How to Improve Your Spanish While in Spain
I originally wrote this post for a now defunct website I used to work for. 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 perhaps 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! If you’re wondering how to improve your Spanish, here are a few simple and useful ways to make the most of your time traveling to or living in Spain.
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. In Spain, 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, perhaps even a book for children or young adults. 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, also known as an intercambio! Tons of Spaniards are also looking to improve their English, so meet up with someone who’s eager to share their Spanish knowledge for your English abilities. 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.
Practice with other non-native Spanish speakers
Speaking with native speakers will give you the best exposure to the actual Spanish language. However, if you’re a beginner at Spanish, sometimes it can be far less intimidating to speak with other people who are learning the language. They tend to speak slower and use simpler vocabulary, and they can relate to you when you make mistakes. The good news is Spain is a great country to meet people from all over the world. Look for Erasmus (study abroad) or expat meetups, or just start chatting with folks when you sense they aren’t from Spain. As you grow more confident, you can spend more time around native Spanish speakers, but meeting fellow language learners can be a great start!
There’s no better way to learn a language than real-world exposure, but if you need a little more of a grammar and vocabulary foundation before you can start having conversations, see if you can sign up for a class! Whether you’re just on a short visit to Spain or planning to live there for months or years, you can find a course that fits your schedule. Or if you need a little more flexibility, language learning apps like Duolingo can be a huge help.
Don’t worry about making mistakes! Of course your pronunciation and grammar won’t be perfect at first, but, seriously, no one is judging you. Think about when you speak English with non-native English speakers: you can understand them even if they make conjugation mistakes, right? If you get caught up in every error 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 in one of the most beautiful countries in the world 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 will. 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!