How I am Going to Learn Spanish in 6 Months

I’ve always wanted to learn a foreign language, but a few things have been holding me back.

  1. I’m bad at memorizing things. I’m terrible with names, useless facts, dates, etc.  I can figure things out if there is a formula, but it’s really hard to derive Spanish words from their English counterpart.
  2. No necessity. I spent a few weeks in Spain last summer, but that didn’t really force me to learn any Spanish.  I spent a few months in Costa Rica in 2008, but was also graduating college in the months leading up to it, so I didn’t really put forth an effort to learn it.
  3. I’m lazy. Learning a new language takes a lot of work!  Hours a day and you don’t see the improvements immediately.

Well my impending South America trip is really sparking my motivation.  I intend to do a lot of the trip solo, and I’m seriously considering doing it on a motorcycle.  Being able to communicate effectively in Spanish will be critical for a successful journey.  I don’t need to be fluent by the time I leave.  I just want my Spanish to be better than most locals’ English so that our default language is Spanish.  If you are seeking out English speakers the entire time, you won’t learn much Spanish.

The 6-Month Plan

I’m starting out at a beginner level.  I barely passed my second year of Spanish in high school, so I really don’t have much of a foundation.  My plan is essentially to surround myself in the language every day, and force myself to understand it.  I’ll be attacking from all angles:

  • The 1,000 Word List: I found a list of the 1,000 most commonly used Spanish words with their English translations.  I printed the list out, which is 5 pages, double sided.  I’ve committed to memorizing 10 words a day for the next 100 days.  On the 100 day mark, (June 22nd) I’ll be testing myself on all 1,000 words.  I carry this list with me wherever I go, so I can keep studying wherever I go.  Standing in line, waiting for a friend, eating lunch, etc.
  • Skype Spanish Tutor: I found a Spanish Tutor in Mexico who I Skype with 3x per week, 50 minutes each session.  She charges $9/hour for a 1-on-1 Spanish lesson.  We chat back and fourth, go over exercises and she corrects my speech.  The lessons are rough, but very good practice.
  • Watching Telemundo/Univision: Instead of watching garbage like Storage Wars or Ice Road Truckers, I’ll just put on one of the two Spanish-language stations we get.  Just listening to people speak Spanish helps familiarize yourself with the pronunciation, word order and common phrases, even if you don’t understand what they are saying.  As a bonus, sometimes I’ll be able to pick up pieces of what they are saying, and be able to assume what some words mean based on the context and what I see on the screen.
  • Getting Sucked into a TV Series in Spanish: When I was sucked into the show Lost, I would always look forward to watching the next episode.  When the series ended, I felt like crap knowing how much time I wasted.  I vowed never to get sucked into another series again.  I recently realized that I can use that excitement to force myself to watch series in Spanish.  I started watching The Walking Dead in Spanish.  I’ll watch each episode in Spanish first, so I’m frantically trying to understand what’s going on.  I usually can’t quite figure it out, so I’ll watch it again in English to keep me interested in the plot line.
  • Reading Goosebumps in Spanish: I loved Goosebumps books when I was a kid because they were easy to read, and the story was always pretty captivating.  I bought a few of them in Spanish, along with their English versions and I’m slowly chugging through them.  I’ll read a paragraph in Spanish, try to understand what’s going on, then read that same paragraph in English so I stay on track with the story.
  • Speaking Spanish with the Roommates: I try to use my Spanish around the house as much as I can.  Playing ping-pong, we’ll keep score in Spanish, and even curse in Spanish if we lose a point.
  • Switching my Phone and Computer to Spanish: There are language settings on most devices, so switching to Spanish helps you get that much more exposure throughout your daily life.

Hopefully this will be enough to have a solid foundation by the time I leave for South America this fall.  As long as I keep the motivation up, I believe I’ll excel.  Maybe I should get a Spanish-speaking girlfriend?  Or maybe I should start posting on my blog in Spanish?  No es una buena idea!

If anyone else has some good ideas, let me know!

Adios amigos!


11 Responses to “How I am Going to Learn Spanish in 6 Months”

  1. Dad says:

    That reminds me of when Mom and I were in Baja, I can’t remember exactly where or when, but it was probably around 1980 and maybe in San Quintin, or it could have been Ensenada. We were in the bar/restaurant and there were a bunch on middle-aged American guys talking, drinking beer, and playing cards. The topic of conversation got around to the exchange rate, so one of the guys, trying to appear really cool, asked the bartender “Quanto peso por la dolar, por favor?”. The bartender quickly answered him in Spanish. After a few awkward seconds, when it became obvious the American had absolutely no idea what the bartender had just said, the bartender answered the question again, this time in perfect English. “Gracias”, replied the American, trying his best to retain the last remaining shreds of his self-respect.

    Moral of the story is that the tourists best Spanish is almost always going to be worse that the natives worst English.

  2. Mommy says:

    What a great plan!

  3. Dave says:

    ” ¿Maybe I should get a Spanish-speaking girlfriend? ”

    A bit of caution…… These can be both adorable & fertile. (very fertile!!)

    ; )

  4. Tommy says:

    Ha! If I knocked up my future Spanish girlfriend, then I’d really be forced to learn Spanish!

    Another trick I’m doing is listening to Spanish talk radio while I work. Its great just to get a little more subconscious exposure. There aren’t any local stations that come in well, so I just stream it from:

  5. will says:

    If you can get a good grasp on tener(to have), estar and ser(to be), querer (to want), gustar (to like), and ir (to go) you should have somewhat of a base to learn everything else. Also phrases like (come se dice) how do you say, will definately be helpful. Interesting thing about learning languages is some vocabulary sets are quite specific to situations. For example I was able to learn spanish vocab words working in a cell phone store (words for password and account for example) just through working. Children learn vocab situationally at times. I would make an analogy to a 8 year old and a mortgage…while they are fluent in language a lot of that vocab would be foreign.

  6. Tommy says:

    Thats actually a really good point. There are so many words to learn, but most I might never ever need. I wish I could somehow take statistics of my speech, and print out a list of my most commonly used 1,000 words, and just commit the Spanish translation of all those to memory.

  7. Jim says:

    I learned when I spent a year in Madrid in college. I used the girlfriend idea, with the twist that she did not speak English. Beleive me, we had a big desire to communicate! I started without a word of Spanish. Now 40 years later, I still remember!

  8. Ryan says:

    Hey Tommy – I’ve been learning Spanish recently, and I’d say learning 1000 frequent words is good, but it’s better intially to learn how to fluidly use, say 100. Learning words by use, and by sentences and phrases is different from studying lists, and can be a lot more exciting and useful. I myself got incredibly bored at trying to learn lists and click pictures to build vocabulary.

    If I would start over today, I’d try getting a really good pronunciation for the first 3 weeks (Pimsleur program is good for this), then a grasp of common expressions and some grammar the next 3, finish all grammar by the next 3, then maybe start with the TV and all the vocab… I’ve found understanding TV hard because of lack of vocab, and didn’t help me in the beginning.

    Of course, a Spanish speaking girlfriend is huge and will accelerate your learning speed more than most things I would suggest. ;)

    Looking forward to hearing of your progress! Cheers man.

  9. will says:

    Hey this is reaching back a bit but did you make any progress with the spanish…honestly befriending a young lady that speaks spanish isn’t a bad idea…you can also try to have a text message convo with her in spanish…u can slowly have a convo and look up the words you dont know.

  10. John says:

    How’s the spanish coming along? Almost coming up on 5 months. Would you be able to provide me with the info of your Skype spanish tutor? I’m looking to get a Spanish tutor for myself. Thanks.

  11. Tommy says:

    Spanish is definitely coming along, but I am a very long way from fluent. However I’m much more comfortable having a conversation. The daily (well 4x/week) Spanish tutor has been the most helpful, and then the second most helpful thing has been going to the Spanish meetups. I’d HIGHLY recommend my tutor. Send me an email and I’ll forward you her contact info.

Leave a Reply