There are probably hundreds of posts online about how to improve your Spanish. But, the advice I can offer you is coming from someone who’s really been there. For years I felt frustrated and hopeless. I honestly thought I’d never be able to improve my Spanish and speak it fluently.
But now I can, and I do. I speak Spanish every day and I speak it with confidence. In fact, I went from zero to working as a translator in under five years.
Don’t worry, I’m not trying to sell you anything. I just want to help because I know how hard it was for me to improve my Spanish. I’m here to share what methods specifically helped me with the hope that they can help anyone struggling out there.
So, if your New Year’s Resolution is to improve your Spanish level, here are my five top tips:
5 Simple Tips TO Improve YOUR Spanish
Learning Spanish, or any language, is a process. But, whatever level of fluency you want to achieve, it’s about finding ways to use and understand Spanish in your own way. That means incorporating Spanish into your everyday life and making it work for you, rather than being something you dread or fear.
Here are five tried and tested methods I used to improve my Spanish level that I hope will help you too!
1. Take Spanish Classes
This might sound like an obvious one. But you’d be surprised how many people I’ve met who thought they would ‘pick up’ Spanish just by living in a Spanish-speaking country. You wouldn’t expect to be able to drive just by watching other people do it, so why would learning a language be any different?
If you’re a beginner then you have a lot to learn before you can practise with the locals. And, if you already know some Spanish, or your Spanish is a little rusty, classes can fill in the gaps in your knowledge and help you improve quickly.
I started learning Spanish in April 2012 at BCN Metropol, where I took group classes with an amazing teacher called Lorena. We began with the alphabet, and within weeks I knew far more Spanish than I ever knew of French, even after six years of French classes at school.
I then tried out private classes to fit in with my schedule, but I always found group classes more fun. I also think talking in a group helped improve my Spanish more than one-on-one classes. Even when I had a good grasp of Spanish, I took advanced grammar classes and conversation classes at Escuela Mediterráneo to further improve my Spanish level. Being able to ask a professional teacher about doubts I had made a lot of complex Spanish grammar much clearer for me. And, the conversation classes were really helpful for boosting my confidence with speaking.
If you’re not living in a Spanish-speaking country then it might be harder to find group classes. But, there’s always the option of private classes or Skype classes.
2. Incorporate Spanish Into Your Free Time
When I was an English teacher I found it frustrating that my students never tried to incorporate English into their free time. I would set them homework as a way to encourage them to do something in English away from class, but few of them ever did it. I even suggested TV series, TED talks, podcasts and websites they might like. But most of them hadn’t read, written, spoken or listened to any English since I had last seen them. Don’t do as they did; Spanish classes should not be your only contact with Spanish throughout the week.
Obviously my students didn’t have many opportunities to speak to native English speakers as they were living in Spain. But there are so many resources for practising your language skills. And, if you’re still learning, doing the homework your teacher sets is a great way to connect with Spanish in your own time. No matter what level you’re at, working through problems and looking up answers on your own will really improve your Spanish. And, if you get stuck on your homework, you’ll know what you need help with when you next see your teacher.
If you’re not currently taking classes then you should make a point of setting yourself homework-style tasks as a way of incorporating Spanish into your everyday life.
Just take activities that you already enjoy and do them in Spanish. This way, learning and improving your spanish won’t feel like a chore.
To improve my Spanish, I started taking group exercise classes in Spanish at the gym. And whenever I was walking or working out at the gym alone, I listened to the Notes in Spanish podcasts as well as music in Spanish by artists I liked, such as Shakira and Nelly Furtado.
I also read lots of books in Spanish, starting with the Lola Lago mysteries, and moving on to simple books for adults such as, ¿Quién se ha llevado mi queso? (Who Moved My Cheese?). If reading’s not your thing then watch Spanish-language films. Start with subtitles in your native language if you need them, and then try with Spanish subtitles. Eventually you’ll be able to watch films without any subtitles at all.
Or, try watching TV in Spanish, such as cookery programmes or sport. A friend of mine said watching football in Spanish helped him improve, as he could relate the commentary he heard to the actions he saw. Also, it’s important not to let your writing skills slide once you give up Spanish classes. You could try keeping a diary in Spanish to practise writing, or exchange emails with a Spanish-speaking friend.
And, if you have absolutely no time at all then at least try to think in Spanish every day. Getting my brain used to thinking in two languages really helped me improve my Spanish.
Think about what actions you’re doing. How would you say them in Spanish? Then change the tense and think about what you did this morning, or yesterday. When you’re at the supermarket, name each item as you place it in your basket. When you’re getting dressed, name items of clothing as you put them on. Before long you’ll be thinking in Spanish without even trying!
3. Take Every Opportunity to Speak Spanish
Learning a language is a complex practical skill. Some people even compare learning a language to learning to play a musical instrument. Unlike traditional school subjects such as history or maths, you can’t master these skills by studying and memorising.
But, you can at least practise playing an instrument on your own. One of the difficulties with mastering a language is how much you have to rely on other people to practise your speaking skills. While reading and writing skills are important, the main purpose of learning a language is usually to communicate.
You might know everything about Spanish grammar but without being able to use a language to communicate in everyday life, your knowledge has limited uses.
If you’re living in a Spanish-speaking country, try to speak Spanish whenever possible. Even if waiters and shop assistants detect your accent and switch to English, politely explain that you prefer to speak Spanish. And, if you have Spanish-speaking housemates or friends, try to speak to them in Spanish as much as you can.
Language exchanges, known as intercambios in Spanish, are perfect for practising your speaking and listening skills. They also help to build confidence as you start using Spanish in more of a real-world setting. But, you do need to have a high enough level to form sentences and express yourself. Otherwise it will be a frustrating experience for you and your language partner.
Many bars and language schools organise group intercambio nights. Or, you can find individuals who want to exchange language skills on sites like Lingobongo or Open Language Exchange. And, even if you don’t live in a Spanish-speaking country, language exchange websites can help you connect with people via text, voice or video chat.
4. Chat On WhatsApp in Spanish
Switching your phone’s language to Spanish is a simple yet effective way to force yourself to read Spanish every day.
But, it was chatting in Spanish on WhatsApp which really helped me improve my Spanish. In fact, it’s my number one tip for anyone struggling to get the language fluency they’d like.
Sending instant messages makes you think on your feet in the same way that speaking does. WhatsApp messages go back and forth so fast you won’t have time to check grammar or look up words. But, as you’re writing rather than speaking, it takes a lot of the pressure off.
I was able to converse freely in Spanish on WhatsApp without thinking about pronunciation or my accent. And I wasn’t as worried about making mistakes as I was when I had to speak.
Another advantage of sending instant messages in Spanish is that, unlike speaking, you have a record of what you’ve said. You’ll also be able to refer back to the mistakes you’ve made and see the right way to say something. Using autocorrect will help show you how to spell tricky words, and you can even exchange voice messages if you want to practise your speaking and listening skills too.
So, if you’re lucky enough to have a Spanish-speaking partner or friend then insist on texting in Spanish. Or, you can ask your intercambio partner to exchange text messages with you as well as meeting regularly.
5. Believe In Yourself
It might sound clichéd, but a lack of self-belief is what holds many people back from mastering another language. It’s easier said than done to overcome this, but it is possible. I’ve been there and so have many people I know, so hopefully our methods could help you too.
I know several people who have adopted an alternative persona to help them get into the ‘role’ of a Spanish speaker. To do this, you could try calling yourself by a more typically-Spanish name. For example, a Chinese boy in one of my Spanish classes preferred to call himself Ángel. This can make introductions easier if your name is difficult to pronounce for native Spanish speakers. And, it gives you the opportunity to distance yourself from the insecurities that can arise from speaking a foreign language. So, while Ruth from Manchester might struggle with her Spanish, her alter ego Rosalina lives in Madrid and speaks Spanish with confidence.
As I’ve said, using WhatsApp in Spanish helped me gain fluency as I got faster and faster at replying to messages from my then-boyfriend Gastón. This showed me that I had the words inside and just needed to get them out.
But, something that continued to hold me back was only speaking Spanish in certain settings and with certain people. I was fine in Spanish class and talking to Gastón. But the thought of speaking to other people filled me with fear.
My friends were all native English-speakers and I worked in English with English-speaking colleagues. Looking back, I should have attended more Meetups or continued doing language exchanges.
But, when Gastón started introducing me to his friends and family, this forced me to talk to other Spanish speakers. And none of them spoke English so I had no choice but to speak Spanish. For the first time, I was conversing with several native speakers at once. And they understood me! Not only did this help my confidence, my vocabulary, listening skills and speaking skills all improved too.
A lot of speaking confidence comes from feeling prepared with the right words and phrases. In the same way that people write down what they want to say before they make a phone call, prepare yourself for future conversations and interactions. To do this, make sure you know the relevant vocabulary before you approach a situation. Even better, ask your intercambio partner or a Spanish-speaking friend to practise role-playing with you. Act out scenes in restaurants, shops, at the doctor’s, or pretend to be strangers asking for directions. When you find yourself in that situation again, it will be familiar, and you’ll feel more confident.
Remember, confidence feeds confidence; if you approach each Spanish interaction with confidence, the more confident you’ll feel next time. A lot of this self-belief and confidence will come from simply telling yourself – and other people – that you speak Spanish. In the past when people asked me if I spoke Spanish, I would say that I was learning. I thought this would excuse any mistakes I might make, but all it did was hold me back. So, if anyone asks you if you speak Spanish, just say ‘¡Sí!’
How Can I Improve My Spanish?
If you’re struggling with Spanish, I hope the methods I used to improve my Spanish have been helpful for you. As I’ve said, learning a language is a process and not something that happens overnight. But, the most important thing is to find ways to make improving your Spanish enjoyable.
Have you found my tips to improve your Spanish useful? Do you have any tips of your own? Let me know by commenting below.