11 ways to learn Spanish or any foreign language

by David

There is all kinds of advice out there concerning how to learn a foreign language and specifically Spanish. I think I’ll join the pack and chime in with my advice. So…. tada…. here’s my handy dandy list of 11 things you should do to learn a foreign language.

1. Sign up for a class.

You have many options here. You probably have a Community College (also know as a Junior College) somewhere near. They most likely offer foreign language classes. Stop by and get the current class schedule and see if they have night classes, summer classes or even special adult classes. You might even want to talk with the head of the foreign language department to see what’s available. If you can’t stop by, they probably even have their course listings on the internet. Look ’em up. Your local university probably accepts non-enrolled/part-time students into lower-level classes. That could also be a good option. Another option: Your local adult center, besides offering exercise classes and weekly Bingo, they probably offer French/Spanish lessons. If you’re learning Spanish, it’s a pretty widely-studied language, so you’ve got that on your side.

The main point here about signing up for a class, is it will help you keep progressing. Whether you know next to nothing, or you’re already pretty fluent, getting out to a class and learning or even helping others will help keep you from stagnating in what you know.

2. Buy (and use) a dictionary (or three)

This sounds pretty straightforward, and it is. Get yourself a good, two-way Spanish English dictionary (or use Tomísimo online). When you run into words you don’t know look them up. If you don’t have access to your dictionary, write down the words and look them up later. When I was in Costa Rica studying Spanish, I carried around a small notebook writing down all the words I heard but didn’t know. Then at night, I would look up all the words and study them. It helped immensely.

You also might want to get a good Spanish-Spanish dictionary. This is for when you’re a bit more advanced, you can look up words in Spanish and read the definitions in Spanish. This can really give you a jump-start in learning.

The third dictionary you need is a visual dictionary. While I’d say this is optional, it can really be useful. Once while we were watching Cool Runnings, we wanted to look up ‘bobsled’ in Spanish. The only place I found it was in a Visual dictionary. Visual dictionaries can also be a conversation piece. You can flip through the pages with your conversation partner and discuss various topics that you find in the dictionary.

3. Get a Small, pocket-sized notebook

Just as I noted in #2, I use a small notebook that I can carry na with me. I use it to jot down words and phrases that I hear for further research. There are three purposes for doing this.

First, if I already know what the word means, I jot it down so I don’t forget it. I then see that word several times that day while jotting down other words wholesale mlb jerseys and that night while reviewing/looking up words. After seeing it several times like that, I’m more likely to remember it. If I remember it just enough to use it once or twice that day and a couple flagship times that week, then the word’s mine. I’ve learned it and I continue using it, which makes it really difficult to forget!

I also write down words I don’t know at all. These are looked up at night and the meaning/translation written next to them.

The last thing I use the notebook for is writing down certain words in English that I didn’t know the Spanish for. I then look these words up at night or when I get a chance during the day.

4. Conversation partners

Get some conversation partners. A conversation partner can be a native speaker of your target language (If you’re here this is probably Spanish), or they might be someone who learned Spanish as a foreign language. Ideally, you should find a few of both. Those who learned it as a FL will be more able to help explain grammar points and understand you when you translate literally from English. A native speaker on the other hand, has a lot of cultural information that a non-native can’t really know that easily.

Where can you find a conversation partner? Well, if you already signed up for classes like I told you too, that would be a good place to start looking. You can also find them in restaurants, on college/university campuses,- really, just about anywhere.

5. Grammar book

Get a regular grammar textbook. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a college-level book or highschool-level or any other level. What you want is a book that methodically slices and dices Spanish grammar, chapter by chapter. Go ahead and start reading it. Don’t skip to chapter ji three because it looks intresting/easier, start with Chapter cheap mlb jerseys one, and go through all of them. Try to understand what they’re explaining and do the exercises at the end of the chapter. If you don’t understand something, skip it. Don’t worry about it. At a later time all things will be revealed to you.

This grammar book is an essential part of your learning. If you don’t have it, you’ll drown in the sea of words that you’re hearing from your conversations with people and the stuff you’re reading. If you only have a grammar book you’ll drown in rules. It’s a balancing act, but it will help you understand the things you’re hearing. After reading the chapter on the ‘personal A’, you’ll go ‘Ohhh, that’s why he said it that way’.

6. Newspaper/magazine

What you’re trying to do here is get as much Spanish into your diet as possible. Grab a newspaper or magazine published in your target language (TL) and dive in. Start with the very first article you see and start reading. It doesn’t matter if it’s something interesting to you. Try to understand each word there. Write down the words you don’t understand in your little notebook. If you have your dictionary close-by, look up the words right away. Try to get through just the first paragraph if it seems really hard, or try to finish the article. After that, your job is to review the at words you’ve jotted down in your notebook. Come back the next day and try to actually understand the article, now that you understand the majority of the words.

7. Movies/videos/television

What I said about newspapers and magazines generally applies to movies, television and videos. These are sources of Spanish, which if taken in the right dosage, will accelerate your Spanish-learning growth. One notable difference is that video and TV provide audio input for you. Practice hearing Spanish. Get a feel for the speed, intonation and texture of the language. Even if you don’t understand all of it now, you’ll get bits and pieces, and even the simple act cheap nba jerseys of listening will begin to condition your ear and cognitive processes to begin adapting themselves to the Spanish language, or whatever TL you have, be it German, French, Italian, Chinese or any other.

8. CDs or cassettes

Get ahold of any of the language courses available on CD or cassette. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose. What you’re looking for is repeatable exercises to build your aural comprehension (listening comprehension) of the language. Listen to the tapes. Follow the instructions. When you’re supposed to repeat the phrase, repeat it. It doesn’t matter if you say it perfectly or not, all the practice you can get at this point, the better.

One note here is that many people will say they don’t have the time to listen to the CDs. Nonsense. Play them in your car. Rip them to mp3 and listen on your iPod anywhere. Listen while standing in line at the bank, grocery store or gas station. Listen to them while you walk your dog, go get the mail, talk to your sister on the phone (oh no, just kidding). Utilize all those ‘lost’ moments during your busy day and I’m sure you’ll find a few minutes to listen to your tapes.

9. Flash cards

Go down and buy yourself a pack of those 3×5 bibliography cards. Break them out and start writing the words from your little notebook on them. Put one word on one side, and the translation and or definition on the other side. Pick all the words from your notebook that you most want/need to learn and go for it. The mere act of writing up the flash cards will give you extra practice with the words. These cards are easy to take around with you. You can pull them out and review a word anytime. If you’re at work, and you can’t walk around listening to your Spanish CDs, you certainly can carry the flashcards in your hip pocket and pull them out from time to time to review. The advantage of using cards over your notebook is quickness. You can pull out one card and review it while waiting for the webcam elevator, waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for the barrista to serve your cappuccino, waiting for the parking attendant- shall I go on? One card can be pulled out, reviewed and put away in the space of ten seconds and no one will be the wiser and you’ve not tarnished your professional image in the least- heh.

10. Music

If you’re like most people, you like music. Why not get some tracks in your TL and listen? Not much more needs to be said. Enjoy the tunes.

11. Talk to yourself

What? Talk to myself? Huh? These are the responses I usually get when recommending that people talk to themselves to learn a foreign language. Let’s face it. You’re not always going to be able to find a conversation partner. But you’ll always have yourself to talk to. 🙂 When you’re walking out of the house to get the mail, say to yourself “I’m going to get the mail”. You can say this outloud or you can say it in your mind. But the important thing is that you say it in your TL. You can go around all day, doing all the things you normally do, all the while thinking or actually saying what you’re doing in Spanish. Think of yourself as a narrator, describing everything you’re doing. This will help immensely with your learning, because to learn something, you need to put it in practice. You need to do it. Earlier I mentioned that I use a little notebook to write down words I hear. Well how do you think I practice and use those words all day long? That’s right, I talk to myself. That way, by the end of the day I know those words because I’ve used them each a half-dozen times. If you don’t want to talk outloud, that’s ok too. It’s almost as effective to simply think the sentence even if your mouth doesn’t move.

Now to wrap things up…

Of course, there are many other things you could do to further your journey down the language-learning road, such as marrying someone who speaks your TL, going to live in a country where they speak your TL, cheap jerseys paying big $ for a private tutor. But all the things I listed are very practical. They are things you can start doing today or tomorrow. And you can do them without forking over enough money to get dugout seats at a professional baseball game.

This list is not exhaustive. Even now I can think of more things that could be added, such as reading novels/poetry in the TL, writing in your TL, or listening to foreign short-wave radio. But I think this post is long enough (whew), so I’ll have to save all that for another day.

The most important factor in learning Spanish (or your TL), is your motivation. If you really, truly want to learn, if you are able to dedicate time to learning, if you’re to open, flexible and willing to realize that they might say something totally different from the way we say it in English, if you pay attention to the details, then you’ll be successful. Build these eleven things into your life, have fun while doing it, and before you know, you’ll be jabbering away just like Venezuelan children. 🙂

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8 Comments  leave one »

13.Feb.2007 - 11:44 pm

Wow, this is an absolutely incredible post. I wish this post was around when I first started learning, it would have saved me an infinite amount of time (and money) wasted on the “less economical” methods. 😀

14.Feb.2007 - 12:16 am

Yes, I should have started blogging in 1995 when I designed my first HTML page… and was taking my first Spanish classes… but it wasn’t that popular back then. BTW, I just checked out your site. Nice job and I like your writing style. You should put your feed in your forum profile here and your latest post will show up by your username. That way I could see when you have new posts. 🙂 Good luck on your language-learning quest and I hope you have fun in S.A. this summer!

16.Feb.2007 - 6:19 pm

[…] wrote up a quick blurb on how to learn Spanish. You might like it. It’s sort of a summary of this post, but it ended up really different. Anyway, check it out and vote on it if you liked […]

20.Feb.2007 - 2:45 pm

[…] that the dictionary doesn’t elaborate on, or you simply need help with pronunciation. In my list of 11 things you can do to learn Spanish, signing up for a course is number […]

28.Apr.2007 - 2:47 pm

[…] recall it quick enough to use it. Here’s where I’ll suggest using a small notebook to write down some words, to remind you of them. I’d suggest a notebook simply because you […]

17.Aug.2007 - 1:37 pm

[…] Earlier this year I wrote that flashcards can be disadvantageous to language learning, but before that I included flash cards as one of 11 strategies to learn any foreign language. […]

30.Aug.2007 - 7:12 pm

I speak ten languages and am learning Russian right now. I have quite a different take on this, and basically disagree on most points. I have commented on my blog, http://www.thelinguist.blogs.com

30.Aug.2007 - 7:22 pm

Hi Steve,

Nice to see you visited my blog. Must be because I left you a comment earlier today.

I’ll respond to your comments over on your post.


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