If you are an advanced learner of Spanish and want to hone your skills further, read on for cheap yet very helpful ways to improve your knowledge of this language. Some of these tips may be familiar to you, but others may surprise you.
First, I’ll admit that you can get incredibly better at speaking Spanish in a matter of months if your partner speaks Spanish with you or if you live for an extended time in a country where this language is spoken. But even if you can’t do that, there are some other super effective ways to improve your Spanish if you are committed to it.
1. Meet a native speaker online and then possibly in real life
You can meet a native speaker of Spanish through your friends and acquaintances, of course, or at your workplace. Or through your social media. But if that doesn’t work out for you, you can try language exchanges, such as http://conversationexchange.com. You can register there for free and do various searches based on the language you want to use in conversation and the location you’re interested in. If you’re looking for Spanish speakers, it may matter a great deal if they are from Spain or Mexico, especially if you’re an advanced student. Or you may be interested in speaking with someone who lives close to you, someone you can then choose to meet in real life (in a public space, of course).
You can also hire a tutor.
2. Try a language website and various apps
Some language websites and apps are free, while others can be quite costly over time. One of my favorites is Babbel, although it doesn’t come as cheap as I’d like. Babbel emails do offer discounts, though, so if you can, don’t pay right away. Sign up, do a trial lesson, and wait for reminders from them. Alternatively, you can look for discounts online.
Their lessons are very useful in that they give practical words, phrases, and sentences for common situations and make learning difficult grammar questions quite approachable. You also practice your listening and writing skills quite a lot as you are required to listen to words, sentences, and fragments of text and then type various bits of all that.
There aren’t very many free apps for learning Spanish, and the ones that are free offer mostly exercises via flashcards. There are, nevertheless, some Word of the Day apps, so you can try those. But if you want to learn a lot via apps, I recommend you try the better-known ones: Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, Babbel, Memrise, Busuu, etc.
You could also try Pimsleur, but it’s very costly, even though they do have discounts.
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3. Watch your favorite movies or shows on Netflix with the audio and subtitles set to Spanish
I was once a fan of Desperate Housewives for its camp humor and ordered the complete series package once the show ended. The DVDs came with 13 subtitles, Spanish among them, and español was also one of the languages you could choose for the audio. The exercise of listening and reading Spanish was further enhanced by the fact that the audio and the subtitles were different. So I got a double bang for my buck.
Now there’s also Netflix, and you can do the same tricks there: Spanish audio and subtitles—and if having both set this way is difficult for you, you can try Spanish audio with English subtitles and vice-versa.
4. Repeat new words, phrases, and whole sentences out loud
Whether you read sentences on Babbel or in the subtitles of a DVD, make sure you repeat out loud not only new words but also whole sentences. Repeating sentences out loud when you encounter them helps the brain memorize various patterns in them. Also make sure you write them down somewhere so you can go through them later. Which leads me to #5.
5. Write down new words, phrases, and sentences and review them at various intervals of time
A Latin adage says, Repetitio mater studiorum est. Repetition is the mother of learning. Again, though, make sure you repeat not just words, but also phrases and whole sentences. If you want to speak a language fluently, you have to go beyond flashcards for individual words (whether on paper or in flashcard apps). Those have their use but you will get far better results by writing down notes in your phone to check on when you have a minute, or by recording various sentences you listened to repeatedly on a language website or in a movie (NB: I often rewind to listen to the native speaker say certain sentences once or twice more) and listening to them while you’re riding the subway, for instance.
6. Listen to podcasts and audiobooks with short stories
These days there are, of course, podcasts for various levels of proficiency with Spanish, such as Coffee Break Spanish, and there are also several helpful audio courses on Audible, including Patrick Jackson’s Advanced Spanish Bundle, of which I’ll talk more in a minute.
Also make sure you try listening to literary works. That will put such a spring in your step! Don’t be discouraged by the fact that novels may be too difficult for you at this point. Start with short stories. The important thing is to listen to something that is more than coursework—something that really engages your imagination.
Here’s a list with great audiobook titles for every level (beginner, intermediate, advanced), from Homeschool Spanish Academy. Some of these titles are available from LibriVox for free.
If you search cuentos on LibriVox, you will find 32 collections, some of them available now and others in progress.
You can also search cuentos on Audible. At the moment, that yields 453 results, which include stories for adults and various stories, tales, and fairy tales for kids.
7. Find someone to talk to regularly on WhatsApp
If you exchanged addresses with one or more people during your travels to Spanish-speaking countries a while back, you may want to get in touch with them (or their parents!) and ask them if they’d like to chat with you via WhatsApp. This would be wonderful exercise for you and you may also build a nice friendship along the way.
8. Listen to music in Spanish and look for the lyrics
It’s no secret that many people around the world have improved their English by singing along to their favorite songs. Now you can do that with Spanish, by researching music with lyrics in Spanish and then looking up the lyrics and their English translation. The music alone will guarantee a great time (because you’re bound to find something you like), and then you will also become knowledgeable in an important aspect of each culture, something you’ll feel good about for years to come.
9. Buy conversation guidebooks/phrase books and review some textbooks as well
Parsing various conversation guidebooks is one of my pleasures when I travel to a new country. I like how they start with a pronunciation guide and then move on to all sorts of common situations. I find that going through such guides, whether I know the language or not, gives me great joy. It’s wonderful to be able to understand words when people speak, and to practice the language a little with local people when you travel.
But conversation guidebooks are not only for beginners. Even if you’re an advanced learner, I can almost guarantee that if you peruse a thicker phrase book you will find many bits of vocabulary you may have forgotten or never learned exactly as they are presented in that book. And then phrase books make for a great review of a language once you’ve taken various approaches to learning it.
Here’s a nice one: Easy Spanish Phrase Book NEW EDITION: Over 700 Phrases for Everyday Use (Dover Language Guides Spanish) by Dr. Pablo García Loaeza (affiliate link).
I also recommend you review old textbooks every once in a while or dive into a new one, such as Patrick Jackson’s Advanced Spanish Bundle in his Learning Spanish Like Crazy series (very easy to parse) (affiliate link). As much as textbooks try to cover the same ground, there is just so much in a language that you’re bound to find important vocabulary that is new to you, and bits of grammar that, perhaps, you may not have grasped fully.
Now, admittedly, Patrick Jackson has a different method than mine, believing that in order to learn a language it’s enough to listen and repeat (here’s the audiobook). I agree that it may help you get fluent sooner, but you won’t be able to speak the language correctly. How do I know that? Because I learned Spanish like that in the beginning, despite knowing from learning English, French, and German (to various degrees of proficiency) that it’s best to move ahead, at the same pace, with all the skills involved in learning a language, while you also read a lot!
But I don’t want to discourage you. After all, each learner is different (my own style of learning is a bit more visual than auditory, even as I really enjoy it when I can combine the two methods) and you may feel more confident if you get to be fluent sooner rather than later. Also, for various reasons, you may need to speak the language faster than conventional methods allow. So pick and choose from this list what you think works best for you. I’m just offering you a list of the best available options I find to be very useful, so you can consider them.
10. Read short stories and various other materials online in Spanish
You can also find free versions in Spanish of over 250 classical short stories from world literature on espacioebook, many of them by Spanish authors.
As you read some of these texts, be sure to also look into introductory textbooks to Spanish and Latin American literature, if you haven’t already. One textbook I loved in college was Aproximaciones al estudio de la literatura hispanica—here’s the seventh edition (affiliate link). It includes a bit of everything: short stories, poems, microstories, and excerpts of larger works.
If reading short stories in Spanish feels too heavy (too many unknown words, for instance), try reading bilingual editions of Spanish and Latin American literature. Many of them are anthologies of short works. Some good examples are Short Stories in Spanish, ed. by John R. King (mistakenly credited as John L. King) (affiliate link), and Great Spanish and Latin American Short Stories of the 20th Century, ed. and trans. by Anna Hiller (affiliate link).
You could also try to read various sections of newspapers and magazines online. They will merge your interest in the language with your interest of learning something new, and as such your brain will be more engaged with those materials—and you will develop your Spanish skills faster and in a more rounded way.
Do you know about News in Slow Spanish? It offers just that, news spoken slowly for students of various levels. As you listen to the audio, you can also watch the transcript, which marks the most difficult words and gives their English translations on mouseover. The program has been praised by major news outlets, such as The New York Times and The Guardian. The website also includes various courses.
And a bonus tip:
11. Subscribe to a Word of the Day newsletter
The Spanish Word of the Day newsletter I use comes from http://www.spanishdict.com. They give you two sentences with the Word of the Day, which are quite helpful with boosting vocabulary. There are also Word of the Day apps you can use.
Well, I hope this article has given you some ideas as to how to improve your advanced Spanish fast and without putting a hole in your pocket.
Good luck, and enjoy!
To a happier, healthier life,
P.S. I’d appreciate a pin/share if you found my post helpful. Thank you! 🙂