37 practical and effective activities to boost your Spanish
Learning by yourself is the most effective way to learn Spanish, but can be difficult without guidance. If you learn by yourself, you’ll be familiar with the feeling that you’re not quite sure you’re on the right path. To learn autonomously you need both motivation and a good idea of what to actually do, and where to focus your efforts. Below, we list 37 techniques to achieve both of these, and give you a few new tricks to mix up how you learn Spanish or any language. If you find this list useful, we’d love for you to share it using the buttons on the left hand side!
Get input you can understand (but at a push)
Input is one of the most important apects of learning any language, and getting a variety of input which is interesting and engaging is vital. Input is anything that you can read, watch or listen to, and which exposes you to Spanish. The level of it should be comprehensible – at a push. If it’s too easy you won’t learn anything; too difficult and you’ll feel frustrated. It’s also important to get enough of it. In short: the more input you get, the better. There are all sorts of ways we can leverage more Spanish into our days.
1. Watch more TV in Spanish
Browse through some of Antena , or check out RTVE (both Castillian Spanish TV portals). We suggest watching drama series or soaps, as these tend to be entertaining and leave you wanting more, so that you go back to it. Whatever you watch shouldn’t be a chore to sit through.
2. Read the news in Spanish first
How often do you start your day scanning the news? This is something that you could easily do in Spanish, giving yourself both the news and a healthy dose of Spanish at the same time. It’s also great for giving you all the vocab you’ll need for discussing current affairs. Check Kiosko to see all the front pages of the Spanish newspapers – clicking on each front page takes you to their homepages.
3. Watch a Spanish film.
If you’re really keen, watch twice. The first time, watch with no subtitles, just trying to understand as much as you can. Second time, watch with subtitles (Spanish), and take note of interesting and new phrases to review and learn later.
4. Listen to Spanish radio
5. Listen to Spanish music
Explore until you find something you really like and don’t mind listening to various times – don’t force yourself to listen to flamenco if you don’t like it, for example. We’ve put together a guide you can use to find something you like, or you can listen to our Spotify Playlist.
6. Listen to Spanish podcasts
Listen while you go jogging, or in the car. Make sure you listen when you can pay attention – you can’t multi-task while trying to learn a language (and be sure to keep your eyes on the road!). Of course, we recommend our own, but we also enjoy Ben and Marina’s Notes in Spanish, or for a more complete list try Tell It To Me Walking’s list of resources.
7. Change your mobile to Spanish
You’d be surprised how much you learn by this – we look at our mobile hundreds of times a day, and you’ll be naturally immersed in Spanish so often you may not even realise it eventually.
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8. Make Spanish your default when you’re online
If you want to Google something, do it using Google Spain (or any other Spanish Google ). You’ll get results in Spanish, with Spanish websites. Yet more Spanish immersion!
9. Use the Google “site:…” command
Looking for a specific piece of advice from a trusted website? Use the Google “site:[keyword]” command , typing in the url, followed by a space and the keywords you’re interested in. This enables you to search within a website from Google. I recently did a search using this technique:
site:how-to-learn-any-language.com shadowing techniques, and uncovered a wealth of information (which I’ve used to inspire some of my points below!). You could search for specific questions or vocabulary, and can be sure that the results you get will be helpful. Use this technique with Word Reference, or the How to Learn Any Language forums, as well as whichever blogs you follow and admire.
10. Change your social media and e-mail to Spanish
We use social media and email a huge amount, and once you can use Spanish in a context such as this you’ll help to embed it further in your life. With Facebook, you can change your language settings in the sign-in screen at the bottom:
Learn and study more effectively
11. Learn vocabulary from the original context where you heard/read it
Instead of learning your vocabulary from a word list, create your own vocabulary lists and sets from the input you get. Remembering context helps to personalise the vocabulary, leading to better long term retention and relevance.
12. As you advance, move from studying to immersion
If you’re starting out, it’s useful to learn a base vocabulary and grammar. As you advance though, try to immerse yourself in the language rather than studying it as an object. It’s the difference between describing the taste of a fantastic meal and actually experiencing eating it for yourself. When you live in the language, you become fluent much more quickly than if you study it as some kind of thing – this is why immersion language learning works so well.
13. Follow the 80/20 rule
This is my own rule of 80% input, 20% studying/memorising/learning. The emphasis should be on exposure rather than study (speaking is not included in this). For every 10 minutes spent memorising vocabulary, try to spend at least 40 minutes reading and listening to Spanish. Or rather – 40 minutes of exposure to the language should produce the 10 minutes needed to study the take-outs produced by it.
14. Use the “pause” button when you watch Spanish movies and series
If you want to make more of a study of the language being used when you watch Spanish TV and film, pause frequently! In these media, there’s a huge amount of information to take in packed into very small chunks, so it’s often worth making an “intensive” exercise out of it. Note down the phrases used, and repeat sections often, mimicking the pronunciation verbatim to get a close approximation of the accent. Figure out vocabulary and grammar you don’t understand, and memorise the phrases. What I’ve just outlined forms the basis of the “Telenovela technique”, put forward by Andrew at How to Learn Spanish. Check out the full article for his technique here.
15. Be curious about everything
This is about your “known unknowns” – figuring out what it is that you don’t know in Spanish. It may be vocabulary for things around you, how to express feelings and emotions, or how to translate certain phrases into natural Spanish. If you hear something in Spanish you don’t understand, look it up or ask on forums. There’s a huge community dedicated to helping learners with questions like yours. Check out the Word Reference forums (linked to below), or the How to Learn Any Language forums.
16. Keep a notebook handy
Carry a notebook, or use an app like Evernote to record all the doubts and questions you have. We often have these at unexpected times, and keeping a record of them makes sure you won’t forget a good idea (or question).
17. Use the Word Reference forums
Semantics (word meaning) is a complex subject, and there’s an unparalleled wealth of knowledge in these forums which digs into the meanings of millions of Spanish words and phrases. I can spend hours exploring hidden facets and explanations of the language which I wouldn’t uncover any other way.
18. Use the wordreference bookmarklets
For quick translations these are incredibly useful. Using these is as simple as highlighting the word you don’t know, and pressing one button – the translation appears in a pop up so you do not even need to navigate away from the page you’re reading.
19. Learn how to use Anki, or other spaced repetition software
I’ve written about how I use Anki here, but you could also check out Sam Gendreau’s techniques here. Alternatively, Benny at Fluent in 3 Months has a post here. As you can tell from how many posts have been written about Anki, it’s a pretty popular piece of kit amongst language learners, so it should definitely be a part of your arsenal if it’s not already.
20. Download Anki for your phone, and sign up to AnkiNet
You can work through your flashcards anywhere, anytime (provided you have an internet connection). You can also download pre-made flashcards and share your own.
21. Look new vocabulary up in a monolingual Spanish dictionary
This is another way you can feel further immersed in Spanish. Bypassing English, you can “join the dots” in your Spanish vocabulary, where you create all Spanish connections between words and phrases, leading to further fluency.
22. Use the “chunking method”
Donovan’s got a great explanation over at the Mezzofanti Guild. The chunking method is inspired by an influential book called “The Lexical Approach”, by Michael Lewis. Language contains many set phrases, and a lot of the language that we use is actually formulaic. Instead of learning individual words and grammar, we should identify these set phrases and memorise these – helping us to put together our language in pre-fabricated “chunks”. This helps to build fluency, and helps us to avoid re-inventing the wheel every time we speak.
23. Get into Spanish and Latin Culture
Join a Spanish reading group, go to Spanish restaurants, learn to dance Salsa and hang out in areas of town where you’re likely to hear the language. To learn a language well, you cannot avoid learning about the culture, as the two are so intimately tied.
24. Learn vocabulary in the evening
Just before you go to bed, or in bed. It tends to stick better in the memory at this time, so this is the best time to work on your Anki flashcards or wordlists.
25. Physically surround yourself with Spanish
Break out the post-its, and go wild around your house labelling everything in Spanish.
26. Set yourself achievable goals to motivate yourself
It could be a certain amount of vocabulary a week, an exam to pass, or an ability to converse with a Spanish speaking friend. Give yourself achievable goals, and commit to them within a certain time-frame – good for discipline and motivation.
27. Buy a Spanish recipe book (in Spanish) and work your way through it
While you’re at it, write out your shopping list in Spanish too!
Speak and write better Spanish
28. Speak better Spanish by practising “shadowing”
Take some Spanish audio, and repeat it immediately after you hear it, or if you can, simultaneously. Follow along with a transcription (very difficult otherwise!). This has many benefits, including properly anchoring the language in your brain, and helping to build natural fluency and a better pronunciation. This technique has been “invented” various times by different linguists (and has also been referred to as “parroting” or “trailing”), but one of the best explanations comes from polyglot Dr Arguelles’ website.
29. Start a diary in Spanish
Look back on it in the weeks and months to come, and you’ll see your progress first hand. Record anything that comes to mind, just as you would in English.
30. Join an intercambio
Or start one, or look on Meetup for one near you. I think it’s better to meet and converse with people in person, but if you don’t have the time you can try Live Mocha or I talki to connect with native speakers and get some speaking time. An intercambio is a language exchange, where people of different languages meet and talk to each other in the language that they are practising. It’s a fantastic way to practise your Spanish without having to leave town, as well as get to know the culture and people a little better.
31. Start thinking in Spanish
This is a tough one, but choose a certain time when you decide that you definitely will switch to Spanish. It could be when you’re jogging, in the shower, or wherever. During this time, try to think in Spanish, as far as you can without translating from English. It really works, but is certainly a challenge!
32. Record yourself speaking, and listen to yourself
What areas of pronunciation do you need to work on, and what mistakes can you hear yourself make? It’s amazing the things we don’t realise when we’re actually talking, so listening to yourself can be very revealing.
33. Put recordings of yourself online
You can send other people the link, and ask for comments for mistakes you’re making, or other areas you could work on. You can easily do this using Vocaroo.
34. Learn poems and speeches, and recite these out loud to practise pronunciation
The idea is not to have to think about production of grammar, leaving yourself free to focus on the mechanics and movements required for the right pronunciation. These are ideal pieces that you can record, as in point #32 and #33.
35. Slow down when you speak, relax and smile
Poor fluency and stumbling is often caused by tension. Just relax and let it flow. Remember that people are listening to what you’re saying, not the mistakes you’re making.
36. Stop worrying about what you’re doing wrong, and focus on communicating your message.
37. Put up pictures of Spanish tapas and Caribbean beaches, and remember why you’re doing it!
Now it’s your turn: We’d love to try any new techniques that you’ve found to work, so let us know in the comments below!
Rob y Liz