Six tips to make your learning more efficient
Having a set routine can make a great difference in your progress in learning Spanish. It is better to study every day for 10 or 15 minutes than to exhaust yourself with 2-hours blocks or more at a time. Make it fun. Have an organized schedule so that you can, for example, practice reading one day, listening another day, writing and speaking – even if it is out loud to yourself – another day. Remember to also constantly review your vocabulary and try to use recently learned words in your writing.
2. Retain and expand your vocabulary
It is important to constantly revisit and review all words you have learned and apply them in context as you practice writing, reading and speaking. One way to retain your vocabulary is with the use of flash cards. You can make your own or use a tool like Anki, an app you can download on your mobile phone or desktop to help you manage, practice your vocabulary and help you retain the words you know and add new ones to your vocabulary bank. Here is a video that explains how it works. Always remember though, to practice putting the words in context with other phrases or situations.
3. Passive and active listening
Passive listening. There is a lot of information that the subconscious mind is constantly taking that you don’t even realize. Taking advantage of this will help get your mind thinking in Spanish. All you have to do is find a podcast, a radio station, or music in Spanish and just put it on in the background as you do other activities, such as driving, cleaning the house, exercising, etc. You can then complement this with some dedicated time for:
Active listening. Choose some listening material that suits your current level or a level slightly higher so that you can challenge yourself. Then put your full attention to what the speaker is saying, the pronunciation, and the overall intonation; pause and write down or look up the words you don’t understand. You can do this with movies or audiobooks from the library. This activity takes more effort and energy, so you should not do it for too long otherwise, you can get burned out.
4. Follow a proven method
Imagine somebody dropped you in the middle of a jungle. You are completely on your own, lost and desperately trying to figure out how to get to civilization. Everything is new and unknown to you. You see hundreds of pathways as possibilities everywhere, but you have no idea which one to take or in what direction you should start walking. Suddenly, you bump into a friendly local indigenous person who somehow understands where you want to go. He kindly offers to show you the way to the nearest town and even guide you through the thick jungle, so you can get there soon and safely. Would you turn him down and say – “Thanks, but I rather find it on my own.” or “Sure, that would save me lots of time and energy”?
Similarly, additional resources such as YouTube channels, learning apps or other free sites can all be helpful as a complement to your learning. However, they could never replace the effectiveness and benefits of a great teacher with a structured program, which will guide you step by step through a proven method so you know what to learn, avoid bad pronunciation habits, and get a crystal clear understanding of the basics as you progress through an organized system tailor-made to your current level.
5. Don’t let yourself get in the way of your progress
Set realistic expectations so you don’t get disappointed before you even start your learning journey. Learning a new language takes time: it is not something you learn overnight, so be patient and, very important, don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel frustrated for not understanding or for having a hard time getting the grammar or pronouncing words at times.
Moments like that are bound to happen and are just a natural part of the learning process, so be grateful when you make mistakes, for they create the opportunity to learn from them.
I have seen several times students create negative and false stories in their heads about themselves that are detrimental to their progress. Especially when they compare their speaking or listening skills to others who perhaps, have had more exposure to the language, so don’t compare yourself to anybody but yourself. Pat yourself on the back for taking on this challenging but rewarding endeavour!
6. Motivate yourself and have fun
Learning a language should be kept “light” and fun. Sometimes people find it boring learning certain things like verb conjugations, for example, but if you keep it “light” and see the big picture, you can easily put everything new that you learn into practice so that it makes sense in the overall scheme of things. Try to develop a certain voice or character that somehow becomes the Spanish version of yourself. That may help you improve your accent and pronunciation as you take on a new “role”, if you will.
Motivate yourself by watching good movies in Spanish, listening to music in Spanish you like, and planning a vacation to a place where you get to listen to the locals speak Spanish if you have the opportunity. Try to meet people, who speak Spanish and practice with them, don’t be shy to try or make mistakes. Hispanic people love and appreciate it when they see somebody making an effort to speak their native language. They will help you. Attend events or festivals where you get to learn about the culture, etc. The list goes on, and you get the idea.