Back in January, Alex and I went to the cinema in Alicante to watch the new Disney release, Mary Poppins Returns. We decided that for the first time ever, we would watch a movie at the cinema, in Spanish together. It wasn’t the first time we’d watched a film together in Spanish and it wasn’t the first time I’d been to the cinema to watch a Spanish film, but, I wanted to go to see how much both of our Spanish had come on. Just for extra information: The cinema in Alicante at Plaza Mar plays movies in English, just search for V.O.S for the showings in English. The cinema is a 30 minute drive from Benidorm, but you can take the L1 tram getting off at Plaza Mar!
Now, from being entirely self-taught, I don’t think I do too bad. The entire film of Mary Poppins, I understood near enough every word. Considering the songs were in Spanish too, it was quite an achievement to be able to understand the conversations. Even better still, Alex was able to follow the storyline and understand a lot of the conversations.
It’s frustrating that I can read and write Spanish, near enough perfectly. I understand a lot. Sure, sometimes things get mixed up in translation or I don’t quite grasp something the first time, but a lot of the time, I do pretty well. It’s now a case of confidence. I’m scared to make mistakes. I talk fairly quietly anyway, so imagine me speaking in Spanish when I’m nervous, it’s my definite downfall.
However, people I talk to are always absolutely gobsmacked at the wide range of vocabulary I have. Usually commenting that my actual vocabulary is wider than theirs. Commenting that I can use idioms and expressions in the right context. So, how did I do it? How did I teach myself to learn another language?
It’s a question I get fairly often on social media. I get asked if I learnt Spanish in high school. Which I didn’t. I get asked if I have a tutor. I don’t. I get asked if we have Spanish family. We don’t. I taught myself because I wanted to learn. It’s taken years and years. But, I’ve noticed how much it’s sped forward since being here. It’s true, the more you use and hear a language the easier it becomes.
So, if you’re trying to learn French or Spanish or any other language and you don’t have daily chunks of it – don’t beat yourself up. As the Spanish say, poco a poco.
Here are my top tips and the best resources for learning a second language.
My Language Exchange
This was honestly my gold mine when it came to learning a second language and starting my third. The website ultimately uses your own skills to pair you with somebody to share your knowledge. I have made such good friends from Italy and Spain through My Language Exchange.
You create your profile and insert your mother tongue (or which language you’re able to ‘tutor’ with) and then insert the languages you want to learn. You set whether you want to learn face-to-face, over Skype, over email or via phone calls. It then gives you the option to scout through people who match what you’re looking for. You teach them your language, they teach you their language. A free way to gain tutoring and make friends. Use it effectively as the free trial runs out, so make contact with as many people as you can whilst you’re on the free version!
People would always look at me with a puzzled look when I was reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” or something very similar in Spanish. It was almost seen as uneducated. Why is this grown adult constantly reading children’s books?
Well, when we were first learning English, we had children’s picture books. Short stories. Quick books. It’s how we learnt basic sentence structure and vocabulary. Get books that are targetted at young children and start by reading them aloud and working out what the words mean. As you get better progress into older books. Nobody started learning English by reading Romeo and Juliet. It’s a slow process.
There are a wide range of bilingual books on Amazon too that were fantastic for learning as the story was in both languages, so if you don’t understand a word or a page you can take a look at the translation.
Listening to music in a different language is a great way to learn words and phrases in a fun way. It’s a well-known fact that it’s a great way to improve your listening skills. I test myself by translating lyrics to songs from Spanish to English or vice versa and then googling the actual lyrics and seeing how well I did.
I also used to type songs I liked on YouTube with Spanish translation lyrics below or listen to Spanish versions of my favourite songs on YouTube.
Never underestimate the power of a good movie. Watching a film in another language makes you feel so much more deeply. You take note of the emotions. You take note of the music. The atmosphere becomes important. If you need to turn on the subtitles to help you. There are some fantastic Spanish movies too. I’d recommend Volver if you’re learning Spanish. It gives a wonderful insight into the Spanish language and culture.
One of my favourite ways to learn is to practise little inspirational quotes in Spanish. It’s the reason I used to have one at the top of every blog post. They’re such a nice way to learn the language, plus they make inspiring aesthetic Instagram captions.
Apps and Podcasts
There is no denying that apps like Duolingo, FluentU, Rosetta Stone, Memrise and Lingualia are all useful ways to improve your language acquisition. A variety of apps keeps you updated and challenges you daily. Podcasts are also supposed to be a wonderful way to immerse yourself into Spanish, though I haven’t used any of those!
How did we learn at school? With workbooks and homework, of course. I have a selection of books, such as GCSE Spanish workbooks that I regularly do exercises in. I also found the “Learn Spanish in 12 Weeks” bundle from DK to be outstanding. It comes with a pocket-sized colour dictionary and a phrasebook which are both perfect sized for popping in your bag or pocket.
If you’re looking to learn Spanish, I do have a free Learn Spanish section on my blog, which you can view here: Learn Spanish, a Free Blog Series. I split the bite-sized lessons into different topics. It’s free to access and I’ve had an abundance of people message to say they have it saved to their phones and it’s helped them communicate with friends, doctors, waiters and more.
Good luck with learning your second language!