As a family of five we moved to a Spanish-speaking country with minimal ability to speak the language.  But through trial and error we have now (largely) mastered it. Although we all are at very different developmental stages, it has been fascinating to watch the language progression across our family as each member used very different learning modalities and styles. Below we will share best ways to learn Spanish in 6 months.

If you have moved to a country where the native language is Spanish, learning the language is important for so many reasons! When you understand the native language it fundamentally changes your experience in that culture.  Here are a few of the significant benefits of learning a new language…

Learning Spanish allows you to assimilate into your new culture. When you learn the native language of your new community you are able to adapt and connect with the culture in a much more meaningful way.  Language connects us, and when you are able to communicate and talk with locals, you not only understand them and the culture on a deeper level, but their history and way of life. When you comprehend the language it allows the experiences, traditions and happenings of your new environment to take on a deeper meaning.   

Lasting Changes and Improvements to the Brain: Language acquisition creates new neural pathways and connections.  These new pathways have a variety of benefits, including improving your ability to learn new things, reinforcing existing cognitive functioning, and increasing your recall capabilities and memory.  Additionally, there are studies that have illuminated learning a new language improves intercultural competencies, interpersonal relationships, problem-solving, and multitasking! 

Creating Opportunities: Did you know that thousands of companies are actively seeking individuals who speak multiple languages? Not only does learning a new language create opportunities for job seekers, it also creates opportunities to connect socially and integrate into your new community.  It allows for new social opportunities by being able to recreate, socialize, and connect with individuals who speak a different language. Learning the language allows you to meet, connect, and communicate with literally millions of new people.  This will allow you to engage, befriend, and date new people.

The benefits of learning a new language are vast and diverse! Putting an effort into learning a new language has a multitude of benefits that not only change you as a person but also create opportunities while expanding your worldview!

1. Setting Goals and Expectations

Setting Goals and Expectations

When learning a new language it’s important to understand a few things at the outset…

Goals

It is essential to set goals when learning a new language.  This will keep you making forward progress and will help you overcome frustration when you feel like you are not making headway (which is a natural part of the learning process!).  

When setting your goals it is important to understand what you are trying to achieve.  If you want to talk to locals then make the goal of speaking to someone every day. If you want to read the local newspaper, then perhaps focus on vocabulary words and translation.  Make new goals every week and be very willing to change them and readjust accordingly.  As you learn a language and become acquainted with a new community, you will realize that your goals and objectives will change in time – so stay flexible!

Learning Process and Common Challenges

It is important to understand that language learning and acquisition is not a linear road nor a one-size-fits-all process!  Language experts all agree that acquisition has periods of turbulence and frustration, as well as rapid progression.  It is really important to understand that this is part of the process and to honor the phases where you feel stuck and trust that this is part of the process.  Many people stop trying to learn when they realize they have plateaued, but recognizing this is a natural step helps diminish frustration.  Figure out what works for you, try new and different modalities, and keep at it!

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2. Building a Solid Foundation

Building a Solid Foundation

Essential Spanish Vocabulary and Grammar

Developing an essential list of vocabulary and grammar really depends on your goal(s).  If you are looking to talk with locals, get acquainted with greetings, weather, and day-to-day useful words.  Our daughter was horseback riding and playing tennis and wanted to make sure she understood the important terms because all the lessons were in Spanish. So she focused on these things by watching videos about her sports in Spanish!

Basic Conversation Skills

Regardless of what country we are traveling to or what language we are learning we always attempt to learn the most common phrases and greetings.  This not only shows respect for the new culture but helps you connect right away with your new community.  Make sure you focus on things like asking how people are, directions, expressing gratitude, and saying goodbye.  If you nail these phrases in the beginning it will help you with the majority of all your future interactions.  

Pronunciation Tips

Some people are much more concerned than others when it comes to perfecting pronunciation. My husband and older daughter, for example, are meticulous in how they pronounce words and make sure to get them right.  Other people we know are less concerned and are more focused on stringing together a few words so people can understand them. Regardless of your approach, I would say there are two big tips when working on pronunciation. 

  • Learn the Spanish alphabet, which is very similar to the English alphabet.  This will really help you learn the sounds of each letter.  

  • Talk and practice with a local!  

We have all made native-speaking friends who are also looking to practice their English.  It is really fun to talk back and forth while helping each other learn. Make sure you ask them to correct you when you say things incorrectly as this will really help you learn how to pronounce things like a native speaker!

3. Practice, Practice & Practice

Practice, Practice & Practice

The real trick to learning a language quickly is to practice every day and in as many ways and settings as possible!  There are countless ways to do this…

Immersion

They say immersion is the best way to learn a language and it is absolutely true.  I have known many people, myself included; who took Spanish for ten years in school but never got very far.  However, when you are living in a culture, and your day-to-day depends on learning the language, the rate at which you learn is exponential! In the beginning, being surrounded by strictly native Spanish speakers can feel intimidating. Eventually, however, your ear starts to become trained to what initially you could not understand or decipher. Our brains are wired for language and you will be amazed at how quickly you begin to learn when you are completely engaged in a Spanish-speaking community!

Utilizing Technology

Technology is a total game-changer when it comes to learning a language.  There are so many ways to incorporate and use it that enhance your learning process and acquisition.  Our kids all watch YouTube and Netflix which helped tremendously in their comprehension. They turn on subtitles which allows their brains to not only hear the language but see it as well.  We also listen to Spanish music and podcasts every chance we get!

Incorporate Spanish Into Your Daily Life

Incorporating Spanish into your daily life is critical!  Learning a language is a process that builds on itself and figuring out how to expose yourself each and every day will have a compound effect on your progress. There is no excuse for not listening or speaking at least a little bit every day be it with locals, apps, tutoring, or technology.  

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4. Supplemental Resources

Supplemental Resources

Spanish Language Textbooks and Workbooks

We ordered several books and workbooks to help reinforce writing and vocabulary.  There are fun workbooks for kids as well as useful ones for adults. There are workbooks available on every subject and on every topic.  Our middle schooler likes to practice math in a Spanish workbook and the visuals and images help with comprehension.  

Online Resources and Apps

There are dozens of apps to help with your language learning process. Our nine-year-old son loves Duolingo. This is an excellent app for kids and he loves it because he can play with his pals. After moving to Spain he has many buddies also trying to learn Spanish and through the app, they can hold each other accountable and follow along with each other’s progress. If he skips a day but notices his friends made progress it encourages him to keep practicing as well. Another family favorite is Pimsleur. This is a great app that is easy to use. My favorite thing about it is it encourages a single lesson a day which is very manageable. It is very user-friendly and can be done on your phone anywhere and anytime. There are so many apps and technology tools to help you learn!

Tutoring

Hiring a tutor has been invaluable in learning a new language.  We have done in-person tutoring as well as online. Italki is an amazingly affordable and easy-to-use online tutoring platform. We have short lessons scheduled throughout the week with native Spanish speakers. We set up twenty-minute sessions three times a week with a tutor just to practice talking.  This is a great way to feel comfortable with someone while practicing speaking.

Language Exchange Programs

There are so many fun and interesting language programs throughout the world as well. EF language immersion is a great program but is a little costlier. There are also kids camps around Europe that emphasize language while also trying a new sport. Our kids have also done language camps teaching sports. We have done several camps such as basketball and boxing that are taught in Spanish and allow for a fun way to practice your skill and language at the same time!

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Wrapping Up

As you can see, the ability to learn a new language is easier than ever.  You can immerse yourself, listen to music or tv, try an app, or take tutoring lessons. 

It is really important to focus on three things: make small goals; honor and respect how you personally learn; and make Spanish a part of your everyday life! 

As a family of five, we have completely different levels of learning and preferred methods, but we found a way for each of us to learn the language. There is no one right way to do it!  

I wish you the best in your pursuit!

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