SS #83: 17 years of Spanish learning advice in 5 minutes

Become a better Spanish learner each week

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Ever wish you could go back and give your Old You some pointers?

Help them avoid your mistakes, skip the trial and error and get straight to the good stuff?

For today’s Saturday Spanish, I thought I’d do just that.

So I sat down and thought: what would I tell teenaged Connor, who loved Spanish but had no clue how to learn it outside the classroom?

And then I wrote a big list.

If I’d had this list back then, I think I’d have made progress faster, set better expectations, and had more fun along the way.

Let me know if it helps!

  1. Your efforts will pay off — you just need consistency, and probably more patience than you expected when you started
  2. Some things will be harder for you and easier for others, and vice versa. Give yourself time and it will click. 
  3. Spend more time listening than studying grammar and memorizing words
  4. Spend more time listening than speaking
  5. Listen actively, not just passively. 
  6. Build Spanish into your life outside of your official study sessions
  7. When you’re demotivated, do something that reminds you of why you wanted to learn in the first place
  8. Moving abroad is not a guarantee you’ll become fluent
  9. You can build excellent speaking skills from anywhere (with enough dedication)
  10. Don’t try to do too much at once. Focus your attention on narrow areas of skills and topics, make a bit of progress, then move on.
  11. Don’t underestimate how long it can take for things to sink in. When something won’t click, leave it and come back to it later.
  12. Listen while reading
  13. Listen to a variety of accents
  14. When listening to native-speaker content, focus on overall meaning — not every individual word.
  15. There’s not always a clear answer. Sometimes, a grammar “rule” depends on the situation or the feeling.
  16. Spanish is a lot more like learning to play an instrument than learning math. Instead of “getting it right”, it’s about developing a feeling. 
  17. Leave breadcrumbs of your progress with regular video or audio recordings
  18. Talk to yourself daily
  19. Write. It’s easier to uncover new words and spot mistakes
  20. With conversation partners and tutors, choose conversation topics in advance so you can prepare
  21. Communication is more important than correctness.
  22. Meet and connect with other Spanish learners
  23. If you’re struggling to express yourself verbally, write about it first.
  24. Pronunciation matters as much as vocabulary and grammar; don’t ignore it.
  25. If you can’t understand an accent, spend a week listening to only that accent.
  26. If you understand every word, it’s not challenging enough.
  27. A daily journal is a powerful, fun, meaningful way to make your Spanish yours.
  28. Don’t act on learning advice without considering if it’s right for you (including mine).
  29. There is conflicting advice about how to learn Spanish because there is no “One Right Way” to learn.
  30. A language is not set in stone. What’s considered “non-standard” or “incorrect” today may well be standard in the future.
  31. No accent is better or worse, more or less “correct” than any other.
  32. Grammar rules are descriptive, not prescriptive. Human beings use the language, and grammar aims to describe how they use it. 
  33. Avoid most slang until you’re familiar with the context.
  34. Use conjugation tables as a reference — not a starting point.
  35. When you don’t understand a concept, you need (a) more context and (b) more time.
  36. Singing along helps you absorb good pronunciation.
  37. Have more fun.
  38. It’s okay to take a break.
  39. Vocab apps have their place, but they shouldn’t be the main focus.
  40. If you hate a certain activity, don’t do it. Find a different way to learn the same thing.
  41. When you don’t know a word, try to talk your way around it.
  42. But don’t get too good at talking your way around unknown words; otherwise, it’s easy to stop learning.
  43. Service workers and anyone in the tourism industry will often reply to you in English. Don’t take it personally. Just get your practice elsewhere.
  44. Learn standard Latin American or Peninsular pronunciation. From there, it’ll be easier to naturally adopt more a regional accent through exposure
  45. Vocabulary can change a lot from place to place. There are probably a dozen words for bus. Don’t worry about this. You will pick them up as you need them.
  46. Think in years, not months. You can make fast progress at times, but learning a new language to a good, lasting level takes time.
  47. As soon as you can, start using material not slowed down for learners so you expose yourself to how people really speak.
  48. Listen to things more than once.
  49. Keep your learning routine as simple as possible.
  50. Make it as easy as possible to get started each day.
  51. If you’re struggling to form a habit, make your daily goal so easy you can’t not do it.
  52. Getting good at Spanish is as much a mental battle as it is “learning stuff”.
  53. Get feedback on your pronunciation and writing.
  54. AI tools give pretty good grammar feedback.
  55. Language schools can be good, but make sure they’re flexible to your needs and provide you with lots of speaking practice. You don’t need to go to Oaxaca just to memorize a bunch of conjugations.
  56. The effort you put in outside the classroom matters most.
  57. Treat your learning like an important work meeting: schedule it, then work your life around it.
  58. Find the time of day when you learn best and stick to it.
  59. Don’t try to learn too many new words per day.
  60. When you have a few minutes, do something with Spanish. You’d be surprised how quickly 5 minutes at a time adds up.
  61. Thinking in Spanish is about communicating meaning, not a specific set of words.
  62. Avoid looking for reassurance by translating into English. Ambiguity is part of it.
  63. Spanish syllables are more consistent in length than English syllables.
  64. If you’re an English speaker, getting used to grammatical gender takes time. Don’t be surprised if you hear yourself say la ventana está cerrado, even when you know that’s wrong.
  65. Limit your learning each day so you are eager to get back to it the next.
  66. Your Spanish probably isn’t stuck; you’re just too close to be able to notice the changes.
  67. Pause every so often and be proud of the work your past self put in. Listen to a language you’ve never studied to remind yourself what it was like when you started learning Spanish, and how far you’ve come.

Enjoy the ride

I hate to tell you that it’s about the journey and not the destination… but that’s the way it is. Focus on the right things and know that you’ll get where you’re going. 


Looking for something more? The Confident Spanish Pronunciation Coursewill help you tune your ear to the many sounds of Spanish so you can speak – and understand — with more confidence and ease. 

Click here to read what current students are saying. 

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Hey there, I'm Connor. I help motivated learners speak Spanish without slogging through grammar books or tapping through every new app. I started Breakthrough Spanish to give more people the confidence and focus to learn effectively Spanish from home. Learn more about me here.

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