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How to Learn Spanish in Spain: 6 Pieces of Advice

Dear Reader. If you are planning to learn Spanish in Spain, these are some questions you might ask yourself:

  1. Are you a complete Spanish beginner? (I mean COMPLETE beginner- not even A1, can’t introduce yourself, etc.)
  2. Are you daunted and terrified of the prospect of learning Spanish in a place you don’t know? (at the ripe old age of twenty-two.)
  3. Are you ready for a challenging but highly rewarding experience?

 

Learn Spanish in Spain from Scratch: Trials and Small Triumphs

If you answered yes to the questions listed above, then I can tell you two things:

Firstly: you are in exactly the same boat as I was last September before I began my adventure with Meddeas.

Secondly: you can learn Spanish. And you can have fun during the process.

If you want to know how exactly, please proceed to read my short and sweet rookie’s “How to Learn Spanish in Spain” guide…

learning spanish in spain
Me in sunny Girona

I’ll begin by giving you a bit of context. Before I started teaching as a language assistant with Meddeas, I went to a highly international university in the UK. There I was surrounded by bilingual, trilingual and even quadrilingual individuals who flipped between languages with great ease. Being able to speak only English was the bane of my life. It was depressing. Moving to Spain for nine months to teach some English and learn Spanish was my attempt to change things, to become a little bit more cultured, and to be able to communicate in the world’s second most spoken language.

At the orientation meeting, I got chatting to lots of other language assistant and it’s safe to say that most of them had some level of Spanish. I began to panic, as I knew nothing. Absolutely nothing. I’d never studied Spanish at school, I’d never known any Spaniards, and I’d never even seen Dora the Explorer. The only Spanish I’d listened to properly was through Shakira and Enrique Iglesias, and I didn’t have a clue what they were singing about. I think that says it all.

There were two ways of dealing with my situation. Number one: curl up in a ball, stay in my comfort zone, and revert to English at every opportunity. Number two: embarrass yourself in multiple social situations, fail countless times, feel stupid BUT try, and ultimately improve. Slowly.

I chose the latter option and it was the best way to learn Spanish.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Spanish?

learn Spanish in Spain
Me and the host family children just relaxing after a long day

After living in Spain for eight months, I can safely say that I have intermediate level Spanish (it feels great to write that sentence here and even better to type it on to my CV). Whilst some people reading this might not think that is very impressive (perhaps they are already fluent and find learning languages natural and easy) for me this has been a real achievement. I couldn’t even order confidently in a restaurant on arrival!

It is a skill like no other. Here are the greatest perks of understanding Spanish, in my humble opinion:

  • Surprising locals by communicating- even briefly- in their own language.
  • Listening to “colourful” conversations in the street and on the Metro.
  • Being able to watch films and to read books and magazines in another language- unlocking a whole new cultural realm in the process.
  • Translating menus for your visiting friends.

6 Pieces of Advice to Learn Spanish in Spain

Learning Spanish whilst teaching with Meddeas has been incredible BUT not easy. There are no easy ways to learn Spanish. I have compiled a list of the greatest pieces of advice I can provide for anyone considering how to learn Spanish while being a language assistant:

1. Accept that learning Spanish is not a linear process

learn spanish abroad
I expected it to be like this….                                In reality, it’s more like this

2. There are days you will question if you know anything at all

This happens to me, particularly after I speak a lot in English. I forget the name for a certain type of food or a verb in Spanish and suddenly question my knowledge.

The trick is: don’t give up. We have mind blanks in our own language anyway. Often, days after a language crisis I encounter a situation which makes me realise how much I know. For example, four days ago I helped an old lady who spoke no English find her boarding gate at Barcelona airport.

3. Invest some time

Teaching in a school means your timetable will include about 20-24 hours of classes a week. This leaves plenty of time for learning. If you invest the man-hours, you will reap the benefits. And this doesn’t mean spending hours looking at verb cards or paying a small fortune for a language school. I learn Spanish grammar through using free apps and online courses. Then I have put my skills into practice by holding down seven language exchanges, watching some Spanish films, reading books, etc. How you learn is entirely down to you. The most important thing is to set some time aside for this learning process.

ways to learn Spanish
Me with my Spanish friends and a colleague

4. Go out of your comfort zone

I’m not usually one for cheesy catchphrases but the quote ‘do something new every day’ certainly resonates with my experience as a language assistant! For example, I recently attended a salsa class conducted entirely in Spanish in a room full of Spaniards. Beforehand, I was terrified. During the class, I understood about 60-70% of what was said. It was a real challenge, but it was also great fun, and proof that if you push yourself a little, the benefits are great!

5. Be patient

This is advice for living in Spain in general – not just the language learning process! I am quite impatient as a person and expect immediate results. Usually, I am a fast learner and if I study intensely, I can understand something. Spanish has thrown me off completely. It is the hardest thing I have ever started to learn. The point is that improvement takes time. For some people learning Spanish comes naturally and for others (including myself) it does not. Don’t be off put by others, and keep your own goals in mind.

6. Have fun

The most important and obvious piece of advice to learn Spanish in Spain. Think of all the possible adventures you can have, the people you can speak to, and the culture you can explore by learning Spanish! It’s such an exciting thing to do.

I can’t express the fact enough that ANYONE can learn Spanish if they set their mind to it. I am literal walking, talking, and breathing evidence of this fact.

2016/2017 Posted by Alice B.

Have you improved your Spanish skills while living in Spain? What would you recommend in order to boost the learning process?

If you enjoyed this post, don’t miss out the following articles with ideas to learn Spanish in Spain

  1. Typical Spanish Expressions
  2. When in Spain Do as the Spaniards Do
  3. Life After Meddeas: Teaching Abroad Gave me Confidence and Enthusiasm
29 July, 2019

14 responses on "How to Learn Spanish in Spain: 6 Pieces of Advice"

  1. You’re article is great, thanks for sharing your tips! I couldn’t agree more about the learning proces not being linear! During the summer I was in Spain speaking Spanish every day and I improved so much. Then, when my flatmates changed from Spanish-speakers to English-speakers, I spoke in English all the time and I hit a wall with my Spanish! But, as you said, I’ve invested more time and I feel like I’m back on track now. Seven language exchanges though?! I need to up my game!

  2. Great article and tips! I was in a similar position before coming to Spain as I had never studied Spanish before. Before I came here I started learning a bit through Memrise during the summer, a free app that is similar to Duolingo, and started listening to more Spanish music. So I knew a lot of basic things when I got here but still not enough to fully get by or have conversations with people. But in the 5 months I’ve been here, I have learned A LOT, mainly because I have tried to immerse myself in it as much as possible and practice it without having any fear of embarrassment. I live with two Spanish people so I get to speak with them in Spanish and I also speak in Spanish with a lot of teachers at my school. I joined a swing dance class, similar to your class, and it is only full of Spanish people, which means I have to listen to the instructions in Spanish and get to speak in Spanish with them. Finally, I go to a Spanish class twice a week. While I don’t have much time for individual study, going to my language class, simply practicing, picking up my Spanish books whenever I have some free time and even listening to music has helped me learn a lot. It is definitely a journey that requires a lot of work and practice but it is a fun experience!

  3. There’s definitely some great advice here! Based on my Meddeas experience thus far, getting outside of my comfort zone by asking for directions, ordering in restaurants, and spending time with Spaniards etc has definitely helped. My situation is a bit different as I came to Spain with a degree in Spanish Language and Literature, but living in Andalucia with a very different accent than what I was accustomed to was a bit of a challenge. Free apps like duolingo are great for reviewing as well; however, the teachers at school and my host family have been my best teachers here. If you really want to improve your Spanish skills, I highly recommend living with a host family.

  4. Haha, yes! Learning Spanish is certainly not linear. Great tips — you just have to get out there and try!

  5. I completely agree about learning is not a linear process. There are definitely days when I feel like I don’t know anything, and other days where I feel like I’m on top of the world and have been speaking Spanish my whole life. It’s important to remain patient with yourself and allow yourself to make mistakes. I agree, learning Spanish should be fun, not stressful! Making it so serious puts so much added stress on you. Make an effort but don’t stress yourself out. Just living in the country you will surely pick up basic knowledge of the language! Thanks for the post, Alice!

  6. “there are days you will question if you know anything at all”

    Totalllllllyyy agree. Sometimes the older people in my building will strike up conversations with me in the elevator and after a year and a half in Spain I leave and enter my home thinking to myself: “I have absolutely no idea what he just said.” Hahaha. totally a process.

  7. I can relate so much to the process of learning Spanish in this way! I have found that being immersed in the a Spanish speaking school has helped my listening skills, but getting involved and meeting locals are definitely the best way to learn to speak as well! It’s definitely not a linear process, your chart was spot on- some days I feel completely fluent and some days I can’t get a sentence out! Thanks for the tips!

  8. I think I’ve said that I have an intermediate Spanish level for the past 4-5 years now. There are days when I think to myself, I know just as much as I knew when I graduated high school. But then I think about how I talk, and there is definitely improvement there as a result of living with a host family and practicing with teachers at school. Most of my vocabulary knowledge is the same, I can understand a little better, but overall NOW I can finally structure my sentences more Spanish-like rather than American English-like. I can easily say “usualmente” but I learned that they more commonly use “normalmente.” The word “fantástico” exists, but, apparently, it’s an antiquated word; they more often use “increíble.” I’m feeling like I’m from a region now when I talk, like I’m from Spain.

  9. Like most of these comments have pointed out you mentioning that learning Spanish (or any language) is not a linear process is so important! There are days where I make so many mistakes that I question if I’m improving at all and it’s easy to feel defeated on these days, but on the otherhand there are days when I am able to have full on conversations and I feel so happy with my progress! I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a process and it takes time and energy like you’ve mentioned.

  10. All the points here are so accurate. THe hardest thing has been sometimes feeling so overwhelmed by all the Spanish I DON’T know!! Keep at it, be persistent, and give yourself a break…it’s a pretty awesome feeling when it just clicks and you find yourself holding a conversation!

  11. I love this article Alice! I couldn’t agree more with all of the points, especially listening to ‘colourful’ conversations on the metro haha! My Spanish is still quite bad… but I understand a lot and can have a little more than basic conversations and that’s a huge achievement for me since I definitely don’t have a natural knack for languages. Thanks for sharing!

  12. I love this article and can totally relate! I think the charts you drew to depict your Spanish level over time reflects my learning as well!! Learning Spanish is really challenging but can be quite funny too. I’ve taken Spanish since 7th grade and took three courses in university, so when I came to Spain, I thought I could get by. However, when I arrived, I didn’t understand anything anyone was saying. It was like a whole new language! It was really frustrating in the beginning and my goal of learning Spanish dwindled, but over a month period, I began to notice my Spanish skills and vocabulary expanding without even trying! Since then, I’ve gotten more involved and have been practicing my Spanish more through apps and meeting people.

  13. I love the points you made about how important it is to not give up and to stay motivated! One of the best things I did to improve my Spanish was joining language exchanges in the city I’m living in. I’ve met a bunch of awesome people from all over the world and I’m able to practice and improve my Spanish while also helping others improve their English! The language exchanges have branched off into Karaoke nights, hiking trips, and much more so I definitely recommend going to one if you want to make new friends and have a no pressure place to practice and improve!

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