Stop psyching yourself out! Gaining conversational fluency in Spanish is easier than you think. That being said, there will be times when learning this completely new language is a bit of a struggle. You’ll only push past those moments if you have a clear reason for learning Spanish. What’s your driving force? Once you know what you’re studying for, why you’re listening to your favourite sitcom stars speak in bewilderingly melodic tones and conducting embarrassing conversations with the vocabulary level of a six year old, you’ll be able to power through any challenges and frustrations you may face and achieve your goal.
Have you thought about it? Good. Now that you have your motivation, here’s a guide for learning Spanish in three months.
1. Find the right language school for you
Barcelona has a myriad of language schools, and to make sure you’re speaking the language every day and expanding your vocabulary, it’s a good idea to take a Spanish course at one of them.
Oxford House has different courses, from personalised Spanish immersion courses to super intensive courses, all held in their new, state-of-the-art location in the Eixample Dreta. Classes are held throughout the week in the morning and afternoon, and are conducted entirely in Spanish. Oxford House believes in preparing students to speak and understand Spanish in the real world, therefore it’s essential to be surrounded by the language, giving students ample opportunity to put their knowledge acquired in and outside of the classroom into practise.
Don Quijote Barcelona is another accredited language school in the city, boasting 27 years of experience. Their location just blocks from Sants station is bright and comfortable, with a touch of luxury (as far as language schools go). They offer intensive courses, which focus on all aspects of the Spanish language, as well as business Spanish and private Spanish classes. Social language-learning activities are also available like cooking lessons and scuba diving excursions, to associate fun memories with the learning process.
2. Pick the best resources for your needs
You don’t necessarily need a thick book full of strict grammar rules. Instead, get yourself a good, pocket-sized English-Spanish dictionary or download a Spanish dictionary app for your smartphone, and look into free language-learning tools online.
Duolingo is many people’s go-to resource. On any smart device, anywhere you happen to have a minute or two of downtime, you can pick a category—usually beginning with basic categories such as phrases (Perdón, Lo siento, Por favor, etc.), food, family, clothing, present simple, possessive pronouns and more. You will hear/read sentences in Spanish and be asked to translate them into English, and vice versa. Sometimes you will have to write what you hear or say what you see on the screen. Then you simply work your way up from there. Duolingo is even connected to LinkedIn, so as you reach higher levels of fluency, you can indicate that on your profile.
Allowing free access to all its language lessons, Internet Polyglot is another incredible language-learning tool. Depending on your mood, pick a subject—human characteristics, weather, money and shopping, city, streets and transportation, etc.—then pick your approach. Do you feel like playing a matching game? Or maybe you know the vocabulary fairly well and just want to write the translations. You can’t solely rely on this website though, because there are no opportunities to practise forming complete sentences.
3. Attend intercambio events
“You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” That’s the basic idea behind intercambio events. Plus, besides improving your language skills, you’ll get to meet loads of new international people.
Lingua Tribe’s philosophy is “live the language”. As a community of expats and locals who have been meeting up, practising languages and doing cool stuff since 2012, they have a full calendar of language exchange events, including Free Speaking Fridays, Yoga + Live Music Tuesdays, and one-off events like free photography tours around Barcelona.
Or, if you have a free Friday night (aka you were able to procure a babysitter on a weekend night for the first time in three months!), Berenjenal bar near Plaça Universitat is a great place to start the evening. Barcelona Languages & Friends hosts the intercambio pregame, attracting a good mix of people, with a free beer for the first 50 locals to show up and a free G&T for all foreigners who show up around 8pm. This Meetup group plans other language exchange events as well, from hikes and ice skating, to wine tastings and hotel terrace drinks.
Note: Don’t let locals who are desperate to practise their English hijack the conversation all night. You need to practise your Spanish too, so seek out individuals who are willing to divide the time evenly between languages.
4. Listen and ask questions
If you can’t understand what’s being said, it doesn’t matter how good your speaking skills are, you still won’t be able to join the conversation.
Fifty percent or more of the foreign language speaking game is actually listening. So, stop stressing about what you want to say next and how you’re going to say it, and listen to what the Spanish speakers around you are talking about. This way you’ll also pick up on native idioms, phrasal verbs and colloquialisms. And if you don’t understand what someone has said—assuming you are meant to be a part of the conversation, not just eavesdropping on the metro—kindly ask them to repeat themselves or to translate a specific word or phrase into English.
5. Befriend the Spanish parents from your child’s school
Even if you choose to send your children to one of Barcelona’s international schools, they are bound to make friends with native Spanish speakers. Don’t shy away from talking to their parents. The more practise the better!
Also, don’t drop your kids at birthday parties without even getting out of the car. Make a point of going inside and striking up a conversation with the other parents. Or, if your kids play a sport, local parents are known for having pretty memorable team bashes, which are a great opportunity to practise speaking Spanish in a fun and relaxed atmosphere.
6. Choose a TV series that you know and watch it in Spanish
Can you quote whole episodes of Friends? Have you seen every season of How I Met Your Mother, twice? It’s easier to follow a conversation in Spanish when you already know what people are talking about. So, pick your favourite TV series and watch it in your target language. While you’re watching, note any words or phrases that go over your head. When you watch the same episode for a second or third time, ask yourself if you’re understanding the actors better.
If you’re ready, there are also some binge-worthy shows en Español on Netflix. If you go this route, remember that subtitles in your native language will only hinder your learning, while Spanish-language subtitles over Spanish audio work together to enhance the mental connections you form between the spoken words, written captions and images on the screen.
7. Read books with their accompanying audiobooks
Think about all the pauses, transitions and action scenes in the average movie or TV show when characters are not speaking. Even if you read at a slow pace, reading will expose you to more sentences per minute. The challenge is finding foreign-language reading materials that match your level of vocabulary and grammar. If a book is too difficult, it can create cognitive overload, inhibit any real learning and discourage you from reading further.
Another factor to consider when choosing a book is whether or not it has an accompanying audiobook. Reading any book while listening to the audio—even if you don’t understand everything completely—can drastically improve your “ear training” and help get you used to the general speed and cadence of a native speaker. Whether you like fantasy or history, self-help or romance novels, audible has an extensive selection of audiobooks in Spanish for you to listen to anytime, anyplace.
Note: If you’re a beginner using an audiobook alone, you run the risk of missing words that you might have otherwise recognised or breezing over new words that you would have otherwise taken time to look up.
8. Learn the lyrics to your favourite Spanish songs
A common reaction to music is to learn to sing along, even if you only do this out loud in the privacy of your own shower. Then what better way to absorb poetic sentences and alternate phrases than by listening to Spanish music?
According to a BBC iWonder article, humans retain lyrics because they are part motor memory. Memories that are motoric in nature—walking, driving or swimming—become habit and can be recalled subconsciously with little effort. For this reason, it is fair to say that recalling lyrics (and to an extent, the Spanish words that comprise them) can be as easy as riding a bike.
9. Shop and eat in Spanish
We can almost guarantee that you know enough Spanish to get by in a store or restaurant. Even if your accent gives you away as a non-native Spanish speaker, don’t let the shop assistant or waiter switch to English. These settings are great opportunities to practise your clothing, size, color and food vocabulary, along with basic greetings, questions and requests. If you prefer to cook at home, invest in a Spanish cookbook. Once you’ve successfully followed a recipe in a foreign language and fed your family a scrumptious meal, you’ll get a boost of confidence and be well on your way to mastering the language.
Even after following these steps, you won’t become conversationally fluent in Spanish until you’re brave enough to be wrong. Don’t overthink. Just speak!