On this page, you'll find out about specific ways to enhance your Spanish learning to take advantage of the fact you are in Spain, as opposed to learning your Spanish in your home country.
See also: Where to Learn Spanish in Spain
Choose an Appropriate City to Learn Spanish in
There are three main factors to take into consideration when choosing which city to study Spanish in:
- Local Language Standard Spanish, often referred to as 'Castilian Spanish', is not the only language in Spain. You'll learn more by learning in a city where the first language is Castilian, not Catalan, Basque or Galician.
- Local Accent Some accents, particularly in the south, can be tough to decipher for beginners.
- Cost of Living If you're on a tight budget, you should pick a city that is cheaper to live in.
To help you decide which city to learn Spanish in, read my article: Best Cities to Learn Spanish in.
Choose a Good Spanish Language School
Not all language schools are equal. There are several factors to decide when choosing your language school. How big is the school? Where are your classmates from? Which cultural activities does the school offer?
Do a Little Pre-Learning
Beginner classes in Spanish are often slow. Many of your classmates may be on one- or two-week taster courses and they may find out that learning Spanish is not for them.
There's only so much you can learn from a class that is going over the numbers time and time again and having to wait for the slow guy in the corner to remember 'My name is Bob, what's your name?' in Spanish. Get yourself a good book and a good audio language course (I downloaded the Michel Thomas course) and get over the basics quickly. Then when you get your class, try and learn ahead and ask to jump to the next class up as soon as possible.
Learn Spanish in More than One City
One of the best ways to learn Spanish is to study in more than one city. This allows you to get exposed to more than one accent.
I would recommend starting your learning in a city with a simple accent, such as Madrid, before moving somewhere the accent is harder to understand, like Seville.
This can be done by booking two separate courses but the best way is to study with a school with branches in both cities. The school can help synchronize your learning so you don't miss anything.
Read more about How to Choose a Language School
Get an Intercambio
The general standard of English learning in Spanish schools is low. But the need to learn English is as high as ever. This means that lots of people leave school needing English and they don't all have the money to go to a language school. An 'intercambio' or language exchange is a common way for two people to learn offer their own language skills in exchange for exposure to the language they want to learn.
Your school will have a noticeboard where people can put up ads for intercambio partners.
Go to an Intercambio Night
Most big cities in Spain have 'intercambio nights'. In theory, it's where locals and foreigners meet to practice their languages. Sometimes they become merely 'international parties' where foreigners hang out with other foreigners and where Spanish men come to pick up 'easy' foreign chicks. But a good intercambio night can be a great way to practice your Spanish.
Intercambio nights often take place in local Irish pubs.
Watch TV With Subtitles
Put the TV on and stick on the subtitles. Yes, it's Spanish text for Spanish audio, which might not make any sense in the early days, but it still helps. You'll start to recognize words you've seen written but never heard spoken, you'll get a better sense of pronunciation and you'll meet new vocabulary that you can look up later.
Learn from Other Foreigners
Other language learners with a level of Spanish slightly superior to yours can be great sources for practicing and learning new vocabulary and grammar. They'll speak slower than the natives and they'll use structures that are more simple - but still correct - than Spaniards with vocabulary that you in general know, with just enough words that you don't to push you that extra bit.
Exposing yourself solely to native speakers for fear of picking up bad habits from other foreigners is overly cautious and ambitious at the same time. Most Spaniards, unless talking specifically for your benefit (as an intercambio, for example), will speak too fast and with too much unfamiliar vocabulary to be of much use in your first few weeks. Meanwhile, while your friends may make some mistakes, they won't all make the same mistakes, so it is unlikely you'll pick up any bad habits from them. Just make sure you don't socialize with just one non-native speaker.
Read What You Would Read at Home
Reading is a great way to boost your language skills. Back home, you may only have access to classic Spanish novels, but in Spain you've got access to so much more. There are comic books, magazines, newspapers (many of which are free) and snippets of language all around you (on billboards, street signs, menus, etc).
If you don't read novels in your native language, don't force yourself to read them when learning Spanish.