All over the internet you can find lots of guaranteed ways to improve your Spanish; however, before I give you my two cents on how to learn, I would like to point out how to NOT improve your Spanish. You will not become functional in Spanish without putting 100% effort into it or without being generally interested in what you are studying. You will not learn by being impatient or undisciplined. There are no frills, no quick fixes, just discipline; feel the burn.
- Be an active learner.
By active learner, I mean you need to be present and focused when you learn. I never teach without a pen in hand and you shouldn´t learn without a pen or highlighting option nearby. Turn your cellphone over, resist the urge to respond to a friend’s Facebook post about the guys that did a triple flip over three cars from a running start only, which by the way was crazy cool. Did you see that? I digress…
Focus on any words you don’t know, grammar structures that strike you as odd, and the intonation of the speaker. Ask questions even if you need to write them down to be answered later. Be an active participant in your learning.
- Be an active listener.
Listening is very important when you are learning a language. By doing listening tasks you start training your ear to distinguish between sounds and recognizing words without seeing them written.
Tricks to practice listening:
1–Choose a listening file that has a transcript just in case you don’t understand all that is being said.
2–Listen to short videos or audio files. 3-6 minutes. Unless you are an advanced student, anything longer and you might get distracted or lose the idea.
3–Listen all the way through. Twice.
4–Listen a third time, but this time stop and rewind at any place where you cannot understand and repeat until you understand. If you absolutely cannot get it, check that handy transcript!
5–Practice listening to one sentence and then repeating it aloud, word for word.
- Be and active reader.
I always advise students to read both silently and aloud. Reading will greatly widen your vocabulary and help you understand how the sentences are worded.
Tricks to practice reading:
1–Choose an article you can read in 10-15 minutes or less. If it is too long you will take a break to check your Instagram or stare at the stranger in front of you at the cafe. It is key to stay focused. Read the article all the way through and get the general idea.
2–Read with a pen or highlighting feature on your device. Jot down unknown words, phrases, or grammar structures and then look them up and find out their meaning. Put new words on your refrigerator, bathroom door, in a cool vocabulary app and review them on a daily basis.
3–Put your default digital language in Spanish. Your cell phone and computer should be in Spanish that way you are forced to read those annoying pop ups in Spanish!
- Speak regularly. This can be the most difficult part because not only do you have to find a fluent speaker, but you also have to get over the potential embarrassment of making a mistake. Our pride may take a serious beating! But it`s okay to be ridiculous and make mistakes. So find a friend, a lover, or a teacher and start making lots of mistakes! There is nothing like being corrected that makes you really remember how to say it in the future! Just remember:
- Write regularly. A great practice is to write down your thoughts in a new language. Your daily ideas, grocery lists, emails, texts…just write anything.
- Be patient with yourself. To really learn a language takes a lot of time and there are ups and downs in the learning process. You will feel like you are advancing at lightning speed sometimes and then all of a sudden feel completely stupid as if no word coming out of your mouth makes sense. There are peaks, valleys and plateaus of learning. Patience and persistence is the name of the game.
By Stephanie Carmon for TYT
Stephanie Carmon, “language lover” is an English and Spanish language professional with over 18 years of experience teaching and providing clients with effective communication skills. She works both online and in person with companies and individual learners and from Mexico, Russia, U.S. and Canada as a freelance language consultant, translator, interpreter and teacher. She currently lives in Mérida, Yucatan.
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