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What is most important for learning Spanish?

We must follow a series of specific steps that will lead us to the ultimate success of communicating in Spanish. We outline 10 essential aspects to approach this task with a guarantee of success.

As every September, a new academic year begins. At the same time, many people decide to engage in new activities or learn new skills they've been wanting to do for a while. If the activity you've chosen to start is learning Spanish, here are 10 points to consider in order to achieve your goal in a reasonable amount of time.

1. Have an objective. It doesn't matter what it is. Your partner speaks Spanish, you'd like to travel to Spain and Latin America, or watch original Mexican series. Anything works. The important thing is to know what you want to do with Spanish once you learn it. This objective is the first and most important, as your desire to achieve it will provide you with the necessary motivation to practice.

2. Practice regularly. Since proficiency in a second language requires numerous hours of practice, practicing regularly will bring you closer to your goal of understanding and speaking Spanish. Practicing doesn't mean studying. Practicing doesn't mean dedicating an hour daily. Practicing means engaging in some form of activity (listening, reading, speaking, and/or writing in Spanish) as part of your daily routine. 10 or 15 minutes of practice a day, for 4 or 5 days a week, is much better than 2 hours of practice in a single day.

3. Understand that: Comprehension will always be greater than your ability to speak. There are no tricks about it. The language learning process follows these steps. Even if you can comprehend almost any conversation, movie, or lecture in Spanish, it doesn't mean that your ability to express those same ideas when speaking is at the same level. It will always lag behind. However, it's your decision to reach that level of speaking ability in Spanish. You simply need to practice with those structures, and it will be a matter of time before you speak at that level.

4. Interact and don't be afraid to continue. The only way to improve your Spanish skills is by putting them into practice in real conversation situations. Interaction leads to implicit learning that you won't acquire by listening to a podcast on your sofa or watching series on your laptop. Furthermore, interaction allows you to speak, testing your language skills. When you speak, continue your discourse simply and without excessive concern for forms, especially grammar. By improving your fluency, you can eventually speak with perfect grammatical correctness. Trying to be perfect in every word you say will never lead to speaking Spanish fluently.

5. Travel to Spain or Spanish-speaking countries. If you have the opportunity, don't think twice. This has direct implications for the previous points. It can be a goal in itself; it will encourage regular practice since you will have to use the Spanish you know, be it much or little. Similarly, you will need to interact with local people, accommodation companions, and people you meet during the trip. Remember that every practice does its bit to the ultimate goal of learning Spanish.

6. Expose yourself to Spanish whenever possible. Think of a baby and their process of growing up to speak their native language. From the moment they are born, with minutes and hours of life, their parents, grandparents, and family friends speak to them and expose them to the language. Initially, they may not understand, possibly not even hear, but that regular exposure to the language is what, years later, becomes their own language. If you practice (not necessarily study Spanish regularly), you will be closer to achieving your goal.

7. Use repetition. Although repeating activities, videos, or audios may seem like a thing of the past, in our Spanish practice, it can make the difference between progressing or stagnating. By repeating known Spanish fragments, we help our brain to identify, process, and search for answers automatically, without the need for translation or subtitles. In my previous posts on how to listen to and read in Spanish to improve our skills, we explain how you can do this.

8. Remember that results come in the long term. It's common to see students who become demotivated or frustrated when, after practicing for several months or years, they don't reach the level of Spanish they initially expected. As an extensive and complex practice, learning Spanish requires all the factors mentioned above, in addition to the time needed for the consolidation of all of it. Understanding why you think you're not improving in Spanish is in our blog post from a few months ago.

9. Learning Spanish in one year is not possible. Why? Not only because our brain's capacity doesn't allow it, mainly due to the multiple variations of words, dialects, and expressions in Spanish. It's also not possible because, even with the capacity, it would require many hours of exposure to the language and practice, far exceeding the 8,760 hours in a year. Nevertheless, and and here's the proof, it is possible to learn a lot of Spanish, to the point where you can interact fluently and accurately in general conversations, in a few months.

10. Knowing it's a long journey. Keeping in mind that the learning of a second language can be infinite will help us put our achievements into perspective, but above all, our frustrations. If you set a specific deadline as the ultimate goal for a certain level of Spanish knowledge, you are very likely to succumb to such expectations. Instead, if you apply the principles we have outlined and also bear in mind that there will always be more to learn, you can go further and reach that level of Spanish you once dreamed of.

Don't let trivial comments, unrealistic expectations, or charlatans influence your potential to learn Spanish. Remember the Spanish popular saying that goes: "If there's a will, ther's a way". Good luck!

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