Learning a new language shouldn’t be limited to textbooks and coursework! Here, tutor Kaitlin W. shares her (easy) ideas for practicing Spanish throughout the day…
I don’t come from a Spanish-speaking family, nor is my family from a country where Spanish is spoken. Yet every time I open my mouth to speak Spanish, I’m asked where I am from.
I have a near-native accent that leaves little trace of my Anglo roots. I often make people guess what country I’m from, and I’ve heard everything from Spain to Cuba! Students always want to know my secret. How did I manage to essentially eradicate my native accent and achieve a level of pronunciation that native speakers themselves envy?
Below are a few of the ways that I created my own self-immersion program. By including these activities in your everyday life, you can learn and practice Spanish without feeling like it’s homework!
Practice Reading in Spanish
1. Change the language on your devices
Consider changing your phone, computer, tablet, Facebook page, and anything else with a language option to Spanish. This is an easy way to practice Spanish, since you’ll see more of the vocabulary on a daily basis.
For example, every time you look at your phone, you’ll see the date in Spanish, reinforcing the days of the week and months of the year. Facebook will ask you if you would like to agregar amigos, teaching you the verb that means “to add.”
Seeing a few of the same words over and over again will help the language feel more natural to you, and you’ll find it becomes easier to incorporate them into everyday life with very little effort involved!
2. Research in Spanish
How many times a day do you Google something that you’re curious about? I use Wikipedia at least once a day, and I always go for the Spanish version of the website first. Next time you need information about your favorite celebrity, look at their page in Spanish and see how much you can understand before switching the language to English!
3. Pick up a Spanish newspaper
In most cities, these can be found for free on the street. You can also download apps and read the news on your phone. I recommend El País, an international newspaper from Spain. I like to read the articles out loud to practice Spanish pronunciation in addition to my reading skills. This is also a great way to stay informed about what is happening in Spanish-speaking countries.
4. Read a book in Spanish
I recommend beginning with teen literature or popular novels that don’t have a lot of challenging vocabulary. You can also start with poetry, which is challenging but shorter. Pablo Neruda is one of the most famous Spanish-language poets of the 20th century, and he has written beautiful love poems, such as “If You Forget Me” (Si tú me olvidas).
Another great idea is to pick a book in English that you like and read the translation. All of the Harry Potter books are available in Spanish, as well as other popular novels such as “The Da Vinci Code”, “The Life of Pi”, and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. You can find anything on Amazon!
As you build your vocabulary, try some books that were originally written in Spanish. I really enjoyed “La Sombra del Viento” by Carlos Ruíz Zafón. This popular book uses some advanced vocabulary, but mainly tries to use common words in unconventional ways, making it a very satisfying read for a conversational Spanish speaker. Be sure to read with a dictionary and make note of new and interesting words!
5. Take notice of signs and brochures in Spanish
Depending on where you are, you might see signs in Spanish — pay attention to these! If you purchase an item with directions listed in Spanish, try reading those too. You can do this with shampoo bottles while you’re in the shower, as well.
6. Play games in Spanish
Once your phone is in Spanish, many of your games will appear in Spanish, too. Trivia games force you to be quick on your feet as you practice Spanish, as many of them are timed. If that isn’t your speed, WordBrain offers an interesting vocabulary challenge in Spanish!
(Editor’s Note: Check out some other tutor-approved Spanish apps and games here!)
Practice Listening in Spanish
7. Watch Univisión, Telemundo, and Netflix
Don’t knock telenovelas until you try them! Netflix and Hulu now offer shows and movies in Spanish, some of which include English subtitles so you can check how much you understand. You can also watch your favorite movies with Spanish subtitles.
As for telenovelas, I recommend the ones from Mexico. The production value is higher than other Latin American countries and the accent is faint. They speak a pure Spanish. Typically, accents of Colombia, Argentina, and Chile are harder to understand if you’re just getting started.
Don’t have Netflix or Hulu? Try watching Univisión or Telemundo! I love Caso Cerrado, a Spanish-language Judge Judy!
8. Get Spanish language music for your daily commute
Why not practice Spanish during your commute? Singing along to songs will help your pronunciation and helps you begin to think in Spanish. Make an effort to learn the lyrics!
You can get music in any genre in Spanish, just like in English. If you like soft rock, I suggest Maná. For reggaetón, a Spanish rap, try Don Omar. You might recognize “Danza Kuduro”! Juanes is great for pop music, and for salsa, try listening to Marc Anthony, Celia Cruz, and Juan Luis Guerra. My favorite artist, however, is a jazzy Mexican rock group called Camila!
9. Listen to podcasts in Spanish
While you’re sitting at your desk, in your car on your way to work, or at home cooking dinner, put on a podcast in Spanish. It could be one aimed at teaching Spanish or a Spanish-language podcast about another topic.
For learning conversational Spanish, I recommend Coffee Break Spanish, which focuses on conversations for traveling abroad, like how to order coffee! If you are a true beginner, SpanishPod101 is another great one. They have all levels of Spanish for any student!
Practice Writing in Spanish
10. Write your shopping list in Spanish
Before you head out to buy something, look up the things you need to purchase and make a list in Spanish! As you find your items in the store and cross it off your list, actively think about the new word and associate it with the item you’ve just picked up. This is how I learned a lot of Spanish vocabulary for food!
11. Write a blog in Spanish
Whether you write a public blog or a more traditional private journal, writing is a great way to practice Spanish. You can write about any topic that you are interested in, which makes your learning experience fun and personalized. You could also make it as simple as writing about your day. Taking a few minutes to practice your Spanish writing is a great way to keep your mind thinking in the language and to pick up on any grammatical issues you may be having.
12. Get a Spanish-speaking pen pal
There are many websites, like iTalki, that connect you to people who are trying to learn English. I have met friends in Colombia and Chile this way, and we are still Facebook friends to this day! You can send emails or texts, or use Skype to practice reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Practice Speaking in Spanish
13. Visit Hispanic bodegas and supermarkets
If you enjoy cooking, you may have fun shopping at Hispanic supermarkets and buying ingredients to make dishes from Spanish-speaking countries. If you can’t find the item you’re looking for, ask an employee for help in Spanish!
14. Talk in Spanish… even if you’re alone!
Those moments when you don’t have anyone to speak with may be your best opportunity to really speak without inhibitions! Take advantage of alone time to speak out loud, even if no one is there to correct you. As long as you are practicing the sounds of the language, you are making progress! Speak your thoughts, narrate your day, and talk to your dog! We all do weird things when we’re alone… why not make your weird thing productive?
15. Teach someone what you already know
Teaching can be a great way to reinforce the knowledge that you already have without even realizing that you’re doing it. When you have to search for ways to explain something to someone, you’re actually explaining it to yourself all over again! This can be as simple as teaching your friends and family what you’ve learned.
I continue many of these rituals daily to keep my Spanish as strong as ever. I also give my students resources to implement their own immersion programs. Everyone has different reasons for learning a language, and it’s important for students to know that they have control over their learning process and can tailor their experience to fit their needs. You control your learning, so make it fun!