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6 Pieces of Advice on How to Learn Spanish in Spain

English Language Assistant with her host siblings

Dear reader who wants to know how to learn Spanish,

Before we start, these are some questions you might ask yourself:

Are you a complete Spanish beginner?

(I mean a COMPLETE beginner- not even A1, can’t introduce yourself, etc.)

Are you overwhelmed and terrified of the prospect of learning Spanish in a place you don’t know?

(at the ripe old age of twenty-two.)

Are you ready for a challenging but highly rewarding experience?

If you answered yes to the questions listed above, then I can tell you two things:

Firstly: you are in exactly the same boat as I was last September before I began my adventure with Meddeas.

Secondly: you can learn Spanish. And you can have fun during the process.

If you want to know how exactly, please proceed to read my short and sweet rookie’s “How to Learn Spanish in Spain” guide…

English girl with the Spanish city of Girona and the cathedral
Me in sunny Girona with the outstanding Spanish cathedral at the back.

My Background Before Arriving to Spain

I’ll begin by giving you a bit of context. Before I started teaching as a Language Assistant with Meddeas, I went to a highly international university in the UK. There I was surrounded by bilingual, trilingual and even quadrilingual individuals who flipped between languages with great ease.

Being able to speak only English was the bane of my life. It was depressing.

Moving to Spain for nine months to teach some English and learn Spanish was my attempt to change things, to become a little bit more cultured, and to be able to communicate in the world’s second most spoken language.

Learn Spanish in Spain from Scratch

At the Induction Meeting, I got chatting to lots of other Language Assistants and it’s safe to say that most of them had some level of Spanish. I began to panic, as I knew nothing. Absolutely nothing. I’d never studied Spanish at school, I’d never known any Spaniards, and I’d never even seen Dora the Explorer.

The only Spanish I’d listened to properly was through Shakira and Enrique Iglesias, and I didn’t have a clue what they were singing about. I think that says it all.

What I Decided to Do

There were two ways of dealing with my situation.

Number one: curl up in a ball, stay in my comfort zone, and revert to English at every opportunity.

Number two: embarrass yourself in multiple social situations, fail countless times, feel stupid BUT try, and ultimately improve. Slowly.

I chose the latter option and it was the best way to learn Spanish.

Me and my host siblings in Spain
Me and my Spanish host family’s children just relaxing after a long day.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Spanish?

After living in Spain for eight months, I can safely say that I have intermediate level Spanish.

It feels great to write that sentence here and even better to type it on to my CV.

Whilst some people reading this might not think that is very impressive (perhaps they are already fluent and find learning languages natural and easy), for me this has been a real achievement. I couldn’t even order confidently in a restaurant on arrival!

It is a skill like no other. Here are the greatest perks of understanding Spanish, in my humble opinion:

  • Surprising locals by communicating- even briefly- in their own language.
  • Listening to “colourful” conversations in the street and on the metro.
  • Being able to watch films and to read books and magazines in another language- unlocking a whole new cultural realm in the process.
  • Translating menus for your visiting friends.

6 Pieces of Advice to Learn Spanish in Spain

Learning Spanish whilst teaching with Meddeas has been incredible BUT not easy. There are no easy ways to learn Spanish. I have compiled a list of the greatest pieces of advice I can provide for anyone considering how to learn Spanish while being a Language Assistant:

1. Accept that learning Spanish is not a linear process

Matrix drawing of a student's progression when learning Spanish
I expected it to be like this….                                In reality, it’s more like this.

2. There are days you will question if you know anything at all

This happens to me, particularly after I speak a lot in English. I forget the name for a certain type of food or a verb in Spanish and suddenly question my knowledge.

The trick is: don’t give up.

We have mind blanks in our own language anyway. Often, days after a language crisis I encounter a situation which makes me realise how much I know. For example, four days ago I helped an old lady who spoke no English find her boarding gate at Barcelona airport.

3. Invest some time

Teaching in a school means your timetable will include about 20-24 hours of classes a week. And even though you have to stay in the school from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., this schedule still leaves plenty of time for learning. If you invest the man-hours, you will reap the benefits. And this doesn’t mean spending hours looking at verb cards or paying a small fortune for a language school.

I learn Spanish grammar through using free apps and online courses. Then I have put my skills into practice by holding down seven language exchanges, watching some Spanish films, reading books, etc. How you learn is entirely down to you. The most important thing is to set some time aside for this learning process.

four English girls having fun in a black and white picture
Me with my Spanish friends and a school colleague.

4. Go out of your comfort zone

I’m not usually one for cheesy catchphrases but the quote ‘do something new every day’ certainly resonates with my experience as a Language Assistant! For example, I recently attended a salsa class conducted entirely in Spanish in a room full of Spaniards.

Beforehand, I was terrified. During the class, I understood about 60-70% of what was said. It was a real challenge, but it was also great fun, and proof that if you push yourself a little, the benefits are great!

5. Be patient

This is advice for living in Spain in general – not just the language learning process! I am quite impatient as a person and expect immediate results. Usually, I am a fast learner and if I study intensely, I can understand something.

Spanish has thrown me off completely. It is the hardest thing I have ever started to learn. The point is that improvement takes time. For some people learning Spanish comes naturally and for others (including myself) it does not.

Don’t be off put by others, and keep your own goals in mind.

6. Have fun

This is the most important and obvious piece of advice to learn Spanish in Spain. Think of all the possible adventures you can have, the people you can speak to, and the culture you can explore by learning Spanish! It’s such an exciting thing to do.

I can’t express the fact enough that ANYONE can learn Spanish if they set their mind to it. I am literal walking, talking, and breathing evidence of this fact.

Have you improved your Spanish skills while living in Spain? What would you recommend in order to boost the learning process?

One Response

  1. Great to hear you went for it! Congrats. Did you study at a school in Girona or just by yourself? Any advice on Spanish schools in Girona would be much appreciated. Good luck getting to the next level. Best. John

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