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What can I do to Learn Spanish Effectively and Efficiently?

If you're planning on traveling to Latin America to learn Spanish check out the following blog posts too:
- Tips & Advice to Prepare for your Spanish Immersion Program
- How to Become Fluent in Spanish with a 3 Month Immersion Program
- 5 Tips to Continue Improving your Spanish when you Get Home

Whether you're new to language learning or not, there are always new ideas to consider that can make a real difference to how well you cope and how successful you're when learning Spanish. We can list many tips for learning Spanish as a foreign language, but motivation & purpose are always the key.

Why do you want to learn Spanish? Think about it.. everyone should have their own and unique reason, but if you do not have a solid purpose, it would not hurt if you spent some time reading about some reasons about why it is a good idea to learn Spanish. Being aware of your reasons for learning Spanish and reminding yourself of these from time to time, can help you keep focused and keep going when things get tough.

Previous experience of language learning always helps. If you have already learned one language, you'll have picked up some language learning techniques which you can apply to a new language. If you studied languages at school some time ago, you'll find that current approaches are a bit different, more effective and efficient.

First of all, read, take into account and put into practice the tips listed below.

We know from research by Rubin that the good language learner:

The most frequently used techniques by good language learners were:

Refreshing your Studying Techniques

If you're going to learn a foreign language, you might need to brush up your general study skills first. This means you should attend to issues such as:

General Tips for Language Learners

Nowadays, you need to learn how to really listen to the language without always seeing it written down. This can be hard at first but it really pays off when you come to speak it. You won't always be trying to pronounce it like English. And you'll find there is much less focus now on structure and grammar and more on understanding and being understood. Once you understand the message, the structure is more easily made sense of. Also, once you get used to the difference in sounds between your new language and your own, it will be easier to figure out what you're hearing. Start with the vowels for example: say them out loud and you'll see that they are different in your language and Spanish, so first of all you have to identify these new sounds. On the other hand, people are pleased to hear you trying to speak their language and will make allowances if you don't exactly get it right. Don't be afraid of trying out different approaches, e.g. to learning vocabulary, then take a step back and see which worked best for you. Set aside a regular time each day or each week to study your language. set it and follow it.

Keep a check on your progress. If you have a good memory, remembering your new language is easier, but there are lots of things you can do to help yourself, such as making lists, labeling objects, and so on.

Learning a language can develop your communication skills in general, making you more confident about speaking to a group, helping you to let go of your inhibitions. If you have an interest in languages in themselves, including English, you'll make a good language learner. Don't be afraid to have a go and try out your new language at every opportunity. This is a way of reinforcing your learning. And remember that language is a part of people's identity and culture, so speaking the language opens up the culture and begins to break down cultural barriers that exist when no-one understands each other's language. Of course lots of foreigners speak English and may well be keen to try their English out on you.

Have fun

Find ways to make language learning fun. This could involve games, songs, stories, tongue twisters, jokes and anything else you can think of.

Study every day

Try to set aside some time every day for your studies, ideally when your brain is at its most receptive. It's better to study for 30 minutes every day than for 3 hours once a week. This has to do with our brain's learning curve: once we know something, if we don't get back to it soon enough it just leaves, but if we go through it several times, we will get it to stay. If you can spare an hour a day, break it up into two or three sessions to avoid brain overload.

Revise/review regularly

Go over each lesson several times, perhaps once in the morning, once in the evening and once several days later. Give your brain time to digest the material, but make sure the gaps between periods of study are not too long, i.e. more than a few weeks, or you'll forget most of what you're trying to learn. Make sure you have got to grips with the contents of one lesson before moving on to the next.

Build on solid foundations

Make sure you're comfortable with the fundamentals of the language before tackling the more advanced stuff. It will take you a while to get used to the pronunciation and spelling of a new language, but without a solid understanding of these, you'll find it very difficult to learn more.

Set yourself targets

Setting reasonable targets is a good way to motivate yourself. You could set yourself a time limit or aim for a certain level of proficiency.

Focus on your interests

Once you have got to grips with the basics of the language, learn to talk/write/read about the things that interest you. In this way you're more likely to remember the words, phrases and grammatical constructions you encounter.

Don't be discouraged by apparent lack of progress

You'll find that at times you're making fairly rapid progress, while at other times you seem to standing still or even going backwards. This is normal when learning a language, so don't be discouraged. If you feel like you're making little or no progress, try going over earlier lessons/exercises to see if they're easier now than when you first tried them.

Don't worry about making mistakes

You probably make the occasional mistake when speaking your native language, so making mistakes in a foreign language is nothing to worry about. What matters is getting your message across, not whether you use all the right words, inflexions, tenses, cases, etc. If you cannot think of the exact words, try using other ones. For example, say you were talking about your office and didn't know the word for photocopier - you could try describing its function: "a machine for making copies" instead. You could also try drawing pictures and/or miming if you can't think of the words.

Learn how to say things like "How do you say X in your language", "What's the word for Y?", "What's that called?", "What are they doing?" etc.

If you have a teacher or native speaker to help with your studies, ask him or her to point out your mistakes and to correct them. When you first start learning a new language, having every single mistake pointed out to you'll be very demoralizing so ask your for only the more serious errors to be highlighted. When you've acquired more confidence and a degree of fluency in the language, ask for all your errors to be commented on.

If you inadvertently offend people with your mistakes it's useful to have a few stock phrases up your sleeve, such as "Forgive me, I don't speak your language very well but am trying hard to learn it." or "Why are you laughing so much?" or "What's so funny?" or "What did I say wrong?"

Naiman et al. identified five major strategies for language learning:

A special note about our extra activities:


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