I’ve been living in Madrid since August 2017, and I STILL can’t believe I live here. I’m in love with this country, the cheap healthcare, the language of Spanish, the food, the sights, the sounds, the metro, and I’m still exploring and learning new things every single day. I’m writing today about the journey to improving and possibly gaining fluency in Spanish. A little about me, I studied Spanish for 2 years in high school and then completed Spanish 201 and 202 at the university level about 8 years ago.
When I first arrived in Madrid, I could barely understand a single word spoken to me. Even worse, I was armed with a large vocabulary to get around–but I didn’t have the confidence to ask simple questions or to even utter more than an “hola”! On top of that, the “vosotros” form made Spanish sound like a completely different language! Now, 5 months later, I have full on conversations, I can semi-confidently speak with strangers, navigate stores, talk with my students’ parents, AND I can enjoy shows in Spanish without English subtitles and I probably know 1,000s more words if I had to quantify it. I still get shy, and sometimes rely on others to help me…but I’ve come a LONG way!
There are multiple ways to learn Spanish when you get here, through multiple avenues and companies.
I have two lists below that will mention paid and free options, respectively:
Pay to learn!
1.) Enroll at Tandem, or another language school (pricing depends) I spent 4 weeks enrolled in Tandem. The teachers are very caring and use multiple means to teach you to speak Spanish and to learn the structure of the grammar. They even host events and intercambio events.
2.) Take private classes through a Spanish instructor through an embassy or school (pricing depends) This is a great tool to use, which you can find by word of mouth, through Facebook groups and online. Typically, you can choose your own schedule, whenever you’re able to meet your teacher.
3.) Rosetta Stone Spanish (pricing depends, may be deals, you can buy online or at a bookstore) This is a genius language-learning software that you can download on your phone or PC/Mac. I love it, because it was designed to teach you a new language naturally, as if you were learning as a child– but I prefer interacting with people.
4.) Read books in Spanish! Americans growing up in the U.S. learn a lot of English from books, try purchasing or borrowing a book at your level in Spanish. Look up the words you don’t know, pay attention to the order of words and the grammar. I’m currently reading El Principito by Antonie de Saint-Exupéry. You can find books in local papelerias, street shops, and stores like FNAC, Casa del Libro and the huge mall Corte Ingles. Try heading to Desperate Literature, a super cool mini bookstore founded by a British guy where he has shelves of books dedicated to Spanish-learners.
1.) Intercambios! Intercambio is basically a term for language exchange between you and a partner. For example, my intercambio partner is a Madrileña who is fluent in Spanish and wants to learn English. We were assigned through TANDEM, however you can easily find intercambios anywhere! Programs like City Life offer bar/restaurant events on Facebook where you can meet up with other people/students/teachers/auxiliares looking to become fluent in languages like German, French, Spanish and English! My intercambio and I communicate through the app WhatsApp and take turns picking a quiet bar or cafe to meet up and speak Spanish and English.
We meet at a designated time, and for 1 hour or more we speak about anything and everything in English and then we switch to Spanish and speak for the equivalent amount of time. It depends how long you want to hang out, but this was the perfect time for us. I’ve heard of 2 hours or 45 minutes in each language and 30 minutes in each language from other auxiliares. We correct each other’s grammar where necessary, talk about cultural differences, different phrases, teach each other new words and all while eating dinner or drinking wine!
2.) Duo-Lingo this is a fun free app great for learning Spanish and also has a lot of other language options like Portuguese, German, French and Italian! It’s great for building vocabulary and also engages you to speak, read and type.
3.) Practice! When you go into restaurants, malls, bookstores, convenient stores, ANYWHERE, use as much Spanish as you know! Speak to friends or family members who are fluent, the more you speak, the better you will get!
4.) Spanish flatmates. Room with Spanish people, talk to them in Spanish, and listening also goes a long way! I personally have not had Spanish flatmates, but my friends who do find this an essential experience for speaking. Living with a host mom for a month certainly forced me to learn fast!
5.) Watch films/shows in Spanish! Re-binge watch your favorite shows on Netflix in Spanish! (Yes, Netflix works in Spain!) Watch Disney movies in Spanish, or any movie you like in Spanish. This will help with pronunciation, listening skills in general, and also written Spanish if you’re watching shows captioned in Spanish. You’ll notice that Netflix Spain captions are specific to European Spanish. I’m addicted to the Netflix show Las Chicas del Cable “Cable Girls”. It’s actually one of the BEST shows to learn European Spanish (in my opinion)–it’s based in 1920’s Madrid and has great characters and dramatic stories–but it also has some beautiful human beings in it.
6.) Listen to Music in Spanish. You probably already listen to music in Spanish or have heard it or maybe you LOVE it! Try listening to more Spanish music and listen to words and sentences in the songs, try to understand what the words and phrases mean. Maybe translate them in your free time.
I will keep adding to this list the more I explore and learn. For more adventure, follow me on Instagram: @CravingCultures