Hopefully there will be some useful ideas in here for everyone, even if you are just studying Spanish in Spain for a week or two, or swatting up at home. The following is based on my personal experience of going from zero to fairly fluent in 9 months:
1. Not at all essential, but…
If you can spend 9 months in a Spanish speaking country, you’re half way there! Once you get here, the following tips should really help you to speak fluent Spanish within 9 months or less…, but they will still really help if you stay at home too!
2. Get an intercambio… or four!
I know we keep on going on and on about this, but really, there is no better way to learn Spanish. You meet with a Spanish speaker for, say, two hours a week, then talk for an hour in Spanish, and an hour in your language (so they get to practice as well). Sooner of later they will become friends and take you out with other Spanish speakers for Spanish-overload nights out on the town! (N.B. Intercambios work outside Spain as well! Try an ad in Craig’s List!)
3. Listen and learn!
In my first 9 months in Spain I spent a lot of time on the bus and the Metro, and sitting in cafes, where I listened intently to other people’s conversations. I couldn’t understand a word at first, but every time I heard a new, interesting sounding phrase, I wrote it down and asked my intercambio about it next time I saw her.
The first film I saw in Spain, on my fourth day here, was Saving Private Ryan. I thought it was going to be in English, but oh no, the whole thing was badly dubbed into Spanish and I understood, well, one word. But I never forgot that word (it was, for some reason quien …I really knew nothing back then). But even today, every time I see a film in Spanish, I learn something new. Last week it was that the verb librar can mean to not work on a certain day, e.g. libro el miércoles. And remember, this tip works anywhere!
5. Take a class
You can’t learn it all on your own in such a short period of time. Somewhere along the line you will need a good grounding in grammar, and a professional to correct those recurring errors your intercambio just doesn’t notice you making any more. If the teacher is boring, change class without a second thought. Boring teachers don’t teach.
6. Two things to have in your bag/pocket…
…at all times. A pocket dictionary for vocab grabbing on the move. E.g. you see a pigeon and decide that now is the time you have to know the word for pigeon in Spanish. You’ll remember it for a long time. (By the way, it’s paloma 😉 ) The other thing is a sheet of paper with the current verb tense you are battling with scrawled all over it. Tedious yes, but using that sheet to test your knowledge of the imperfect subjunctive once a day knocks it into your head sooner rather than later.
7. Identify your motivation point…
… and keep it in mind at all times. This is the key. You can’t learn a language quickly without really really wanting to. Why do you want to learn Spanish? In my case it was easy, I wanted to be able to hold my own in my new home, to speak as well as friends who had been here for a while, and I wanted to speak to all those beautiful Spanish girls without sounding like an idiot. I kept these goals in mind all the time, and they really helped me develop an appetite for the language. What’s your motivation? Make it an obsession!
8. Over to you…
Any ideas? Please comment below.