Tips for learning Spanish on your own and stay motivated

Tips for learning Spanish on your own and stay motivated

Around the world almost 470 million people speak Spanish as their native language, while another 21 million are learning Spanish as a second language. Additionally, Spanish is the third-most-widely used language on the internet and the second most used on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, according to a report by the Instituto Cervantes, a Spanish state-funded body responsible for teaching Spanish around the world.

As you can see there are several good reasons to learn Spanish and nowadays there is no excuse not to do it because it is easier than ever due to the great amount of resources and materials available on the internet, most of which can be accessed for free. But the real problem or challenge for students is not the availability or access to Spanish learning materials but their ability to stay motivated throughout the time and make the experience of learning something enjoyable.

Today I want to share with you some tips that will help you learn Spanish in a more creative way so that you stay motivated to keep improving your language skills every day.

1. Don’t focus too much on Spanish grammar

Yes, I know grammar is the base and what gives structure to the language. And yes, it is very important, but if you focus too much on it you will feel frustrated and that feeling will discourage you to keep learning. Remember that you are trying to learn Spanish on your own, you don’t have a teacher in front of you who can help you clarify all the technical questions grammar frequently poses. So, it’s better to take it easy and try to balance the stuff we choose to learn every day. Instead try to study in a more practical way through materials that motivate you to use the language on common situations of your life. Memorizing endless grammar rules is a waste of time if you don’t know in which contexts you are suppose to apply them. From my own experience learning languages I can tell you that sometimes is more productive or useful to learn a catchy song, paying attention to the context and the phrases the singer is using, than memorizing grammar rules that I will struggle to remember. Once again, I’m not saying that Spanish grammar is not important, I’m just saying that focusing too much (or only) on it can eventually discourage you and lead you to lose your motivation to keep learning because grammar rules are often difficult to remember and require a lot of practice. So, focus on the practical part of the language and you will learn the grammar indirectly.

2. Reduce the feeling of frustration to a minimum

There’s nothing more discouraging than spending hours studying Spanish just to end up feeling that it is extremely difficult and that maybe you will never be able to become fluent in it. One of the strategies I’ve used to keep motivated to learn a language, even when I find difficult things that confuse me, is to end my study time with something I like, something that makes me feel that I can use the language in a practical way. For example, If today you decide to study the subjunctive in Spanish (which is usually confusing for students of Spanish) don’t end your study time with that feeling of “this is too difficult” or “I won’t ever be fluent”. Instead, change the subject and end your study time with something you like about Spanish. Here you have a few practical suggestions:

Listen to a song you love in Spanish and make a list of the words and verbs you don’t know. Memorize the song with the right lyrics and try to understand what they mean in your own language. Music is a great tool to remember new vocabulary in a pasive way but you need to know what the meaning of the words first.

Translate a famous quote you like into Spanish and post it on your social networks. You can also make a poster with it, print it and place it somewhere you can see it everyday. These frases are a great source of motivation and an efficient way of learning new words and expressions. You can check some examples here.

Post a video or a text of your own into a Facebook group so that other people can correct you. There are many groups of students learning Spanish on Facebook, they are a great platform to get feedback and to interact with other students learning Spanish. You can join my conversational group here.

Watch a video about something you love in Spanish with subtitles (in Spanish too) and write down the words or expressions you like the most. Documentaries are my favorite but you can also watch TED talks, TV shows or the video vlogs of your favorite Youtuber, just make sure you have close captions available.

Explore new music in Spanish. You will find hundreds or thousands of playlists on Spotify, Itunes, YouTube, etc. Try to find something that you love listening to. Pasive listening is a great way to get familiar with the language so why not make it fun and enjoyable.

Find podcasts in Spanish about a topic you are passionate about. There are many podcasts out there, almost about any topic you may come up with. You can also listen to the radio in Spanish or watch the news in Spanish.

Chat online with someone in Spanish and use the translator if you need to. I will show you the best places to do it later on. The most satisfaying feeling that comes with learning a language is being able to use it to communicate with other people. If other things don’t work I’m sure texting someone you don’t know can be a fascinating way to start using your Spanish.

3. Find a language partner

One of the things that I discovered when I started to learn a second language was that many people payed for very expensive courses just because they had a native speaker as a professor. The possibility of interacting with someone who fully knows the language we are learning is very exciting. Nowadays this opportunity is completely open to everyone and it’s possible to do it for free; if you don’t know where to start looking for a language partner make sure to visit my top 7 apps to find a native Spanish language partner. Finding someone with whom you can practice Spanish on a regular basis should be one of your main goals because it forces you to follow a schedule, something that self-taught students very often don’t have. But most importantly, if you connect with native Spanish speakers, it gives you the confidence of knowing that you are learning the Spanish that is common and conversational, not the words that you would find only in Don Quijote. Of course, it is not easy and most of the time it requires certain level of commitment that only a few are willing to accept. I started learning English 7 years ago and I’m still in touch with many of the language partners I became friend with. If you want to get the best out of your language exchange online you must take care of these virtual friends just like any other friendship in your life. Here you have some tips that may help you seize the full potential of your language exchange experiences:

  • Try to keep your personal life out of your conversations
  • Define a regular schedule for your language exchange sessions
  • Keep an eye on the time differences and the seasonal time changes
  • Define the dynamic of the session. When to swap the languages
  • Pay attention to the interests of your language partner
  • Avoid sensitive topics like religion or politics
  • Show interest for his/her culture
  • Be spontaneous and funny
  • If you can’t make it to a session make sure you let them know in advance
  • Use Skype, it allows you to use the translator faster and to share your screen
  • Read books together
  • Try to give more than what you receive. Eventually you’ll find the balance

If you follow these guidelines your friendship with your language partner will develop and you will end up learning not only Spanish but also hundreds of other interesting things about their culture, traditions, food, etc. Just remember that even though you’re not a professional teacher of your native language, you have a lot to offer just by talking and correcting. Therefore, make sure your feedback is constant so that your partner feels that the time he/she spends talking with you is useful and productive.

4. Write things down

Yes, I know it is obvious but pay attention and you will realize that day by day we are depending mainly on devices to take notes. When it come to learning Spanish or any other language we tend to forget how satisfying is to find, a few years later, those notebooks and pieces of paper where we used to write the things we were trying to memorize full of mistakes and then thinking – wow I’ve improved a lot. And that’s just a “romantic” reason, so to speak. But writing down things on a paper has more advantages than just providing us with a nice memory of our learning process. Several psychological studies have shown that writing things down improves our capacity of retaining key information in our brains. They suggest that when we take notes by actually writing them down we are putting some degree of thought into evaluating and ordering the information that we are receiving. And that process, and not the notes themselves, is what helps us fix ideas more firmly in our minds which in turn leads us to a greater recall of information.

Some practical ways in which you can use the writing-on-paper strategy to improve your Spanish are the following:

  • Make some flashcards with the vocabulary you’re learning
  • You can start writing these 100 common phrases in Spanish
  • Put sticky notes on some objects of your house
  • Write down the lyrics of your favorite songs
  • Print pictures you love and write on them a description of what you see
  • Write down the chats or e-mails you exchange with your language partner
  • Use a color to write in your language and a different one for Spanish
  • Buy a special notebook for your Spanish practice. One that you like a lot
  • Place stickers and paper cuts to decorate your notebook with info in Spanish
  • If someone corrects a text you wrote online  then write it down on your notebook and highlight the mistakes you made

5. Make learning Spanish a part of your life

Finally, something that can help you improve your Spanish without you even noticing it is to associate it with basic things in your life. Take every opportunity to practice. Include Spanish as much as you can in your daily routines or your hobbies. If you like singing, sing in Spanish, if you like reading read stuff in Spanish, if you like writing post on your social media or you write a diary, try to do it in Spanish. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, instead embrace them because they are the best way to remember a new language faster. Another practical thing that you can do is to change the language of your devices to Spanish, this way you will start learning new vocabulary. Do you like watching the news? Watch them in Spanish and, if possible, with subtitles. Do you like movies and TV shows? Watch them in Spanish, now it’s really easy to find them dubbed to Spanish and with subtitles on Netflix. Do you go running? Listen to a podcast in Spanish while you do it or while you exercise at the gym.  If you have already an upper intermediate level of Spanish you can even consider having a virtual boyfriend/girlfriend from a Spanish speaking country with whom you keep constantly texting and talking in Spanish, there are plenty of dating sites that allow you search for a partner by country and although for some people this might sound funny or crazy it is incredibly common to have a virtual relationship nowadays. And I could just keep giving you examples but you get the main idea. The important thing here is to get your mind used to think in Spanish while you do your regular activities. Sometimes this can be in a passive way like listening to podcasts or music while you do other activities, but often it can also be in an active way where you have to pay attention to what you’re doing, like when you write things in Spanish or talk to your partner.

If you like these tips for learning Spanish on your own and they inspired you to keep motivated to learn, then let me know about it with a comment on Facebook. Also I’ve decided to make a video talking about all these things in Spanish, so if you want to practice a little bit your listening skills I recommend you to watch this video.