Tips for Becoming Fluent in Spanish

Greg the Gringo’s Advice for Learning Spanish

If you have watched any of our videos in Spanish, you know that we are by no means fluent. However, over the last 9–12 months there are a lot of things we have learned on our journey to master the Spanish language. Additionally, by publicizing our efforts and conversations, we feel that we have given the world a unique glimpse into what learning a language looks like.

Mistakes I Made (and am still making)

Before we get into the “lesson plan” or my suggestions on how you can learn Spanish, let’s talk about a few mistakes I have made along the way.

Don’t be like me.

Mistake #1- Not speaking enough

Without a doubt, this has been my biggest mistake. My overall goal (and likely your goal) is to be able to hold a conversation in Spanish and to communicate with others. Why did I spend hours upon hours buried in vocab lists, flashcards, books, etc.? While building a robust vocabulary is great, it’s not a good idea to spend too much time focusing on these types of programs.

When you were a child, did you learn to speak from memorizing flashcards? Probably not! You spent a ton of time listening to and observing the world around you and then eventually you started mimicking and copying others.

That brings me to mistake numero dos.

Mistake #2- Not listening enough

Until recently, I spent most of time learning Spanish by studying flashcards, listening to Pimsleur Spanish, and then rushing to try and go speak to people. The problem? I couldn’t understand what the heck anybody was saying back to me!

Back to how we learned language as a child- we listened, observed, listened some more and THEN mimicked those around us.

Watch children’s shows, listen to the radio, listen to podcasts, watch telenovelas, just listen to anything and everything you can in Spanish! This will take a lot of self discipline at first because watching TV that you don’t understand can be pretty frustrating. However, if you stick with it you will pick up vocabulary, slang, and communication patterns fairly quickly.

Over the last 2 months I have made a more concerted effort to watch more shows in Spanish and listen to more music in Spanish. It wasn’t until I started this that I began to actually understand what people where saying to me, which is arguably the most important part of communication! Additionally, my pronunciation improved rapidly once I started listening to and understanding native Mexicans. Improving my pronunciation improved my communication skills tenfold because now people could finally understand what I was trying to say. Before, I knew the words and their meanings but know I could pronounce them correctly while speaking with somebody!

Don’t be like me.

Suggestions

Duolingo

Duolingo.com

Duolingo is a great place to begin your Spanish learning journey. Using Duolingo allows you to learn vocabulary, grammar, and some reading comprehension. Set up in the form of a game, it can be very addicting.

When I first started using Duolingo I practiced for at least 15 minutes every day; however I recommend at least 30 minutes day if you can.

Why I don’t like Duolingo:

Unfortunately, Duolingo can trap you into thinking you know more than you really do. The exercises are excellent, but if Duolingo isn’t combined with other forms of learning (listed below), you will find it hard to have a real conversation with somebody in Spanish.

Use Duolingo. However, don’t ONLY use Duolingo.

Anki Flashcard Decks

Download here- https://apps.ankiweb.net

Download decks here- https://ankiweb.net/shared/decks/

Anki flashcards may be one of the fastest, most effective methods for building your vocabulary. I typically practice flashcards on Anki for around 20–30 minutes per day. I learn between 50 and 100 new words per day and I review 50 words per day. This is by no means a blistering pace, but combined with Duolingo you will build a good base of vocabulary quickly.

Pro Tip:

Each card has a picture that corresponds with word. To help better remember each word try to draw a distinct connection between the word and the picture. I even go as far as closing my eyes, thinking of the word, and imagining that word as a picture. The more vivid and outlandish the picture the better; it needs to stick out in your mind!

Netflix/Youtube

This is where the learning becomes fun! Watching Telenovelas during your first week of studies isn’t realistic or fun. However, watching movies that you already know incredibly well in English is so very beneficial. For example, Forrest Gump is my favorite movie and I know many scenes by heart so when I watched Forrest Gump in Spanish I knew what was going to happen and I knew the gist of what the characters were saying.

Now I will admit that watching dubbed movies can get a little old, so once you feel comfortable with not understanding 100% of what is being said, you can graduate to watching movies and shows that were originally made in Spanish. I don’t advise watching these shows with English subtitles. In my experience I found myself drowning out what the characters were saying and instead I was just reading the subtitles. Instead, turn on Spanish captions so that you can read, see, and hear what the characters are saying. You probably won’t understand exactly what people are saying, but just like in real life you will be able to read body language and understand the basics of the storyline.

Speak with locals

What’s your overall goal with learning Spanish? My guess is that you want to be able to speak to people, understand what they are saying, and have them understand you. Well, if you want to be able to speak to people, you need to speak to people! It will be incredibly intimidating at first, but the more you do it the more comfortable it will feel.

You are going to make mistakes. Lots of them. That’s okay. You will learn much faster from your mistakes if you make them in front of people….trust me!

People love talking about themselves so I suggest coming up with a short list of “go-to” questions that prompt people to talk about themselves.

What do you do?

How long have you been doing it?

Do you have kids?

Where do you live? Do you like it?

What is your favorite food?

Etc.

If you don’t live in a Spanish speaking country or near Spanish speakers you are still in luck! With Italki you can find Spanish teachers from all of the world! With prices as low as 4 dollars you can find a language partner that will help you get well on your way to fluency!

LIVE YOUR LIFE IN SPANISH

What’s the best method for learning Spanish? Live your life in Spanish! Stop listening to music in English, stop watching TV in English, and stop reading in English! This can be extremely difficult, but once you decide to live in Spanish, no matter what level you are at, the rate at which you learn will sky rocket!

Obviously you may not be able to start speaking to your boss in Spanish, but take every opportunity that you can to live in Spanish and act as if English is your second language.

This works best if your spouse is learning Spanish as well!

There is only so much time in the day that you can sit down and formally practice Spanish. However if you can transform all of your “free time” or entertainment minutes into listening to, and speaking Spanish the total amount of practice minutes that you accumulate in one day will increase drastically.

Final Thoughts

If you want to learn Spanish you are going to need to get out of your comfort zone. You may feel extremely confident while practicing at your house, but you don’t need confidence to speak to yourself…you need to build confidence speaking to strangers!

Learn high frequency words using Italki, listen to and mimic Spanish speakers by watching TV in Spanish, and commit to speaking as much Spanish on a daily basis as you can. This strategy combined with a heavy dose of patience will help you finally reach your goal of becoming fluent in Spanish

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