We have all heard it. Kids are better at learning languages than adults. They are like sponges that absorb all the information you present to them!
Well, while much of this is true, you would be surprised to know that there are a lot of “yes… but” when it comes to comparing how kids and adults learn languages. Turns out, a great deal of this depends on the environment where learners are regardless of their age. And in fact, recent studies have shown adults can actually learn languages as quickly as children. And data even shows that the age in which someone can reach nativelike fluency is much later than you might expect.
As a teacher, my favorite student population to work with is, actually, the older adults. You see, adults might have a lot more responsibilities and worries of everyday life but they are also committed, better at focusing, highly enthusiastic, better at taking notes and much more willing to learn. And in my humble teacher’s opinion, that’s a perfect student right there!
So today, I would like to show you 10 ways you can learn Spanish fast as an adult even if you think it’s not possible unless you move abroad. If you follow these tips and create your own immersive experience; then when you actually do go abroad to a Spanish speaking country, the knowledge you will already possess will greatly enhance your travel experience:
1. Focus on high frequency words:
When you think of learning Spanish from scratch, you might feel overwhelmed to think you need to start from the very beginning (alphabet, colors, numbers). And yes, you will eventually need to get this common basic knowledge. But, it doesn’t happen often that you will need to spell words or name colors in everyday conversation. Because of this, my first recommendation is to focus on high frequency words (as in the most frequently used ones), verbs and general vocabulary, and even popular expressions for greeting and replying.
I have put together a chart with high frequency (HF) words you might want to start mastering. Use this one or build your own. Plus, this is something you can build on as you make progress. Add new words you learn and review and drill them as often as possible.
|HF verbs||HF adverbs||HF nouns||HF articles/prepositions||HF
|Ser (to be)||Siempre (always)||El año (year)||de (from, of)||Este, esta
|Estar (to be)||Nunca (never)||La parte
|El (the masc)||todo
|Tener (to have)||A menudo
|La (the fem.)||ese
|Hacer (to do)||Mucho/Muchas veces
(a lot/many times)
|Poder (can/be able to)||A diario
|Decir (to say)||A veces
|Una (a fem.)||bueno
|Ir (to go)||De vez en cuando
(once in a while)
|Unos (a masc. plural)||primer(a)
(oh my god!)
|Ver (to see)||Rara vez
|Un (dos, tres…) (a)||mayor
|Comer (to eat)||Poco/Pocas Veces
(a few times)
|Tomar (to take or to drink)||Semanalmente/
(from, of the (masc)
2. Less is More:
It might sound contradictory but if you want to learn fast you need to start slow! In other words, if you try to learn and understand everything at once, you have a higher chance of getting frustrated and quitting. Instead, try to focus on fewer words and verb conjugations at a time. Choose a small number of high frequency vocabulary and master it. Start with 5 to 10 words. And repeat them, drill them, use them in examples, make questions with them… Work them into your Spanish repertoire, then move on to the next group of words. Before you know it, you will know 25 verbs well as opposed to 40 not so well.
3. Watch your favorite TV shows in Spanish (but not the ones you think!)
By now, it’s no secret that watching shows in a language you want to learn can be highly beneficial at helping you learn this language. But if you are a beginner in Spanish, instead of watching a TV show from a South American country or Spain, try this! Watch any popular TV show you already know and love but dubbed in Spanish and/or with Spanish subtitles!
Yes, you will not necessarily learn about the culture or any colorful idiomatic expressions. But you will learn how to hold a conversation in standard Spanish (Spanish that is understood anywhere) Sitcoms make great examples of this. For example, if you have binge watched Friends more times than you can remember, try watching it in Spanish now. The advantage of already knowing what happens will speed up your knowledge of vocabulary and sentence structure. Give it a try!
4. Become a notetaker master:
There’s a chance you are used to taking notes in school or during a lecture. But have you ever taken notes while watching TV? Along with the previous suggestion, it’s the idea of listening or watching Spanish content in a productive and active way. As you watch the news, a TV show or listen to a podcast, take notes of everything you can hear and understand and of anything that catches your attention. Whether be examples of structures or verbs you already know or interesting expressions or new vocabulary to look up after. Actively watching and listening, can take your Spanish knowledge to the next level.
5. Listen to INFORMAL interviews:
A lot of my students love watching the news in Spanish. But strangely enough, I hardly ever recommend my students to watch the news in order to practice their Spanish. Why is that? I find that the way news anchors and reporters speak is not in a natural conversational way. Just think about the way the news is broadcasted in your country. No one speaks like that in everyday life. So instead, I would recommend watching talk shows with informal interviews. Talk Shows often portrait a more accurate representation of what conversational Spanish sounds like. The jokes, the expressions, the mannerisms and even the way people greet and say goodbye to each other. Listening to two people conversing with each other is a great way to absorb real language and a great example to imitate.
6. Find a practical grammar book:
When choosing a Spanish grammar book, it is crucial to select one that is simple and concise in the way information is presented. Go for books that contain infographics, charts and exercises with an answer key. If you need a little help finding the right book for you, here are the 100 Best Spanish Grammar Books of All Time.
7. Join conversation groups online:
Nowadays, we are lucky to find communities with similar interests, literally, at our fingertips. Joining a Spanish online conversation group can be one of the most beneficial actions you can take. You choose from websites such as MeetUp or TakeLessons Live where you can join conversation Spanish classes for different levels and that are extremely budget-friendly. I would recommend that once you find a group you like, you stick to it. Many groups have regulars who come back to class every week creating a sense of camaraderie that proves key to making fast progress in language learning.
8. Keep a journal:
Even if you are not used to keeping a journal in your daily life, doing so in Spanish can be a fantastic way to practice and stay sharp. Writing a paragraph every night or morning can be a helpful way to keep your vocabulary fresh and improve your overall fluency. Also, if you want to use vocabulary that you still don’t know in Spanish, simply look it up! Using a dictionary (online or physical) is not prohibited by any means in language learning and is, in fact, a key tool for increasing your vocabulary bank.
9. Create your own immersive experience:
A lot of us fantasize with the idea of moving to a foreign country that speaks a language we wish to know and becoming fluent in it in only a few months. But not only is this not always possible, some might argue it’s not even that enjoyable. As you might imagine, before you can actually master the language there will be a plethora of uncomfortable and confusing moments and experiences while you even start to figure out what’s going on. Instead, try creating your own immersive experience at home while you get the hang of it. To do this, you can play music in Spanish, have Spanish news in the background, follow Spanish vloggers on YouTube and other social media. Simply put, surround yourself with the language as often as possible and whenever possible.
10. Find a tutor:
I saved the obvious for last! But, in all seriousness, finding yourself a tutor you enjoy learning with is ESSENTIAL for fast learning. Your tutor will not only provide you with corrections and new vocabulary but it will also know how to present the lessons to you in a pedagogical way and that you can handle at your level. Make sure to do your homework so you can always have questions for your teacher. Getting a Spanish instructor is, of course, not a requirement by any means; however, having the ability to have a native or nativelike speaker to converse with and learn from is sure to skyrocket your Spanish speaking abilities.