Want to know the best way to learn Spanish on your own? Find out how to learn Spanish fluently with these 21 tips to learn Spanish as an adult.
Your New Year’s resolution was to learn Spanish, but here we are in the middle of February and you’ve definitely dropped off. If you’re starting to hate this whole language learning thing, don’t worry: I’ve been there.
After reading this post, you’ll have my top tips for how to learn Spanish as an adult.
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Why You Should Learn Spanish as an Adult
Since you’re reading this post, chances are you already have a reason for wanting to learn Spanish. If you’re struggling to find the motivation, you should spend some time nailing down your “why.”
Having a concrete reason for wanting to learn Spanish will push you to keep learning when your progress slows and studying starts to feel like a slog.
Here are some come reasons why people decide to start learning Spanish as an adult:
- Hey, some people just find learning another language fun! It’s an opportunity to learn about new cultures and countries without leaving the house (aka the perfect pandemic hobby).
- There are 20 countries (21 if you count Puerto Rico) where Spanish is an official language. Speaking the local language will enhance your trip and result in a deeper, more fulfilling experience.
- Work abroad
- Feeling stuck in your career? Take polishing that resume to the next level with some shiny new language skills.
- Even if you won’t necessarily be speaking Spanish in a work capacity, knowing Spanish will help you make the most of your experience living abroad for work.
- When I was living in Madrid, I met scores of other language assistants who were learning Spanish either to better communicate with a Spanish boyfriend or make dating easier. It’s tough to have a decent fight in two different languages!
Can you live in Mexico without speaking Spanish?
On my blog and YouTube channel, I share lots of information about moving to Mexico. But when my readers and subscribers ask me for my best piece of advice, here’s what I tell them:
Learn as much Spanish as possible before you move to Mexico.
From finding an apartment to navigating the residency process, your Spanish is going to be put to the test right off the bat and you’ll be really glad you didn’t wait until you got here to start learning.
But, that advice doesn’t always go over so well…
I think my readers and subscribers want me to tell them that they don’t need to speak Spanish to live in Mexico.
I have a little theory as to why that is:
The majority of my audience is based in the U.S. and most people in the US only speak one language: English. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 20% of Americans can converse in two or more languages. Compare that to 56% of Europeans.
If you’re part of the 80% of Americans that only speaks one language, then I understand why you’re having such a hard time learning Spanish:
There’s a block.
As an adult who’s never learned another language, you’re not sure if it’s actually possible.
But, I’m here to tell you that it IS possible.
I didn’t start taking learning Spanish seriously until I was 22 years old, and today, I have a level where I feel comfortable speaking Spanish in whatever situation I find myself.
Sure, you could get by living in Mexico and not speaking any Spanish. Lots of foreigners do it.
However, I don’t recommend resigning yourself to a life of pointing and grunting until you really (I mean, REALLY) tried to learn Spanish.
Come on: Do you really want to spend your life in Mexico relying on Google Translate for even simple conversations?
I didn’t think so.
Benefits of Learning Spanish as an Adult
If I had a peso for every time I wished I had taken my high school Spanish classes more seriously, well, your girl would have mucho dinero.
But, when I realized that all that time spent wishing was of better use to me spent studying, I started to tap into the benefits of learning Spanish as an adult.
Knowing your learning style
With high school, college and other adult educational experiences under your belt, you likely have a good idea of how you learn best.
Knowing whether you’re a visual learner or someone who learns by doing will help you determine which resources are the best fit for you. In the long run, this is going to save you a lot of time and money.
In high school, my classmates and I didn’t have any control over the Spanish curriculum. Every time the teacher rolled out the TV and pressed play on a 90s telenovela for us to watch and translate, the class would emit a collective groan.
When you learn Spanish as an adult, you don’t need to watch melodramatic telenovelas (unless you want to, of course).
Not only do you have complete control over what you watch, listen and read, but you can also choose who guides you on your journey to learn Spanish. Being able to choose a teacher that fits your learning style is a game-changer.
Money to Invest
It’s certainly possible to learn Spanish for free, but if you have some money to invest in your education, you’re more likely to make the most of your time and learn faster.
Learning Spanish is an affordable hobby, and whatever money you decide to invest in resources or private classes will pay off tenfold.
Before You Start Learning Spanish as an Adult
I know you’re eager to dive into the tips, but before we do, I want you to take a few minutes now to come up with ONE SENTENCE for WHY you want to learn Spanish.
Yes, I already touched on you needing a “why” earlier in this post, but I’m bringing it up again here because it’s that important.
Write your “why” out on a piece of paper and hang it somewhere that you’re going to see it every day. When (not if) there comes a day that you don’t feel like studying, look at your “why” and commit to just five minutes.
You’ll be five minutes closer to reaching your goals.
Oh, yes: GOALS.
Once you’ve nailed down your “why” for wanting to learn Spanish, spend some time thinking about your goals. The more specific you can be, the better.
For example, instead of saying you want to become fluent in Spanish, set a goal of passing a certain test or learning a certain number of new vocabulary words.
Even though learning a language never really ends, give yourself a realistic timeframe to achieve your goal. It will help to give your studies focus and make tracking your progress easier.
Be sure to regularly check-in with yourself, and don’t forget to celebrate how far you’ve come.
What is the best way for adults to learn Spanish?
I spent years searching for the one program, teacher, app, that was going to show me how to master Spanish.
But, the truth is that “the one” doesn’t exist.
- Showing up for your one Spanish class a week isn’t enough.
- Listening to Rosetta Stone on your commute to work isn’t enough.
- Duolingo alone isn’t enough.
Instead of looking for a silver bullet, you need a combination of resources and strategies. Using a variety of tips from this list is a great place to start.
Choose a handful of tips to begin creating your self-made immersion program.
Your immersion program should have ways to practice your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills with things that genuinely interest you.
Simple Tips to Learn Spanish as an Adult
I know that 21 tips sounds like a lot, but at one time or another, I’ve used every tip on this list to learn Spanish.
Don’t feel like you need to implement them all at once. That’s a recipe for burnout if I’ve ever heard one.
Instead, read through the list and pick out the tips that spark your interest. Bookmark this post so you can come back to it when your language learning journey needs a pick-me-up.
#1: Turn on the Subtitles
If you’ve read other lists of tips for learning Spanish, you’ve probably heard the one about watching shows and movies in Spanish. But, let’s face it: At the end of a long day, you just want to veg out in front of the TV and not struggle through a show.
Here’s my alternative:
For whatever you’re watching, go ahead and leave it in English, but turn the subtitles on in Spanish. You will seriously be amazed at how much new vocabulary you pick up, plus this is a great strategy for helping you grasp sentence structure.
#2: Watch Shows & Movies in Spanish
When you do decide you’re ready to watch something in Spanish, keep in mind that you don’t need to understand absolutely everything in order for it to be beneficial.
Personally, I love using studying as an excuse to rewatch some of my favorite shows. It’s easier for me to follow along because I’m already so familiar with it.
#3: Read Children’s Books
The first books I read in Spanish were from the Harry Potter series. When you’re learning Spanish, don’t feel like you need to read Don Quixote.
Children’s books are a great place to start.
#4: Be a Baby
When learning Spanish feels impossible, think back on how you learned English. If you were like pretty much every baby ever, then you learned by repeating everything that you heard.
When Taylor and I watch “Casa de Papel,” we’re constantly pausing the show to repeat lines from Nairobi, Denver and the other characters. Since we lived in Madrid, it’s really fun for us to try to imitate Spanish accents.
If you can’t wrap your head around being a baby, think of yourself as a parrot. Repetition is a fantastic technique especially if you have a strong aversion to grammar.
#5: Find a Grammar Book You Actually Like
If you’re looking for someone who will tell you that you don’t need to learn grammar to learn Spanish, you’re barking up the wrong arbol.
All the immersion in the world won’t do you any good unless you have a solid base in grammar.
Conjugations throwing you for a loop? One of the best Spanish grammar books is “501 Spanish Verbs” by Christopher Kendris.
Buy a physical copy and work your way through it with a few new verbs each day. The quizzes in the back are handy for keeping yourself on track.
#6: Label Your House
One of the simplest ways to study Spanish each and every day is labeling your house. Whenever you turn on the light or open the fridge, you will see the name of those common household items in Spanish.
Seeing the words day after day plus having a physical object to associate with the vocabulary word will cement it in your mind with almost zero effort.
Instead of using flimsy sticky notes, snag some learning Spanish stickers. This package includes 132 labels for items in your bedroom, bathroom, living room, kitchen and more.
#7: Capitalize on YouTube’s Free Resources
Thanks to the internet, it has never been easier or more affordable to learn Spanish.
YouTube alone offers a wealth of resources. Whatever your current level, you can find free videos to watch for whatever you need: vocabulary lists, specific grammar topics, listening comprehension exercises and more.
Need some help finding the perfect YouTube channel to help you learn Spanish? Check these out:
#8: Focus on a Single Topic
If you’re starting from scratch, learning an entire language can feel pretty overwhleming.
Especially when you’re first starting out, it’s helpful to narrow your focus and learn new vocabulary on a topic-by-topic basis. For example, you can begin with numbers and move on to colors, weather, animals, emotions and so forth.
But, don’t limit yourself to just vocabulary. Make it your mission to learn every angle of a topic (grammar, pronunciation, etc.).
#9: Work with a Tutor
Of all the tips for learning Spanish on this list, none have made a bigger impact on my Spanish than working with a tutor.
Working with a private tutor will give your studies structure and keep you on track to reach your goals.
I use italki to find professional Spanish teachers for affordable one-to-one classes. I have a whole other post with everything you need to know about learning a language online with italki.
Whether you use italki or another platform/method to find a Spanish tutor, it’s important to spend the time to find someone that you truly vibe with.
That means a teacher who is going to push you but is also someone that you feel comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to try out some different teachers until you find someone who matches your learning style.
#10: Chat with Native Speakers
My Spanish didn’t really start to take off until I got the heck out of my shell and started having real conversations with native speakers.
In addition to connecting language learners with professional teachers, italki can connect you with native Spanish speakers for intercambios.
An intercambio is a 50-50 language exchange.
Using italki, you find a partner and set up a time to chat via Skype. For the first 30 minutes, you speak in one language before switching to the other language for 30 minutes.
The person that you’re talking with is trying to learn English, and in exchange, they are helping you practice your Spanish.
#11: Text Your Way to Fluency
If having a full-on conversation via Skype sounds too intimidating at this point, don’t worry.
You can also find someone on italki who is willing to exchange WhatsApp messages or voice messages, and that’s a great way to build up confidence.
#12: Make Your Hobbies Bilingual
I doubt learning Spanish is the first hobby you’ve ever taken up in your adult life. What else do you like to do in your free time?
One of the best ways to learn Spanish on your own is pairing it with another of your favorite hobbies. For example, if you enjoy cooking, start looking up recipes in Spanish.
When you learn vocabulary related to your hobby, it’s more likely to stick since you’ll have memories associated with it. Learning about something you care about will also make studying Spanish a heck of a lot more interesting.
Keep this tip in mind when you’re looking for language partners. Find people to chat with that have similar interests so you never have to struggle with “what should we talk about?”
#13: Tune in to Spanish Podcasts
Like YouTube, another great place for free Spanish resources is wherever you listen to podcasts (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher).
One of the best Spanish language podcasts I’ve found to date is Learn Spanish and Go. Hosts Jim and May talk about a variety of interesting topics at a pace that’s perfect for upper-level beginners and intermediates.
Listening to podcasts in Spanish is the perfect chance to try out the “be a baby” technique. As you’re listening, repeat what you’re hearing and try to imitate May’s Mexican accent.
The episode about Mexican slang is perfect for practicing this strategy.
#14: Talk to Yourself
For a long time, the idea of having a conversation with another person in Spanish terrified me. Even simple exchanges like ordering a drink or paying at the grocery store left me tongue-tied.
To help me get over my fear of speaking Spanish, I started to have conversations with myself.
Yep, you read that right: I talked to myself in Spanish.
I’d imagine a scenario like going to the bank or asking for directions and play it out in my head. If no one was around, I would actually speak out loud to practice the pronunciation.
#15: Keep a Diary in Spanish
In favor of what I like to think of as the flashier skills (reading, listening and speaking), writing in Spanish often gets overlooked.
Since you want all of your language skills to progress at a similar pace, keep a diary in Spanish to practice writing. You can even do this in the notes app on you phone.
Make a point of writing even just a paragraph at the end of each day. This tip is especially helpful for learning how to conjugate verbs in the past tenses.
#16: Go for a Streak Goal on Duolingo
While I don’t think that Duolingo is the Holy Grail for language learning that some people do, I still believe it’s a helpful tool for making daily studying a habit.
I love that Duolingo tracks how many consecutive days you’ve logged in and completed lessons. Keeping your streak going can be source of motivation.
The longest streak ever on Duolingo is more than seven years long (2,805 days). Just think of all the Spanish you will learn trying to make it into Duolingo’s Streak Hall of Fame.
#17: Listen to Spanish Music
Taylor, my partner, fell in love with Spanish while listening to rap. He would listen to raperos and raperas from Spain, Venezuela and Mexico. He loved their flow so much that he wanted to know what they were saying.
Spotify has lots of Spanish language music playlists to choose from, and I’ve found a lot of my favorite artists this way.
If you’re into rap, check out Nicki Nicole. She’s from Argentina, and her song “Colocao” is an absolute banger.
#18: Set the Language on Your Devices to Spanish
As with turning on the Spanish subtitles for whatever show you’re watching, this simple tip is great for passive learning.
Depending on your current level, having your devices set to Spanish may take a little getting used to, but all the new vocabulary you’re going to pick up will make any initial struggles worth it.
Thanks to my Instagram account being set to Spanish, the verb “seguir” is solidified in my mind since the first thing I see when I log in is how many seguidores (followers) I have.
#19: Invest in a Language Course
When I feel like my language learning needs some structure, I tend to gravitate toward private tutors for help, but investing in a language course is another popular option.
Last year, I bought a grammar course by Lengalia. The information was good, but it didn’t draw me in like I’d hoped.
This year, I would love to try a course by Babbel or Lingoda with the goal of taking a proficiency test at the end.
I’m particularly interested in the Lingoda Marathon which consists of taking classes every day for three months, six months or an entire year. If you attend all the classes, you get a full refund.
#20: Find an Accountability Partner
Research shows that having an accountability partner for reaching your goals increases your chance of success to 95%. If you want to achieve your Spanish-learning goals, find someone to join you on your journey.
Fortunate for me, I live with my accountability partner.
Even though I live in Mexico, spending more time in the house during the pandemic has meant fewer opportunities to speak Spanish. Recently, Taylor and I decided to set aside 30 minutes each day to chat in Spanish.
I’m excited to explore other ways that he and I can push each other to improve our language skills this year.
#21: Make Your Own Challenge
The key to mastering any skill is consistency and learning Spanish is no exception.
If you’re looking to jumpstart your language learning or push past a plateau, consider a self-imposed challenge.
At the end of last year when I felt my Spanish skills starting to slip, I challenged myself to take three 30-minute conversation classes per week on italki for two months. The challenge provided a framework for consistent studying, and I was surprised with how much I improved in 60 days.
Final Thoughts on Learning Spanish as an Adult
Whenever you implement one of these tips for learning Spanish, take a moment and pat yourself on the back. Celebrating little wins is essential for learning Spanish as an adult.
Some people—always people who have never tried to learn another language—think it’s either you know nothing or you’re speaking at a native level.
In reality, fluency is a spectrum and no one’s language learning journey is linear.
For a long time, I didn’t celebrate small wins.
I was in this weird headspace where I decided that I was just going to wait to start speaking Spanish until I was sure that I wasn’t going to make any mistakes.
As you can probably guess, paralyzed by my fear, I plateaued my own progress. Trying and failing, making mistakes: it’s all part of the process.
And, that’s scary. No one likes to be wrong, but fluency isn’t about being perfect.
You’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself if you’re trying to pass as a native speaker. While that’s a fabulous big-picture long-term goal, you need to remember that right now it’s enough just to be understood.
How long does it realistically take to learn Spanish?
Now, I’m not going to lie to you: Learning Spanish is hands down, one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it’s also one of the most rewarding.
That’s why I want to tell you to keep going. You’ve got this!
Remember that imperfect progress is still progress. Keep in mind that learning Spanish is a marathon, not a sprint.
Even spending five minutes every day studying is better than one hour once a week.
Don’t forget to celebrate the small wins and be wary of burnout.
If you have any tips of your own for learning Spanish, be sure to leave those in the comments.
Since our language learning journeys are never over, I’m always looking for new resources and new tools to improve my own Spanish skills.
Where are you on your journey with Spanish?