5 Tips for Learning Spanish on Your Own

There is one thing in common with all of the newly-arrived expats that we meet in Mexico — they all want to learn to speak Spanish as quickly as possible. Of course, that only applies to the ones that don’t already know it.

Luckily, there are thousands of free resources to learn Spanish online. As long as you have an Internet connection, you can study the language from anywhere at all — even from a beach bar.

I already spoke Spanish when I moved to Mexico but I learned it on my own as an adult, so I know what a challenge that can be. I went from only knowing a few phrases to eventually doing public speaking entirely in Spanish.

Whenever anyone asks me for tips to learning Spanish quickly on their own, I always start with these five:

1. Dedicate at least 15 minutes a day

This one is important. There will be days that you feel like studying it longer, and that’s great, just never less than 15 minutes a day.

2. Push yourself

Let’s say your goal is to run a 6-minute mile by the end of the year, but you train for it by walking half a mile every day. You’ll never meet your goal. The same principle applies to learning Spanish.  If the material you are studying seems too easy, you need to look for something more challenging.

3. Work on your “ear” for the language

One of the most difficult aspects of learning any foreign language is listening comprehension, in other words, developing an ear for the language.

Listening comprehension progressively develops through repeated exposure to the language. Your brain will start to recognize patterns and you will start to understand more and more of what is being said.

A good way to do this is to watch TV shows or movies with the Spanish audio option activated. It will be easier to follow if you choose an episode or movie that you’ve already seen.

4. Use sentence fragments and plug-and-play phrases to speak quickly

Over the years, I’ve met quite a lot of intermediate and advanced Spanish students who had difficulty carrying on complex conversations in Spanish. The reason is that they often try to translate whole sentences word-for-word in their head before speaking. That is extremely difficult to do at a pace fast enough to keep up with a conversation.

One way to overcome this is to learn small phrases that can be put together to make sentences quickly. That technique is taught in our Spanish video course Beginner’s Spanish for People Moving to Mexico.

5. Don’t be afraid of the grammar

Many adult learners tell me that they want to learn Spanish; however, they don’t want to learn the boring grammatical rules. Believe me, this is a huge mistake.

Grammar is like the blueprint of the language and being familiar with it can help you speak Spanish correctly long before you’ve developed your ear for the language.

Let’s Wrap This Up

It’s not easy to learn a foreign language as an adult but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. If you are willing to put in the required time and energy, you will be speaking Spanish before you know it.

By the way, if you happen to see me at a beach bar here in the Riviera Maya, feel free to buy me a beer and practice your Spanish with me.

To tell you the truth, as long as you buy me a beer, you can speak any language you like.

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About the Author

Qroo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

28 Comments on "5 Tips for Learning Spanish on Your Own"

  1. You work too cheap! Thank you again for your excellent Spanish lessons, they are a huge help!!!!

  2. I spent a year in Spain and beer helped me me a lot with learning Spanish. They key is to be completely immersed in the language for extensive periods of time. Once you start dreaming in Spanish, you are at that full immersion point.

    My additional tips would be:

    1. Find friends that don’t speak English to hang out with. It’s always good to have one person that does speak English in case you need help, but that person only uses English to tell you what a word means or to help clarify.

    2. Learn how to describe a word you don’t know using any means necessary. Pretend that English is not an option and exhaust every resource before resorting to using English.

    3. Insist EVERYONE speak Spanish around you and that they correct you when you make a mistake. This will be tough, because Mexicans love to practice their English or they will switch to English because they think they are being helpful. They won’t want to offend you my correcting you, so you have to tel them.

    4. Watch TV in Spanish, with Spanish subtitles. Your brain needs to be thinking Spanish while you watch, not English.

    5. Think in Spanish. Rehearse what you want to say, practice in your mind.

    6. Be courageous. Alcohol helps you get over you feeling embarrassed. You can’t worry about making mistakes.

    7. Help a small notebook and pen with you or use your smart phone to write down new words you learn or repeat a new word to yourself in your head multiple times until it registers in your head. See the letters in your mind as you spell it out to yourself. Get your visual memory to work with the audio memory.

    8. Feel obligated to learn Spanish if you are living in Mexico. It’s in your best interest and people will respect and admire you for your hard work.

  3. Alison Tilley | January 29, 2018 at 8:53 am |

    Care to learn Fijian?

  4. Linda Southwick | January 29, 2018 at 9:14 am |

    Paul and Linda,

    How about you teach some lessons in person?

  5. Your videos are awesome. We will be moving to Mexico in a years time and are working hard to learn Spanish. You guys are our inspiration. Thanks for all your hard work. We couldn’t do it without you.

  6. Sue Zielinski | January 29, 2018 at 9:33 am |

    Awesome Article…. funny too… Keep up the great work!

  7. Keith Burkhart | January 29, 2018 at 9:33 am |

    Great article… just what we talked about yesterday.

  8. Although I am a functional Spanish speaker I decided to watch your videos on learning Spanish. After the first 2 I would say they are excellent tools for learning and you have a beautiful voice and a great simple explanation. I sent the link to mst of my friends living here in San Miguel. Thank you for making your work free and accessible and so professionally done. Bravo! And on to your course. The thing about recommend which has helped me the most is to have friends that don’t speak English.

  9. Thinking in either language can be a challenge. I pick up phrases and vocabulary by watching movies in English with Spanish subtitles and vice-versa. I wear hearing aids, which makes it all challenging, but poco a poco, it gets better. Thanks again for your efforts, Paul!

  10. Thank you again for passing along done very good advice Paul!

  11. Paul, You and Linda are rapidly becoming my most trusted allies in my preparation for retirement in Peru or MX. I already had friends in the jungle of Peru. Then, my husband brought me in to a family of his friends in Aqua Caliente en Baja Sur. It has always been my plan to retire among the people south of the border. I have studied Spanish in Quito, Ecuador but my ability to understand what is said is still largely lacking. I really need to tune my ear into grasping the language rapidly spoken. This will help tremendously. Thank you.

  12. No new lessons 🙁

    • Sorry, Aberg. The lessons aren’t as popular as the blog articles, so I had to prioritize. 🙁

  13. Rick Plourde | January 30, 2018 at 6:07 am |

    It seems every blog you create hits the mark. Excellent tips! Amazing job disseminating just the right information without making things complicated. Very very helpful Paul, thanks again for all your help.

  14. Assuming one is not a complete idiot and taking into account that everyone learns differently but really works at being conversational, what would you figure is a reasonable timeframe to learn the language?

    • To reach a comfortable conversational level, around two years if you really work at it; however, learning a language is a gradual process so you should be able to make your own sentences and communicate fairly well long before that.

  15. Amy McCormack | January 31, 2018 at 5:40 am |

    Paul, this is unrelated to language, but it’s a fun story I wanted to share with you. This past summer we were at our camp on the lake (In Maine) and our neighbors brought their friends over to meet us. I talk about moving to Mexico rather relentlessly and so did this couple apparently. They are moving to Sayulita next year. During our very excited conversation about Mexico, she said they were reading all they could and following a bunch of blogs, but especially liked this one blog and it gave them the courage to actually do this. I laughed and said “Let me guess, Paul and Linda??” She was so surprised! We had a good laugh. I just wanted you to know that you have a pretty solid fan base up here in the frozen north! Thanks for being our resource for all things Mexico!

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