Language-Learning Before You Move Abroad for Every Level
So, you’re excited because your plans are set to move to Spain in the near future, but you want to brush up on your language skills (or start learning Spanish altogether) before you move? If so, you are among the majority of our coaching clients and so we’ve decided to compile some of the wisdom we’ve shared with them all together in one blog post. We hope that this article can serve as a resource for you to come back to time and time again as you progress on your language learning journey.
Of course, each and every person is at a different stage of the process so we will break this list of recommendations down into beginner, intermediate, and advanced options. We’re not the biggest fans of labels, especially when it comes to language-learning, so don’t get too hung up on those. We simply suggest you work your way from the top down as starting with the last suggestion in each category might feel overwhelming if you’re just starting out or haven’t used your Spanish in a long time.
Language Learning Apps / Platforms
It’s likely that this is the recommendation that you are most familiar with, but let’s walk through some specifics to ensure you’re getting the most out of your language-learning app and/or platform usage.
If you’re learning Spanish for the first time or want to get back into practice in a rather painless way, we recommend starting with Duolingo or a similar game-style app. We’ve written an entire post on using Duolingo to learn Spanish so we won’t go into all the details here, but we find that this kind of app is very helpful when trying to establish the habit of working on your Spanish daily as it will send you a reminder if you haven’t logged in each day.
Pro-Tip: The standard quizzes are what most Duolingo users rely on, but keep in mind there are other resources associated with the app! We highly recommend using the Stories to practice your reading, listening, and comprehension skills.
If you’re ready to get a bit more involved, we recommend taking one-on-one online classes on a platform like italki or Preply. Check out both of the linked articles for reviews and further details about these two platforms, but the most important thing you need to know is that this is a great opportunity to personalize your language-learning. Working directly with a teacher means that they can prepare lessons based on your individual strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Having classes that you must attend at a certain time is a great way to keep yourself accountable as well.
Pro-Tip: Depending on the platform you choose (and there are many more that just italki and Preply, these are simply the ones we have tried and can recommend), there are additional resources you should take advantage of. For example, on italki you can get involved in the conversation with other language-learners by participating in the community tab and submitting responses to the questions in your target language (which can be corrected by peers and/or teachers if you ask).
For the learner who is really driven, we recommend using LingQ to deeply immerse yourself in the target language. With the free plan, you get access to their large library of books, podcasts, articles, and more. However, with the paid premium option you can also import unlimited “lessons,” essentially turning anything you want to read/watch/listen to into a “lesson” on the platform. That way, you keep all the books, podcasts, YouTube videos, etc that you’re using in one place where you can highlight words you don’t recognize and LingQ will automatically add them to a vocabulary list and test you on them later.
Pro-Tip: We recommend starting out with a free plan to test if you like this style of learning first. If you do and you’re already using entertainment to practice your Spanish, this is a great way to make sure you’re reaping the benefits of the time you invest doing so. With LingQ’s periodic tests, you have tangible results to ensure you’re actually learning vocabulary along the way.
We’re going to take an educated guess and assume you have an account on at least one social media platform. Following Spanish-speaking, especially native-Spanish-speaking, people on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter is a super easy way to engage with more Spanish on a regular basis.
When you’re first starting out, simply add the accounts of Spanish-speakers to your feed (even turn on notifications for them to ensure they don’t get lost in the algorithm) and actually read their posts and captions. This may sound like a silly thing to have to spell out, but we all know how easy it is to get lost in the scroll and not actually read the whole message. To get the most out of it, be sure you take the time to really read their content, even taking note of new expressions or vocabulary to look up later. When you feel especially brave, comment!
If you don’t know where to get started, check out the people we follow on Instagram. There are a number of content creators who speak Spanish and once you find one or two, it’s easy to use the accounts they follow to find even more. If you’re specifically looking for Spanish teacher accounts, all of the profesores we collaborated with on our Cómo Aprender Español video series would be excellent options.
Pro-Tip: It’s not the best approach (since automatic translators often make mistakes) but if you set your app to Spanish you can hit the “ver traducción” button at the end of non-Spanish language posts, too. While we wouldn’t say they’re word-for-word accurate, the idea is usually captured well and it could be a good place to start.
Once you feel confident with the written content of Spanish-language accounts, we recommend moving onto the challenge of video recordings. Start with recorded content, not live streams. That way, you’ll have the option to pause and go back when you miss something.
Additionally, you can read through the comments after you watch and, likely, find other people expressing feelings that you may also have about the topic as well. This is a great way to take note of the way in which natives express themselves, so be sure to write down any useful expressions.
Pro-Tip: Depending on the platform you are using, you may have the option to turn on subtitles and slow down the playback speed. This is definitely available on YouTube, just check your settings options.
You guessed it, our advanced recommendation is to watch live content. This will require strong listening skills as most live streams do not provide subtitles and you can’t slow down the speed. However, this is a fantastic way to push yourself. What’s more, depending on what you watch, the live commenting from natives can be quite funny.
Especially right now with the ongoing Coronavirus situation, most of Spain’s newspapers and stations are live streaming updates daily and the administration is doing so frequently as well. If you know you will be moving to Spain, find the social media accounts of your (soon to be) local politicians. It’s a great way to start picking up on the dialect and colloquial terms in the area.
Pro-Tip: Here in Andalucía, we follow the president of the Junta de Andalucía, Juanma Moreno and if you’re not familiar with the way Andalusians speak, his videos offer a great crash course. Additionally, the comments on his live streams tend to be very, very andaluz.
If you really want to prepare yourself for the immersion into the language that living in Spain will be, we recommend incorporating Spanish into the everyday activities you already do and enjoy. It doesn’t only have to be the standard resources like books and movies, either. There are so many ways to work Spanish into all of your hobbies.
We all have to eat, right? So, why not seek out some recipes in Spanish? This is a fantastic way to practice and improve your language skills as you’ll likely be familiar with the names of the ingredients, but you’ll come across some new words when you get to the actions. Also, this is usually a really authentic way to get in some practice with commands that you might not get in your other reading.
We do not actually believe that cooking or baking in a second language is an ‘easy’ task, we simply list it as our beginner option because it’s one you can prep ahead of time. At least at the beginning, read through the recipe ahead of time and look up the words you don’t know before you’re ready to actually get down to business. That way, the actual cooking or baking part is more like your review session rather than your first foray.
Pro-Tip: This recommendation is a win-win as you can choose recipes for Spanish dishes and begin to immerse yourself in the Spanish gastronomy as well. If you don’t know where to get started, we recommend this website’s lentejas recipes (a New Year’s Day traditional meal in Spain).
When you’re ready to use your Spanish listening skills in real time, we recommend taking on a workout class in Spanish. We’ve talked about it before, but an exercise class is a great way to get both your brain and body moving. Plus, even if you don’t understand all the cues, you can follow along with the visual cues—especially if you choose a workout you’re already familiar with.
You can find free videos like these on YouTube simply by searching for the name of the workout you want to do ‘+ español.’ We recommend adding ‘español’ rather than ‘Spanish’ to ensure you find original-language Spanish videos, rather than dubbed ones as it can throw off the timing if the videos were recorded in a different language. Still, if you’re already a fan of Yoga with Adriene and don’t want to change your routine too much, checking out her new Spanish-language channel is another option.
Pro-Tip: You would be surprised how easy it is to find Spanish-language workouts. In fact, you may already be using a platform or app that has them! For example, Dani likes to use Zumba.dance for her home workouts and she can easily turn on the Spanish language option when searching for virtual classes.
Finally, when you feel very confident in your oral comprehension and don’t need any sort of visual reinforcement, we challenge you to try out meditation in Spanish. Of course, this is a better idea if you already have a meditation practice but it can be valuable for anyone.
As with all of the other options in this section, meditation comes with its own unique set of vocabulary and even its own tone. Like recipes, this is a great way to practice your mandatos (commands) in Spanish, but you may find that they sound different in this setting. Added bonus, you can do this activity in small bursts of just 5 or 10 minutes a day but feel really fulfilled anyway as it’s a full meditation.
Pro-Tip: Again, you may already be using an app with access to Spanish-language content. With Insight Timer, for example, all you need to do is go into your account settings and add Spanish as one of your languages. You’ll immediately gain access to all of the guided meditations, courses, etc offered by Spanish-speaking teachers. And not to fear, you can continue to use the app in English as well, it allows you to use multiple languages.
There you have it, a rather long but hopefully really useful list of ideas for you to practice your Spanish before you move abroad. We hope this post has been full of less conventional ideas to make your language-learning feel interesting! Has it inspired you to try something else in Spanish? Or are there any great ideas we missed? Let us know in the comments below!