How to learn Spanish in 6 months
Read this article to discover Moving2Madrid Founder Pierre’s method to learn Spanish in six months. It is based on his personal experience learning three languages combined with Tim Ferriss’s language methodology.
Before coming to Spain
The key for the “pre-Spain” period is to learn the rules of the language and understand its rhythm. This way, you will be able to refer to your books if you have an issue saying something (which happens to everyone in the beginning). The best way to do this is to take language classes. If you already had language classes at school or university, taking classes again can help you reactivate it. Keep it intensive and short! Get to know the basics in 1-2 months without any oral practice.
The first goal is to get the grammar basics in your head, but you don’t need to know them perfectly. In fact, Pierre likes to tell the story of how he failed Spanish in high school, but after six months was considered bilingual by his employers. Having good grammar is a prerequisite if you want to learn Spanish in 6 months, but once you arrive in Spain other factors become more important.
Next, get your ear used to hearing Spanish. There are a number of ways you can do this.
Listen to podcasts
Pierre highly recommends Ben & Marina’s “amazing” podcast: Notes In Spanish. At this point, it may be hard for you to understand all the podcasts, but don’t worry. You’re preparing great foundations for when you arrive in Spain.
Watching movies in Spanish with English subtitles can be very beneficial if you want to learn Spanish in 6 months. Pedro Almodóvar’s movies are must-sees since most of them are in Madrid, and the characters speak Spanish like typical Madrileños. They are also excellent examples of the spirit of the 80’s Movida movement, which is important to understand if you want to understand Madrid. Other great movies about contemporary Spanish society are “Te doy mis ojos” and “Mar adentro.”
Read a book
A book in English on the Spanish culture will help you a lot. Pierre highly recommends “The New Spaniards,” a great presentation of what makes Spain different. It is written by a British journalist in Madrid.
To understand Spain today, you need to learn a little about its history. Giles Tremlett, a former writer for The Economist, wrote an excellent book called “The Ghosts of Spain.” And of course there is Hemingway. He lived in Spain for many years and wrote about his adventures.
Get a phrasebook
Right before you come, read a phrasebook cover to cover. You won’t remember everything, but the important points will stick.
Find a place to live
Moving2Madrid specializes in helping expats find the perfect Madrid apartment. Contact us today to arrange a FREE CONSULTATION. We will speak to you in Spanish if you simply ask.
Buy some Spanish flashcards and a plane ticket
Now you are ready to go to Spain! You won’t be able to speak in the beginning, but you will know the grammar basics, have an idea of how Spaniards think and a grasp of how the language sounds. Don’t forget to pack your grammar books!
The key objective during your stay in Spain is to make as many mistakes as possible a day. It is the only way to learn. How do you do this?
Find the right living environment
First, find a flat with only Spanish speakers. They can be Spanish speakers from outside of Spain, but they should speak Spanish 100% of the time. If someone speaks English to you, just stick to Spanish even if it would be easier in English.
If you are coming with your significant other or your family, make sure you live in a building with only Spanish speakers- not an expat enclave. You will still get plenty of practice speaking with your neighbors, landlord, porter, etc.
Harness the power of passion
Another essential move is to find a way to continue working on your passion, or on a new hobby, whilst in Spain. But do it entirely in Spanish! It has to be an activity that you love doing, just make it in a Spanish environment. For instance, Pierre loves rugby so he went to a club in Madrid where every person’s mother tongue was Spanish. He tells everyone that his most authentic Spanish comes from rugby. Simply put, if you love to do something, and force yourself to do it in a Spanish environment, you will learn without noticing.
Make friends with your colleagues
If you’ll be working in Spain from Day One, find trustworthy colleagues to chat with. Ask them to correct every mistake you make.
These moves will ensure you meet new people and make lots of contacts who are native Spanish speakers. That’s where we come to the hardest advice for expats who want to learn Spanish: do not hang out all the time with other expats! We know it’s harsh, and of course there can be exceptions, but if you start taking the easy way and hanging out too much with expats, you will not learn Spanish efficiently. Our advice is to keep your non-Spanish contacts to a couple of die-hard real friends.
Download Google Translate
Google Translate is not fail proof, and can’t be relied upon for full translations. However, it is excellent when you are having a conversation and can’t find the word you are looking for. It is particularly helpful in situations such as banking, where you need a very specialized vocabulary.
Watch TV in Spanish
Even if you love your American or British TV shows, you should still watch them in Spanish. There is a button on your remote control that lets you choose the language of your favourite program. Avoid the temptation to switch it to VO (English). If you can’t fully understand, turning on Spanish subtitles can really help.
Keep up with your studies
Don’t forget your Spanish flash cards. Learn ten new words a day. Buy a great book about a topic you love and read it in Spanish.
Pierre’s Tip: As a general rule, do not try to learn anything if you will not need it or it is about something you hate. The best way to learn via his method is to leverage all the topics, activities and people you love!
Should I attend a language school in Spain?
This is a very controversial topic. We believe these schools are very dangerous. Going back to a classroom environment with lots of expats who have also just arrived and are looking for other expats to hang out with and do lots of activities will prevent you from socializing and speaking in Spanish, which is the only way to learn.
If you take classes, it is too easy to sit back and think you’re learning when you’re really not. Think about the French, Spanish or German you learned in high school. What happened to it? You can’t speak it even if you studied it for years. For example, Pierre likes to tell his story,
“I studied German for four years, more than three hours per week. I am now totally useless. On the other hand, I was able to learn Spanish in 6 months. I now speak Spanish fluently, and got a job after a demanding local recruitment process after only six months in Spain.”
We are not saying you should not attend a language school. All we are saying is you need to be very clear about your objectives versus the time and money you are investing. A classroom environment does not force you to make as many mistakes as possible. In fact, it usually discourages you to make mistakes, which greatly inhibits most people. Writing a Spanish paper is easy compared to chatting at a bar with Spaniards. You have time, you can review your work and correct it. And there’s no direct feedback when you write. When you speak, people do correct you. They either do not understand what you are saying and you will have to change tack very quickly, or they’ll simply point out your mistake.
But I really want to attend a language school!
If you do decide to take classes in Spain, we recommend private classes with a teacher from a school accredited by the Instituto de Cervantes.
If you’re looking for an academy, we highly recommend going for schools recommended by the Instituto de Cervantes. The official state schools, the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas (EOI) are an excellent option and have many locations in Madrid.
If you have the time and money to go to a school, please do so. However, the truth is you will not learn Spanish this way. The only way to learn Spanish in 6 months, and ultimately attain fluency, is to use Spanish in your daily life and to use it all the time. Read in Spanish, watch Spanish TV, follow your passion (in Spanish) and make friends with Spanish people. As Pierre says, “Speak Spanish 80% of the time and make 100 mistakes a day.”
Do you need help finding a place to live in Madrid? If so, arrange a FREE CONSULTATION TODAY and we can help. If you like, our staff is fluent in Spanish and would be happy to communicate with you in Spanish. Just ask!