of total immersion. Fully surrounding yourself with a language is the fastest and most effective way of becoming fluent.
Not only do you get constant feedback from the people around you, but you also experience language in the context of daily life, such as getting to grips with idioms, slang and turns of phrase that may not be taught in a classroom setting. And of course, from speaking to new friends to ordering food in a restaurant, there is no shortage of opportunities to improve your skills.
But while it may be easy to say, “If you want to learn Spanish, just hop on a plane to Madrid,” it’s not as easily done. Living abroad isn’t possible for everyone: it’s expensive, time consuming and a major commitment. Not all of us can afford the expense of moving to a foriegn country, and many of us have responsibilities that would make it difficult to leave home for a significant period of time.
So, for those of us who would love to study abroad but just don’t have the opportunity, here are some tips to help you improve your Spanish while staying at home.
1. Expose Yourself to ‘Real Life’ Spanish
Most textbooks, apps and learning websites teach a form of ‘general’ Spanish. This is usually either the Spanish that is particular to Spain or a mix of the variants of the Spanish spoken throughout Latin America. This ‘classroom’ Spanish tends to be more formal and may include phrases or vocabulary that sound odd to some native speakers, or may not be used in certain regions. Of course, you can still build strong foundations this way, and learning a language formally is still an excellent way to get started, but you are unlikely to be as comfortable speaking the language as you would be if you were learning in a Spanish speaking country.
The best way to replicate this is to try to find authentic Spanish language content. Watching Spanish-language TV shows, movies and YouTube videos, and listening to podcasts or radio shows, is a great strategy for exposing yourself to Spanish as it is spoken in real life. You’ll notice that the region the speaker comes from will impact their accent, pronunciation and vocabulary – and that it may sound like people are speaking very fast! This may be different to how you are used to seeing Spanish written down, or even to how your teacher speaks in class. This is important to get used to: take note of these differences and consider incorporating them into your own speech where appropriate.
2. Study EVERY DAY!
While not always the easiest tip to follow, you should try to study Spanish, at least a little bit, every single day. After all, someone studying in a Spanish speaking country will be practicing every day, whether they like it or not! Even just going to the supermarket involves a certain level of listening, reading and speaking. Replicating this experience at home, on the other hand, takes discipline.
Set an alarm on your phone to use your favorite learning app (such as Beelinguapp) for a few minutes every day, and commit to this as a non-negotiable. Keeping to the same time – for instance, straight after eating lunch or when you get home from school or work – will help you to cement the habit. But don’t give up if you have to break your schedule one day: just try to do a little more the next day to make up for it and get back on the schedule you’ve set for yourself.
3. Find Spanish-Speaking Friends
This is another piece of advice that’s easier said than done. But remember that just because you can’t go to a Spanish-speaking country, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible to meet anyone who lives in one. One of the easiest ways to do this is to find a language exchange website. No matter what your native language is, there’s going to be someone in a Spanish-speaking country who wants to practice it with you.
Beyond language exchanges, look for Spanish-speaking communities online. These don’t have to be based on language studies – consider looking for communities based on your hobbies or interests. Spanish speakers are the third largest group on the internet (after English and Chinese), and it’s estimated that around 8% of all people online are native Spanish speakers. With so many people online, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a community that you’d like to be a part of.
4. Get A Study Buddy
Not only is studying with someone else more fun, it gives us what we call ‘social stakes.’
When we find ourselves tempted to put off a task or responsibility, it’s much easier to do so when the only person we’re letting down is ourselves. We accept the fact that we’re going to be lazy today, and we blow off the task. However, we find this much harder to do when we feel like we might be letting someone else down. This is why tasks that require constant discipline, like going to the gym, are much easier to maintain if we make commitments with other people.
Look for someone else who’s studying Spanish, and agree to keep each other motivated. While you won’t get as much new input from a fellow student as you would get from a native Spanish speaker, you will benefit from a push when you’re feeling unmotivated. And, if you have a competitive nature, you might also find that having a study partner encourages you to study more than them. Either way, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement that should be equal parts fun and motivating.
5. Set Measurable Goals
How do we know when we’re officially fluent in a language?
This question isn’t as straightforward as it may seem, as learning a language is a potentially endless endeavour. You’re probably not a perfect speaker of your own native language - no one is. So when should you be satisfied with your Spanish learning?
Setting goals is a great way to keep yourself motivated, but it’s important that these goals are measurable so that you can get the satisfaction of achieving them. Try writing down some tangible long- and short-term goals. For example, “I want to learn 25 new words this week”, “I want to be able to describe all the members of my family”, “I want to have a 20 minute conversation with a native Spanish speaker”, or, “I want to understand an episode of my favourite Spanish-language TV show without the subtitles.”
Keep track of your goals and, when you achieve them, be sure to set more. Most importantly, be sure you reward yourself in some way whenever you reach a goal or benchmark. You deserve it!