Most people who want to learn Spanish never actually do it.
But with a smart approach, you may actually succeed. 😉
Today I’ll share with you a comprehensive strategy for learning Spanish quickly.
To start, I’ll go over some basic questions and what tools work the best if you’re learning Spanish on your own.
After that, I’ll explain 5 keys to language-learning success.
Lastly, I’ll explain how you can “get over the hump” and become fluent in Spanish.
Let’s dive in.
Why Not Skip Ahead and Just Learn Medical Spanish?
If you wanna talk to your patients Spanish, you could just focus on learning medical phrases.
That’s because you’ll understand the context a lot better, so it’ll stick in your head more easily.
How Long Does it Take to Learn Spanish?
If you’re a beginner, you may be wondering how long it takes to get the basics down.
Or if you already speak at an intermediate level, how long does it take to “level up”?
Here’s the deal:
That answer depends on your past experience, how much time you’re willing to spend, what learning tools you use, and other variables.
Here’s one reason to be optimistic-
You Can Make Faster Progress Than You Did Before
Whatever your starting point and however slow learning may have been in the past, it can be different now.
You’re more motivated, and more mature. And if you didn’t already, now you have excellent learning tools at your fingertips.
While you can’t learn everything overnight, if you put in consistent effort over a period of time, you can expect substantial progress over weeks or months, rather than years.
Start With These Learning Tools
In conjunction with this strategy guide, I’ve also created a curated list of some of the best resources for learning Spanish. Most of them are free.
That resource list works hand-in-hand with this guide, so read through it when you get a chance.
Here’s a quick summary of what’s included:
- Books – Tend to be the best organized and most comprehensive resources. Even if reading isn’t your favorite, pick at least one book to use as a reference.
- Podcasts – Not only is active listening an essential part of learning a language, using a podcast means you can learn on the go, such as while driving or working out. Pick one or two podcasts to start.
- Apps – Work well for repetition, practice, and learning on the go. Pick at least one to start.
- Websites – Have practically unlimited information, so they can be great references. Some are helpful for practice as well. Bookmark at least one that you like.
Choose a couple resources from each category, but don’t go overboard. If you have too many options, you’ll probably feel overwhelmed and give up.
What About Expensive or Trendy Courses?
While I’m sure they can work well for some people, in this article I’m focusing on free tools you can use to learn Spanish on your own.
But feel free to check those premium products if you don’t mind spending some extra money.
5 Keys for Learning Spanish Efficiently
Once you’ve selected a few learning tools from the resource page, here’s what you should actually do with them.
1. Start Small, But Consistent
Learning a language is a lot like learning to play a musical instrument. It may seem daunting at first, but if you put in a few minutes of practice each day, it gradually gets easier and more fun.
So start small, but be consistent.
Starting small makes you more likely to stick with a new habit, because it doesn’t feel overwhelming.
And by practicing consistently, you’ll retain more (because of the repetition), and things will start to make more sense as you see them from different angles.
To be consistent, think about how you can set aside at least 5 focused minutes a day. Then work your way up gradually.
Pick a time to do it, such as first thing in the morning or during your lunch break. Then set some sort of reminder.
Establishing a habit of regular study and practice will give you a foundation for success.
2. Use All Your Senses
Another huge key to success in language learning is to involve as many of your senses as possible.
While people have different learning styles, everyone will benefit from a combination of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic stimuli. The more ways you experience something, the more you’ll remember.
How does this apply to language learning?
Make sure you do a combination of reading (visual), writing (visual and kinesthetic), speaking (auditory and kinesthetic), and listening (auditory) during your study sessions.
As an added bonus, see if you can move physically, handle objects, or use your sense of smell as well. For example, you could occur to a Mexican restaurant while you practice.
Overall, by using more of your senses you’ll retain more of what you learn, and you’ll be better prepared for various modes of communication in Spanish (like writing and speaking).
3. Read and Talk Out Loud
Be sure to read out loud whenever possible from whichever book, app, or website you’re using.
Similarly, repeat words out loud when prompted by a podcast. And practice saying some Spanish words out loud when you’re in the shower…instead of just singing. 😉 (Or sing in Spanish, haha.)
Don’t be embarrassed if you feel silly at first, that’s completely normal. Speaking out loud in Spanish is an oft-neglected but effective way to use more of your senses and train your vocal muscles.
4. Listen Carefully
When you’re listening to people or audio recordings, listen intently, even if you don’t understand all the words.
Your ears and brain will adapt much faster if you FOCUS while listening, and try to pick out any words or syllables that you can decipher.
For example, when I first moved to Guatemala, I could hardly understand anything people were saying. But I noticed if I focused my attention, I started understanding a few scattered syllables and some words here or there. After that, my learning accelerated.
It’s hard when you’re first starting — you’ll probably want to to tune out what you don’t understand. But listening carefully is well worth the effort in the long run.
5. Don’t be Afraid to Mess Up
The final key to success is don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Because you will. It’s inevitable, but it’s part of the learning process.
And if you say something wrong and get corrected, you’ll probably remember it the next time.
So get out of your comfort zone, and get used to using language skills that you haven’t fully mastered.
It’s an essential part of learning, and people are usually just glad you’re trying!
Putting it all together
Now that you know the keys to success…what do you do next?
Once you’ve picked some learning tools to use (not too many), write down a tentative study plan that incorporates all of them.
Think about how you can consistently use all your senses, so you can retain more of what you learn.
Notice with that plan you’d spend a total of 15 min of focused study time each day (row 1, in the image) — less than the time it takes to watch an episode of The Office.
The other activities (row 2) can be done on your commute, at the gym, or in the shower. So you’re kind of multitasking, and taking advantage of your time.
You can start even smaller if you want. Whatever you do, make sure it doesn’t feel overwhelming, or you’ll probably just give up.
Naturally, each person’s situation is different, and this is just an example. But I think it’s doable for most people.
Feel free to make changes, but having some type of schedule is essential for success.
Ideally, tell someone about your plan so you’ll be held accountable. Research has shown you’re a lot more likely to follow through if you tell someone else about your goals.
If you get side-tracked or miss a day, don’t give up. Just remember WHY you want to learn in the first place, and try not to miss two days in a row.
Look for Opportunities to Apply What You Learn
Think back to your medical training-
During didactics, that stuff you were learning seemed really abstract. But once you had a little experience with a medical condition, it was a lot easier to remember, and you were more motivated to keep learning.
The same is true of languages.
Look for chances to apply what you’re learning, even if it’s something really simple. The more you do that, the more motivated you’ll feel, and the easier learning will become.
Final Steps to Fluency: Virtual Immersion & Real Immersion
After a few days or weeks of consistent study, it will be time to move further out of your comfort zone, and start putting things in practice.
Let’s talk about 2 versions of what that looks like.
You don’t have to be in Spain or South America to practice Spanish. You can simulate a lot of the same experiences through what I’ll call “virtual immersion”.
Virtual immersion means putting yourself in situations where you’ll be exposed to Spanish and have a chance to use it, without actually traveling abroad.
Use a few phrases at a Mexican restaurant, find a friend to practice with, or just talk to yourself (out loud) in Spanish.
Read a Spanish newspaper out loud, even if you don’t understand all the words.
Try a couple sentences with your next Spanish-speaking patient before the interpreter comes, or during a procedure — when they’re a “captive audience”. 😉
Other Way to Practice Virtual Immersion
- Read other Spanish books, magazines, etc aloud to practice pronunciation. Your favorite children’s book, an early chapter book, or a news website can all work.
- Try additional podcasts or audiobooks in Spanish. Practice listening intently to improve your word recognition and comprehension.
- Watch YouTube videos, TV shows, or movies in Spanish, preferably with matching Spanish subtitles so you can listen and compare. Here’s one example from YouTube (kind of a silly show but somewhat amusing, and you can turn on Spanish subtitles).
- Go to a Hispanic grocery story, read the signs, and ask simple questions in Spanish.
- Meet up with a friend and practice; make a rule that no English is allowed for 15 minutes.
- Make Spanish-speaking friends and try speaking their language…maybe even someone who doesn’t speak much English.
- Video chat with someone who speaks Spanish. Here’s a site that helps you find language partners to chat with. Or you can try this app.
- Join some kind of group, club, or other organization that mainly operates in Spanish. For example, some local church meetings are in Spanish and open to visitors.
With a little discipline (and creativity!), you can gradually expose yourself to more and more situations where you’ll be hearing, reading, or speaking Spanish, even without traveling to a Spanish-speaking country.
Whatever you do, don’t be scared. Remember that getting over the fear of messing up in front of people is an essential step, so the sooner you start crossing that bridge, the better.
Ultimately nobody’s going to laugh at you….at least not to your face. 😉 Most people will just be impressed that you are trying!
Don’t panic if you don’t know how to say something! Calmly brainstorm for a moment, and if you can’t figure it out, ask for help. Look it up afterward, and write it down so you can remember it next time.
What about Actual Immersion?
Ultimately, when you’re ready, you can try real immersion by traveling to a Spanish speaking country.
Only this time, don’t stay in a resort. 😉
Resorts tend to be pleasure immersive, but not language immersive.
Get out there among the common people, make a new friend or two, and order some tacos.
Better yet, stay with someone who only speaks Spanish (via AirBnb, for instance). Then you’ll really be forced to practice!
Regardless of your starting point, you can make rapid progress with Spanish if you use the right strategy.
Remember Five Keys for Success:
- Start small & be consistent
- Use all your senses
- Read and talk out loud
- Listen Intently
- Don’t be afraid to mess up, it’s normal!
Make a simple schedule using some of those learning resources, and commit to the schedule.
Put in a little time every day, even just a few minutes. Set reminders and have an accountability partner.
Try to use all your senses, and don’t be scared to make some mistakes. Every little bit will help, and chances are you’ll progress faster than you expected!
Now, go get started. Roughly 500 million native Spanish speakers await. 🙂