How I Learned Spanish & How You Can, Too

Take Spanish lessons before coming to Spain

Take Spanish lessons before coming to Spain


By Christine Medina

My naïve, 22-year-old self thought simply being immersed in Spain would make me fluent in the language in a matter of months. This is the same 22-year old who came to Spain completely unprepared in terms of Spanish language skills–yup—I was the one who knew a few colors, how to count to ten and say hello, goodbye, please, and thank you. Learning Spanish was going to be a long road for me!

After a bleary nine-hour plane ride to London, then another 2.5 hours to Málaga, I arrived in the airport sleep-deprived, nervous and enveloped in the Spanish language. My head was spinning! Making my way to baggage claim, as luck would have it, my bags weren’t there. I had my first crisis in Spain. So, I mustered up an embarrassing “No hablo Español” and pointed out the empty bag carousal to the nearest airport official, and he grumpily pointed me toward the right place.

Read in Spanish to increase your vocabulary

Read in Spanish to increase your vocabulary

Though my bag and I were shortly reunited, it quickly dawned on me that I had no idea what I had just gotten myself into by deciding to come to Spain. After all, only someone crazy would move to a country without knowing the language, right? But, I’ve come a long way. For someone who didn’t major or minor in the language like most of the young people who come to Spain, I’d say I’ve come leaps and bounds from that first touchdown in Málaga.

Here’s what I did to learn the language of Cervantes, and what I recommend for you:

Take classes before coming to Spain! (duh)

I did take a class or two of Spanish in high school and college, but did I remember anything I learned aside from above-mentioned kindergarten speak? Nope! I’d brush up on your Español before hopping the pond so you feel more confident in your abilities once you’re here. Check out a local community college or a language academy. Sites like Groupon and Living Social sometimes offer steep discounts on language classes, too.

Once in Spain, arrange different intercambios

Intercambios, or language exchanges, helped me step up my level of Spanish greatly. It was like learning to swim, I could either drown and give up, or struggle to stay above water, (which is what I definitely did) until month after month I was finally floating (with a life jacket).

Post up flyers around town or put up a message on and the offers will come in. Spaniards in general are very interested in learning English, especially with a native speaker.

Learning Spanish will help you order lunch!

Learning Spanish will help you order lunch!

Study on your own, and stick to a study schedule

I use Practice Makes Perfect: Spanish Verb Tenses by Dorothy Richmond and 501 Spanish Verbs because I still slip up on grammar. I try to make a point to sit down and study daily during the AM, but it does take a lot of discipline. But nothing worth it comes easily now, does it?

Study while you wait

I find myself waiting a lot in Spain: for the bus, on the bus, walking to and from work, etc. Though listening to music is tempting, I always try to fit in a podcast or two from Coffee Break Spanish, free to download from iTunes. If Coffee Break Spanish isn’t your thing, there are tons of Spanish language podcasts available.

Spanish is useful when it comes to money and bargaining

Spanish is useful when it comes to money and bargaining

Learn Spanish doing something fun

I love going to the movies, and one way I work on my listening skills is by watching films in Spanish. I especially enjoy watching Spanish films, since they’re original and not dubbed. This goes for the TV in my house, too—always in Spanish.

So if you enjoy yoga, sign up for a class in Spain. Cooking more your thing? Join a cooking class. Same goes for any hobby really—and it makes language learning all the more enjoyable.

Study those verbos!

Study those verbos

Have you studied Spanish or some other language? Tell us your tips in the comments section below.

7 Responses

  1. Excellent tips and information. I’m always searching out new ways to learn and practice Spanish and try to study an hour every day.

    For me, Coffee Break Spanish is likely the best resource I use as well. Excellent tool that I cannot recommend to enough people.

    In addition, I read children’s books to help improve my vocabulary as well as grammar. The stories are always easy to follow which makes it even better. I sit down with the book and dictionary and dive in.

    Finally, I recommend watching Spanish movies. It is a great way to listen to the language and slowly work out what they are saying. 3 that I’d recommend are – “Y Tu Mama Tambien”, “Motorcycle Diaries”, and “The Skin I Live In”.

    Great stuff and thank you for sharing.

  2. Ayngelina says:

    Now that I am back in Canada my Spanish is getting really bad, I have been thinking about intercambios here – now only if I can find a Spaniard!

  3. admin says:

    Hi Warren, great tips on Spanish movies. Those are some good ones. Amores Perros, Abrazos Rotos and Volver could be added to the list.


  4. admin says:

    Suggestion Ayngelina. Go to It has groups in cities all over the world. Many of them have language exchange groups with people who are passionate about learning a language. Good luck! Let us know if you find a group.

  5. Melanie Murrish says:

    I’m just about through Benny Lewis’s language hacking guide, and I really do believe speaking is the key-I understand and can read a fair bit of Spanish but totally seize up once I’ve said hello and a few pleasantries. I’m also using Notes in Spanish which teaches what they call “cool” Spanish; in other words real spanish phrases that spaniards actually use, as opposed to those taught in a traditional classroom/textbook. I’ll let you know how I do with speaking from day one tomorrow!

  6. admin says:

    Yes, I met Benny a while back. Haven’t used any of his guides though.

  1. November 29, 2012

    […] Here are my ideas for improving your Spanish little by little (I should note that I “stole” ideas #3 and #4 from this post on The Spain Scoop): […]

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