So You Want to be Fluent in Spanish?
I originally wrote this post for a now defunct website run by DiscoverExcursions. Wanting to give it another life, I’m now sharing it here. Living – or planning to live – abroad in Spain but not sure how to improve your Spanish? These tips will help.
Traveling abroad presents you with an incomparable opportunity to improve – or even perfect – your foreign language abilities. Many of us travelers fall into the easy trap of communicating mostly with English-speakers and only using a language when it’s completely necessary, but it’s never too late to change! Here are a few simple and useful ways to make the most of your time traveling and become fluent in another language.
Listen and watch
Flip on the TV! Go to the cinema! Listen to the radio! If you’re nervous about talking face-to-face with Spanish-speakers, this can be a great way to enhance your comprehension skills. Don’t worry if you don’t understand much at first; this Spanish may be fast and full of slang and cultural references, but the more you listen, the more you’ll understand. Watching dubbed movies or TV shows that you’re already familiar with in English can also help. Don’t get discouraged, because, with just a little practice, you’ll be a pro.
Pick up a newspaper! Purchase one from a newspaper stand, or find a free one on the street. There are a few newspapers that are handed out free of charge every morning, such as Viva, Qué!, and 20 Minutos, so keep your eyes peeled for a distributor, and pick one up on your morning commute. Tons of newspapers are also online, so make a point of perusing elmundo.es, elpais.es, and other online articles daily.
Write down or highlight any words you don’t know and look them up online or ask a friend later. Then keep a list of all the new words you’ve learned, and soon you’ll be incorporating them into your vocabulary.
Not only will you get awesome at reading comprehension, but you’ll learn a ton about what’s happening in Spain and all over the world at the same time.
Enter fictional worlds
If you want to improve your reading comprehension but current events aren’t really your thing, read a novel! Start with a novel you’re already familiar with in English, such as Harry Potter, and, as your Spanish improves, start working your way into the Spanish literary greats. My favorite Spanish-language writers include Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia), Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina), Isabel Allende (Chile), and Federico García Lorca (Spain). Some of the world’s best literature is from Spain or Latin America, and there’s nothing like reading a novel in its original language.
Want to practice speaking Spanish but haven’t yet made any close Spanish friends? Do a language exchange! Tons of Spaniards are also looking to improve their English, so meet up with one. Conversationexchange.com and tusclasesparticulares.com are both great websites for finding intercambios.
Most cities also offer a variety of meetups, where big groups of Spanish and English speakers meet at a bar to practice languages. Also keep an eye out for any intercambios your local university might be offering.
It can be a bit nerve-wrecking to meet up with a stranger to practice a foreign language, and it’s wise to meet in a public place, but you get a fantastic chance to practice Spanish with someone who understands struggling with a foreign language, and you can make some wonderful lifelong friends.
Don’t worry about making mistakes! Of course your pronunciation and grammar won’t be perfect at first, but, seriously, no one’s judging you. Think about when you speak English with non-native English speakers: you can understand them even if they’re conjugating wrong, right? If you get caught up in every mistake you make, you’ll never be able to form a complete sentence, so just power through those mistakes and keep talking. And the more and more you talk, the fewer and fewer mistakes you’ll make.
Just get out there!
Trying to make Spanish friends is an incredibly intimidating process for most, but just go for it! You’re young, you’re in Spain, and you’ve got nothing to lose, so just be outgoing and try to talk to whomever you can. Maybe you won’t become BFFs with everyone you chat with, but, then again, you never know when you’re will, and there’s absolutely no better way to improve your Spanish than spending lots of time socializing with native speakers. You’ll also learn way more than you ever thought you could about Spanish culture while forming valuable friendships.
There’s no time like now to become fluent in Spanish, so have no fear, be outgoing, and use that Spanish!