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.

Stay informed

El País, Spanish newspaperPick 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.

Exchange languages

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.

So you want to be fluent in Spanish? Intercambios in SpainMost 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.

Make mistakes

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.

Learn Spanish in Spain

Second if you’re comparing native speakers! (photo credit)

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!

20 Responses

  1. Pedro Meca Garcia says:

    haha, i admit that i love blogposts about language, it is like a burning desire inside of me wanting to comment!

    what you say is so true..under my opinion the best way to improve a language is to communicate with native speakers as you hear real accents, slangs and many more.

    reading books is algo great, for your vocabulary does increase much and you are able to use words that you may have not heard of before purchasing them……i’ve read the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, True Grit and many more, and only God knows how much my English vocabulary has improved whether i use it or not…..in the last time i got in some way interested in American English (because i already know British) so i bought a second hand dictionary by Noah Webster which has led me to discover north american meanings that i had no idea of.

    watching films is another good idea and i can tell about it…..firstly you watch a certain film dubbed into your native language, then you watch it original…i’ve done it recently with the film Oblivion by Tom Cruise, and i got really surprised with what Tom and Morgan Freeman says in English, you know, quite different from what you hear when dubbed into Spanish, so this is another way of improving a language.

    last but not least, and again as you say the newspapers and online papers are another good idea….i have a secret that needs to be told, haha! i often read an online newspaper called Saint Louis Dispatch from Missouri in the Midwest, the reason? i learn things that i am totally unaware of, i have no idea of baseball and their Cardinals, in fact i look silly when i read people’s comments about Cardinals, but the good thing is that my English does improve.

    • Kirstie says:

      I agree with all your points!

      It’s also funny when watching dubbed movies (or undubbed versions if you’re used to the dubbed ones) to see how different the voices sound from the original actors.

      Haha, how funny that you read a St. Louis newspaper! Definitely a good way to improve your language…and learn a lot about a place most people don’t know much about!

      I can tell all your language practice has worked excellently 🙂

      • Pedro Meca Garcia says:

        thank you so much!…it is refreshing to hear that my English is good….sometimes i think that my knowledge and command is perfect and splendid (i don’t want to sound arrogant), but i think that i have already mastered it.

  2. Kaley says:

    Really great post! I agree with all these tips.

  3. Estrella says:

    Great tips! I’ve been more serious about learning Spanish this year, but I can’t find a Spanish series to watch that I actually enjoy. So now I watch Friends dubbed in Spanish, which is a bit strange but really helps my listening skills.

  4. Spanish radio is the best, almost as good as Mexican radio.

    • Kirstie says:

      What’s your favorite Spanish radio station?

    • MARCO says:

      Hi guys, i think that Spanish is really a beautiful language. I always want to learn it, last summer i decided to go to Valencia, an amazing city. I attended a spanish course in a school of the centre and i learnt a lot in few weeks. They were well organized and very flexible, individual classes and students could choose when to go. I had a really exiting experience, this is the link of the school if you are intrested http://www.idiomas247.com/

  5. I think ‘make mistakes’ is the best tip! A lot of people I meet say they’re going to study Spanish at home, and once they’ve mastered all the tenses, etc. they’re going to start using it in conversation. But then they end up have grammatically perfect Spanish…and not being able to keep up with a conversation at all.

    After nearly 3 years in Barcelona, I’m sure I still make lots of mistakes, but at least I can definitely use the language for what it’s intended – communication.
    Jessica (Barcelona Blonde) recently posted A Colorful Weekend Safari Through BerlinMy Profile

  6. Juancho says:

    If you are interested to give lessons in spain, if you are a native teacher of your own language, you can also publish your ad in Miprofeparticular

  7. Bob says:

    These are all great suggestions, and other than joining a Spanish course to fully understand the grammar, I can’t recommend watching TV and listening to the radio enough.
    Bob recently posted LEARN ENGLISH ABROADMy Profile

  1. February 16, 2015

    […] aspirations remain lofty, I’m working toward them slowly but surely. Beyond English and Spanish, I took French and Italian classes in college (and even a bit of Nahuatl, although I couldn’t […]

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