Spanish wasn’t always my passion and in some ways maybe it never has been. I never went all in and said I am going to study for hours on end each day. I always wanted to maintain a fun social life and pursue other things while I studied Spanish.
So I am proof and here to tell you that yes, you too, can learn Spanish in one year’s time with at least somewhat focused and consistent study time. The key word in that last sentence is consistent.
For you to have any success at all you need to maintain at least some level of consistency to learn Spanish.
Just as in money, your learning will slowly compound over time as you make steady progress each week building on top of the week before.
Below, I focus on the 20% of the activities that brought the 80% of my output and got me to a conversational Spanish level in a year. It’s important to harvest quick wins along the way and focus on only the highest value activities in your limited time.
Alright, let’s get to it!
5 Most Crucial Ways to Learn Spanish
1) Speak With a Native
Without a doubt, the learning activity that is the highest value for and language learner to do is speaking with a native speaker. Nothing moved the needle more for me then speaking with a native Spanish speaker.
You might say, how can I do that, I don’t even speak a lick of Spanish.
Chances are you probably already know how to construct basic phrases like, “Me llamo…” and “Hola, como estas?” It’s not like learning Japanese where you are starting off at square one.
However, even if you do feel like you aren’t ready to speak with a native you can easily pick a Spanish teacher that understands English and can gradually teach you the language at your own pace.
How can you do it? Italki.com provides a truly fantastic website that allows you to book a language tutor on the website at your preferred scheduled time.
The tutors are really affordable (less than $10/hour) and you can even do free trial lessons to get you started as you figure out which teacher you resonate most with.
In case you are on a budget or want to meet a few friends, it’s a good idea to use the free language exchange program that Italki offers. You can message different people get to know them and schedule Skype calls.
So if there is one I could recommend any and every Spanish language learner it’s to get out of your comfort zone and speak with a Native Spanish speaker (in Spanish).
2) Learn the Most Important Spanish Words with Flashcards
I know, I get it. You don’t have much time to study Spanish as you are busy with work, kids, or just life in general. This activity can be done without spending 1 additional minute to your day. How can that be possible you might ask?
It’s simple and also probably not exactly what you wanted to hear. Instead of spending your time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever your network of choice is devote that time to studying Spanish flashcards.
Just about everyone has a smartphone these days and if you don’t you are probably
wasting spending your time doing something else that zaps your productivity from time to time.
I used to spend 15-30 minutes a day during dull times (waiting in line/ time in the bathroom) to check my Twitter feed and see the latest news and status updates of “important” people. So what did I do?
I deleted the Twitter app from my phone and put my Flashcard app of choice Anki front and center to my phones front page.
Now, instead of using Twitter throughout the day I had no choice but to use my Flashcard app and study Spanish words and phrases. My flashcard deck contained the 500 most common words downloaded directly from the Anki website so I knew it was words I would use in regular conversation.
One thing to note here: it’s important to add flashcard packs that include the words in sentences and not just the definition. When you see the word in context you are more likely to understand how to use it.
Finally, bonus points if your Flashcard pack has pictures on them or a memorable/funny phrases on them as you are more likely to remember them.
3) Listen to Spanish Podcasts, CD’s, and Audiobooks
Lastly, one other great thing that I did early on and all the way through my Spanish learning that first year was listening to Spanish Podcasts and Pimsleur CD’s.
It’s yet one more way to improve your listening comprehension and to better understand new words.
The Pimsleur CD’s can most likely be picked up from your local library. I have also heard Michael Thomas has some excellent listening comprehension audios and CDs as well although I have never used that yet.
That being said, what I used more than anything was Spanish Podcasts. I loved listening to Coffee Break Spanish Podcasts as they were very helpful, informative and gradually got more difficult as I steadily improved my Spanish.
Once I got to a more advanced level of Spanish I moved into Notes in Spanish which for me was geared more towards an intermediate and advanced audience but had the Spain dialect.
Spanish Podcasts proved to be so helpful to me in my listening comprehension (and overall enjoyment) that my wife, a Colombian Spanish teacher, and I decided to create a Latin American Spanish Podcast called Españolistos.
It's specifically geared toward intermediate and advanced Spanish learners.
Regardless of your level of Spanish I recommend you take time to find a good Spanish Podcast where you can listen, enjoy, and improve your Spanish skills.
Wrapping It Up
So there you have it, that right there is the 3 most important and highest value activities that I did to learn Spanish at a conversational level in about a year’s time.
I could mention many more ways to learn the language and could certainly recommend reading and writing in Spanish if you are more interested in a more technical vocabulary.
My goal from day one was to be able to hold a normal conversation with a Spanish speaker in Spanish and those three things are truly what you should focus on most if you are serious about that goal.
Finally, as an encouragement, if you can only spend just 10 hours a week that accounts for over 500 hours in a year! The US Department of State says that it takes from around 575-600 hours to learn a language.
I’m confident that if you leverage these fun, high-value activities you will be fluent in Spanish faster than the average learner. Lastly, remember anyone can learn a language and yes that includes you.
Bio: Nate learned Spanish on his own mainly through self-study and speaking with other natives. Him and his wife teach Spanish online and have a fun Spanish Podcast specifically for Intermediates and Advanced students at Spanishland School.