To truly get to grips with a language you need to adopt a multi-faceted approach.
While some people would have you believe that you can achieve fluency in a language with a one-dimensional approach, it’s rarely ever that simple.
Solely memorising a few phrases, watching films in the target language, or writing out verb conjugations won’t get you where you want to be.
You should try to incorporate all of the different elements of a language into your learning strategy to truly understand and produce it through writing or speaking at a high level.
The question of how to improve your Spanish should be divided into four main areas: speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
We’re going to include vocabulary acquisition as a fifth category too, since this is instrumental in the learning process and can be achieved with various methods.
Improve your Spanish speaking fluency
When someone hears that you’re learning Spanish, the first thing they’ll ask you to do is say something. Usually, a simple phrase, a couple of words, or a basic sentence is typically enough to convince them that you do indeed know the language.
This isn’t what it means to speak a language fluently though.
This slightly backwards perception of language reduces something very complex into a series of simple phrases you could find in a guide book.
Instead, as a language-learner, you should want to be able to express yourself spontaneously in the target language rather than speak in individual phrases you’ve memorised.
Ideally, you want to reach the point at which thoughts arise organically in the target language and you don’t need to mentally translate from your native language as you speak.
For the purpose of going from beginner to intermediate level of Spanish though, let’s take a look at some of the main things you can do to accelerate your progress.
Lean Spanish with a Tutor
The best way to improve your spoken Spanish is to practice conversation.
In order to do so, you’ll need a partner. Better still, one who’s a native Spanish speaker.
You can either seek out Spanish tutors near you or if that’s not an option, search online with websites such as Italki and Verbling. These sites let you pick out your tutor based on their location, rate, and even a trial class.
So that means that if you have aspirations of heading out to the Spanish wine region of La Rioja, you can try to find a native from there to practise with. I’d strongly recommend this too since Castilian Spanish was originated there and is much easier to understand than say the Spanish spoken in Andalusia.
You could also try Superprof since you can find someone with a Master’s in Spanish who can explain to you in your native tongue how best to improve. This is a great idea if you’re just starting out with the language and the idea of practising with a native Spanish speaker is intimidating.
Speak to Yourself
Learning a language is one of the only times that speaking to yourself is socially acceptable!
So why not make the most of it and practise your verb conjugations and sentences in the mirror?
This strategy is effective for several reasons.
First, it can help loosen up your tongue. Oftentimes when speaking a foreign language we can get tongue tied and stumble over our words. Repeating them helps cement them in your mind.
Next, you will nail the pronunciation. The more you say a word, the easier it is for you to repeat it in the full flow of a conversation.
Finally you can work on reducing inhibition as you speak the language. It can be intimidating to strike up conversation in Spanish, but if you’ve already rehearsed, you’ll be in a much better position to do so.
How to maximise vocab retention
Learning vocabulary probably brings up memories of being sat in the classroom repeating words ad nauseum after the teacher.
Needless to say, this isn’t the most effective way to memorise new words.
There is one main strategy we’d like to make you aware of which has the potential to take your vocab acquisition and retention to the next level.
Flashcards might also carry negative associations with them if you had to work with them in school.
However, they could be the key to maximising vocab retention.
I’m not talking about the typical way of using them though, but rather using them with a system of spaced repetition.
Spaced repetition is a way of working with flashcards that aims to increase retention through exposing you to a word just as you’re about to forget it.
Anki is one of the best free apps that can take care of this complicated process for you.
The more you get a word correct, the less you will see it pop up. When it does show up again, enough time will have elapsed that you will need to rack your brain for the word and in doing so create a deeper connection with it.
Conversely, if you seem to struggle with a particular word then it will appear more frequently until you have better luck with it.
Get extra Spanish writing practice
Writing in Spanish can be tricky.
With the tildes, upside down question marks, and other accents it can be hard to keep track of everything you need to know to write well in the language.
Journal in Spanish
One of the best ways you can get some extra writing practice is to express yourself on the page of a journal.
Just like speaking Spanish, the best way to get better at writing is to do so spontaneously. That means writing without a prompt if possible.
If you can sit down for as little as five or ten minutes a day to write something in Spanish, you’ll improve your written skills rapidly.
That long pause it takes you to think of what you want to say next will be just what you need to develop a deeper connection with the words you use.
The more you force yourself to think until you find the right words, the easier it will be to recall them later on. You might even start to develop go-to phrases for your written Spanish which could prove invaluable in an exam setting.
Boost your reading comprehension in Spanish
Reading is one of the easier skills to pick up in a foreign language but nonetheless requires consistent and concentrated effort to improve.
Find Reading Material You Like
A common assumption to make when learning a new language is that you need to read difficult books, long novels, and newspapers in order to improve quickly.
I’d argue that this approach, while it can certainly work for some, isn’t ideal for most language learners.
Because if you have no interest in reading novels or newspapers in your native language, then you will have scarce motivation to do so in Spanish.
Instead, if you enjoy reading magazines about football or fashion for example, try to find similar resources in Spanish.
You’ll have much more fun reading about topics that actually interest you, plus when it comes to speaking about your interests you might have picked up some technical vocabulary in those areas.
Change The Language On Your Phone
Something you should probably do the instant you decide to step up your language-learning is change your phone’s language to Spanish.
Once you’ve done that, you will be able to familiarise yourself with common expressions like ‘switch off’ and ‘turn on’ simply by using your phone.
You could also do this for your social media accounts, or even for a game you enjoy playing. It’s a good way to immerse yourself in the language with regards to reading comprehension.
Incorporate Spanish listening practice into your day
Listening practice might not seem as important as knowing how to speak the language.
But if you never take the time to listen to native Spanish speakers, how will you ever nail pronunciation, cadence, and the general rhythm of speech?
Listen to Podcasts
Again, just like with reading, you’ll want to seek out those resources which most appeal to you to improve your listening skills.
That means if you enjoy listening to podcasts about health & fitness, then try and find some in Spanish.
If you don’t feel like you can follow a podcast at the pace of a native speaker, then try one aimed specifically at those learning Spanish. Coffee Break Spanish is one of my personal favourites.
Learn Languages with Netflix
Yes, that’s right, you can practise your listening skills while you binge Netflix shows.
There is a caveat though. You’ll have to find some shows you like that are in Spanish originally, since it’s easier to follow what someone’s saying when their lips mouth the words they speak.
Don’t worry though, this is becoming much easier to do as Spain’s Netflix presence is growing, leading to hugely popular shows like ‘Casa de Papel’ and ‘Elite’.
There is even a Chrome extension called ‘language learning with Netflix’ which will give you subtitles in both languages, change the playback speed, and give you access to a pop-up dictionary.