The classroom setting is a great place to get started on your language journey, but if you’ve been learning Spanish for a while, it’s time you take it one step further and go beyond your studies. In order to put your skills to the test, you’ll need to apply theory to practice. Here’s how.
1. Immersion abroad
Immersion programs in Spain or Latin America are some of the best ways for you to learn the language. These programs work because they provide the two main settings necessary to acquiring the language: a formal education setting and a cultural setting. The formal education setting is the classroom, where you learn everything from syntax, grammar and vocabulary to cultural customs. Because most of these programs include intensive group and private lessons for multiple hours a day, and because your main objective there is to learn the language, you’ll become a sponge that absorbs everything, and you fall into a routine. The cultural setting is where you really put theory into practice. You go out into the “real” world and find yourself in an environment where only Spanish will get you through.
These programs are intense and can require both a financial and time commitment. You do get what you invest. In other words, you will learn a lot more if you go into a four- to six-week program than if you do just 10 days. The longer the program, the better. This will also allow you to get better acquainted with the locals. Immersion programs work well for advanced students as well as complete beginners, but those with at least a basic foundation of the language will find it most advantageous.
2. Take a vacation
Maybe you don’t have a month to live abroad and take an immersion course. Or you are not prepared for the financial investment that an immersion program requires. Well, I’m sure you could use a vacation. Consider taking your next vacation in Latin America. Places of interest include Chile, Argentina or Peru. At the end of the day, it does not matter where you go as long as you are interacting with the culture.
3. Find a Spanish buddy
Always be on the lookout for a person who could help you improve your Spanish through conversation and basic corrections, whether it is a friend or associate. This could also be someone from Latin America or Spain with whom you Skype. A word of caution: rather than ask the person to help you with Spanish, just speak to them Spanish as you would to another friend in English. And yes, if your significant other speaks Spanish, chat away. The key here is to find a native speaker. A classmate is not ideal because you’d be at approximately the same level.
4. Spanish speakers around? Talk to them!
What a better to show your love and curiosity for the Spanish language than to talk to native speakers? If you hear Spanish around you, do not be afraid to speak up. Tourists will love you if you offer them directions in Spanish (try not to get them lost though!).
5. Make it part of your social life
Spanish films, music, TV shows, concerts, books, newspapers, blogs… There are infinite ways for you to access the language. If you are a beginner student, watch films and music videos with English subtitles. If you are an advanced student, do it with the subtitles in Spanish. The goal is not only to strengthen your skills, but to immerse yourself in the culture in a way that it becomes part of your life and grows in you. If all else fails: find a Spanish boyfriend (but don’t say I advised you to).
6. Change your settings
We are surrounded by technology all the time. How many times a day do you check your email? How many times do you check your phone? Why not consider changing the language settings on your phone? You’ll be learning new words. And, most importantly, you’ll be constantly reminded of español. Hopefully you’ll do better than I did with this: when I lived in Japan, I changed the settings on my phone to Japanese, and later could not remember how to change it back. Even teachers make mistakes!