I began my Spanish learning journey in October with 40+ hours of online research to understand the best and most efficient way to learn a language. Below are my summary notes largely based on Gabriel Wyner’s book Fluent Forever.
Spaced Repetition System
The whole concept is based on the Spaced Repetition System. You need to research this to understand why it is so powerful. Likely it will become a tool you use for the rest of your life to memorize anything.
Anki is an application for both your computer and phone that will allow you to use the SRS system. Download it and learn how to use it. I find that learning 30 new cards per day is maximum and I lower it to 10 if I’m learning advanced words or grammar rules.
A very important note: Each flashcard should have one answer. Do not force yourself to recall 7 conjugations of a single word with one flashcard as this will not help you recall quickly during a conversation.
Two URLs that you will frequently use are:
- www.Forvo.com for proper pronunciation. I recommend putting a phrase in your flashcards rather than the word by itself. This way you will hear how the word is pronounced and pick up another word or phrase at the same time.
- www.TinyURL.com/BasicImage to create another connection to the word
Phase I – Train Your Ears
Pronunciation guide. This will introduce you to all the sounds of a language and teach you how to properly make them with your mouth. Learning the International Phonetic Alphabet will prove useful. These videos introduce you to how to make any sound. Hint: Every sound on Earth has to do with where your lips are, where your tongue is, whether or not your voice box is moving, and if the air is going through your nose, mouth, or both. Mimic Method is a solid resource here.
Create minimal pairs flashcards to rewire your brain to hear new sounds (an example of a minimal pair in English is ‘wide’ and ‘wise’. If you were learning English, you would add this card into your Anki)
Phase 2 – Vocabulary, Grammar, and Conversation
Memorize the languages most common words (usually around 600 words make up 80% of spoken language) including cognates. You can search ‘frequency list [target language]’.
Find conversation partners. Either use www.ITalki.com or go on www.CouchSurfer.com and message folks in target language to talk to you in exchange or a meal or coffee. Fluent in 3 Months has a forum dedicated to this.
Buy a grammar book (if you have a teacher, you do not need this) and create flashcards with grammar rules using a common sentence
Related Read: Learning A Language In A Foreign Country-Antigua, Guatemala Edition
Buy a phrase book. This way you will not get caught up while speaking with natives when they use common phrases that don’t have exact translations based on the words you know.
Buy a familiar, low-level book in the target language with the audio. Read along with the audio and this will train your ears. You MUST focus here. Don’t passively listen, instead actively listen. It is ok to stop the audio to look up a word or sentence. You can also buy a book of short stories in the target language which will identify new words, have short chapters, and ask a few multiple choice questions at the end of each chapter. Note: If you choose the wrong things to read, you will stop reading in the target language. For example, I bought a newspaper and it was extremely unenjoyable because it was too advanced, the text was too formal (goal is to speak and listen well), and the subjects didn’t interest me (not to mention they were all sad!)
Watch TV series/cartoons in the target language with subtitles in the target language. Eventually, you can turn off the subtitles. Avoid comedy until you are advanced. Read a summary of the episode in the target language before watching.
- The single best thing you can do to learn a new language is to go to a place where they only speak the target language. If you go somewhere everyone wants to speak to you in English (lots of people want to practice their English), eventually, you will speak English. It’s like when you travel to a new destination and all the locals are trying to rip you off (I’m looking at your Marrakech), eventually, you will get ripped off. Place yourself in a situation you are most likely to succeed.
- While in conversation with a local, avoid saying you don’t understand as this will stop the conversation in its tracks. Instead, say anything related to the subject at hand. Or, not. Conversation is a funny thing and as long as you say anything, it will continue to flow. Even if you rephrase the last thing you said.
- You want to phase out hand motions when you speak because they provide clues to the listener and you want to know that your pronunciation is sufficient enough.
- Watch the news in your target language because of the lack of slang and simple sentences.
- Add Video Speed Controller Chrome extension to make video playback easy
- You need a plan. For me, every day, I read a short story in Spanish and do my flashcards. Every week, I create new flashcards from my google translate. Every Wednesday, I have 1 hour of class. You can watch a TV episode in Spanish every day, listen to 30 minutes of Spanish music, etc. But, you need a plan to maintain progress.
- Directly related to your plan, you need to measure progress to stay motivated. Even if you practice for only 15 minutes every day (which is 91 hours per year of study time) you will progress over the long term. A good way to measure early progress is to watch a cartoon and note how much you remember. Then, watch the cartoon again once per month and you will understand more and more.
- Focus on the I and You conjugations, first. This is because your conversations likely will be one-on-one where you’ll only need these forms.
- When sending and receiving messages (texting, Facebook, etc.), don’t immediately rely on google. Take a second to use your brain. When sending, try to type the entire message, then use a translator. When receiving, actively read for comprehension before using a translator. It’s very easy to rely heavily on translators, but this limits the speed of learning. Eventually, start leaving voice messages instead of text messages to improve speaking ability.
- Smartphone apps will be your best friend (Tandem, Memrise, busuu, Duolingo). I find them the best for practice (not learning new concepts). Otherwise, you get out the old fashioned pen and paper and flip from question to answer in a book. But, don’t use apps until later in your learning journey as they don’t do a great job of teaching new concepts, but they can reinforce previously learned concepts in a new/fun way.
- Once you’re at an intermediate level, you’ll want to switch your phone to your target language. This is because the more exposure you get in varied ways, the better able your brain will be to latch on to words. You’ll pick up dozens if not hundreds of new words just by using your phone. You can also switch your Netflix account, Facebook, web browser, etc.
- Here is a bunch of resources related to Anki, SRS, pronunciation, etc.
- www.iTalki.com and www.HelloTalk.com — Speak to native speakers around the world
- Foreign Service Institute — This is what the US government uses to teach folks languages quick. I have not used it but heard it works well if you have the dedication (it can be boring).
- Wikipedia IPA Guide to help you with pronunciation
- www.Fluent-Forever.com — My go-to source. Buy the book if you have not
- www.Language101.com — I found this site to have a lot of relevant, useful, unbiased information
- www.RhinoSpike.com — Pronunciation of sentences
- Eventually, you’ll want to start making note of the English sentences you cannot form in your target language. This will give your teacher a great idea of what you need to learn or are having trouble with. This should not be done until you are an advanced beginner, otherwise, you will record almost every sentence. You do not need to record sentences that you are able to explain in alternate ways.
- I don’t place much emphasis on listening to music in your target language. I barely understand a lot of the words in English music. I think your time is better spent elsewhere. With that said, listening to music can’t hurt, it can only help. However, if I am listening to something, it’s conversations (easily findable on YouTube) to train my ear. One major caveat here is if you are a musical person (ie music has a larger than normal impact on your life) then music could be a viable option for you. In your case, I would learn the lyrics of your target language song (sing aloud!) then translate to your native language to spot the differences. Music also has the benefit of connecting emotions to words and sentences (ie easier to internalize/memorize). Additionally, slang is often used in songs. Check out www.LyricsTraining.com
- An easy way to keep the conversation in the native language is to play games like eye spy, 5 questions, back writing, and murder/marry/shag.
- Conversation with your Spanish teacher isn’t bad, but it’s not going to get you where you want to go because your teacher is used to using 100% proper grammar and speaking slowly. This is the reason you think you’re good and then get hit in the head with a sledgehammer when you go out into the real world. You must actively listen to Spanish. There are great video’s on YouTube for this. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddgB687vq_s and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dY2tjhBVAps&t=275s and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCXLqsktJXQ). Additionally, you talk about similar themes with folks so you will talk about similar things with your teacher and to get to true fluency, you need to talk about a variety of subjects with a variety of people. One suggestion is to talk about different subjects on different days of the week (relationships, health, science, travel, etc.).
- www.Lang-8.com — This is recommended in Gabriel’s book, but they are not longer taking users, instead opting for an app that is free, but you must pay for full services at $5/month.
- Search “popular YouTube videos in [country name]” into Google
- Watch movies/TV in accordance with your level. If you’re a beginner, watch Disney movies. And, watch movies you’re already familiar with because you can focus more on listening because you already know the plot.
- Active listening can also be trying to hear the words, not necessarily the meaning. Trying to listen for gaps is a learning trick. This is the first step before true active listening.
- Google is your best friend. On your journey, you will have issues. For me, it was listening. This skill was lagging. I go onto google and search something for how to improve listening comprehension for Spanish and you get a ton of results. Spend a couple of hours reading them and you’re sure to find a few new ideas that you like.
- Just as important as memorizing words is memorizing phrases/patterns. All languages use similar patterns and memorizing these structures will help with your listening comprehension.
- Create an easily accessible list of ways you can study: watch TV (subtitles), watch YouTube videos, listen to podcasts, read Spanish stories or grammar books, study flashcards, create flashcards, programs (tandem for texting/video or LyricsTrainer for music), etc.
- Look for street vendors to talk with and then purchase something from them.
- Fluent in 3 Months is a really well-known blog. I read the book and hated it. I really found is disappointing because it was 90% fluff and 10% actionable information. With that said, the guy knows 10+ languages and offers a premium service which sounds promising, but so did his book. I have not purchased this.