Jan 10

The 5 HACKS TO learn Spanish as an adult and achieve fluency

Introduction: Is it really difficult to learn Spanish as an adult?

Anytime I'm asked,

"why is it so difficult to learn Spanish as an adult?"

I answer,

"Is it?"

Think about it. Is really difficult to learn Spanish due the fact you have certain age or it's  only something you believe because you've heard it repeatedly?

As human beings tend to take too seriously the things we hear from others. And if it repeats something specific many times from different people, then we start to think that probably it is true. That's called "Beliefs".

If those beliefs stop us from achieving something, we should call them "Limit Beliefs". And Darren Hardy have a very good talk about it, you can check it out if you want:

I'll change my question this time: Is is difficult to learn Spanish as an adult or is it only that you have heard it many times?

How many times have you tried to learn this language? How much effort have you put into it? How many hours a day do you take to study it? How many methods have you proved for more than one month?

Do you see what I mean?

Let's go to the action... 😉

1. How to learn Spanish as an adult

In this part, I'll tell you more about how to beat your limit beliefs and harness your strengths as an adult to start speaking Spanish. Just because I think it is the most important before going to the practical part.

If you want to go directly to the advice to boost your Spanish learning, just scroll down to point number 5.

In order to speak Spanish and connect to native speakers, you have to forget about everything you have been told until now and everything you have learned in school about learning a language.

This is what you don't neeD TO BELIEVE, not because I say it, but because it is simply not realistic:

  • You need grammar to start learning Spanish:

Think about it for a second. Did your parents teach you grammar to speak perfectly when you were a child?

Exactly. They didn't. You learned that from school, because you needed to get to master English.

Therefore, you need the same now with Spanish. Speak first, learn grammar later.

When you were a kid you didn't care about speaking perfectly, but started growing and then it turns something else. Now you are afraid to make mistakes and -of course- you don't like others to make fun of you.

You know. When I was in high school (called "preparatoria" in Mexico) I couldn't speak English at all.

I was afraid to try speaking the language because in Mexico when a person speaks a bit English but you don't pronounce the words perfectly they are going to laugh -even if they don't speak English neither-. I know, it's stupid.

It is like that, not all the time, but almost.

Do you think that I would speak English now if I would have stayed frozen for the fear of looking like a dummy? Of course I wouldn't.

So, I decided to speak English even though sometimes was a bit difficult to fight against that voice which always tell tell you why you cannot do it.

Now my English is awesome to connect with anyone in the world and I still make a lot of mistakes, but I learned grammar while speaking with natives and making as many mistakes as I could. And guess what? I don't give a shit now.

Summary: When you are starting it is better to focus on using the language -no matter how many mistakes you make- and get confidence at it. Grammar is important just once you are already fluent in Spanish and want to master the language. 

  • "If you don't speak perfectly, you souldn't even bother to try":

Nobody would say it to you directly. This is more like something we say to ourselves constantly.

In my daily work with my clients I'm in the middle of situations where I push them to speak the language right away. Most of the time, they know what to say and how to say it.

Still they are too afraid to try because they think it is not perfect, either the phrase or word they are pronouncing.

Then, I ask them to try and when I hear what they wanted to say, I'm surprised: they do it extremely good.

Honestly, you don't need to speak the language perfectly before trying to communicate and most of you are likely to speak good enough. It's just a lack of confidence.

Why would you want to speak Spanish perfectly?

A few months ago I knew about Benny Lewis -the Irish Polyglot- and I decided to read his book "Fluent in 3 months".

For me this was exciting, because I had made that with English 5 years ago and if someone else believed it's possible to learn a language in such a short time, it was super motivating.

Fluent in 3 months from Amazon.es

The point is that -in his book- Lewis talks about the "speaking like Tarzan" technique, which means to use the language right away even if you make 90% of mistakes in the language structure or words. If you wait until you speak perfectly, fluency will never get to you.

  • It takes 2-5 years to speak a new language:

This is partially true. It depends on how risky you are or which method you use to approach the language. If you take some Duolingo, Rosetta Stone or Memrise lessons it will be great for you to learn many words and phrases.

Still you need to go and talk to someone in Spanish if you want to achieve this. Otherwise it will take you so longer to feel comfortable in a conversation.

Believe me. I'm improving my German -at the time I'm writing this- and even if I am fluent in German, of course I don't speak perfect yet.

I can communicate and make me understandable, but I want to explain more complex topics like philosophy or politics and need improvement to make.

I decided to go and speak German when I was a very beginner and I could poorly express myself. I could only say things like "where is the bathroom?" or "where do you live?"

Now I have a language partner -she is amazing- and she had helped a lot to gain confidence and feed my vocabulary by using the language itself.

It took me 8 months to decide to use the language, I was super afraid and German is especially intimidating, but I had to get some courage and put me into the limbo.

I'm telling you. I've improved my German tremendously and I could have never done this in a language school or using only the language learning apps which I told you about before. Go and try and will be speaking the language this week. I promise.

2. How long does it take to learn basic Spanish?

Alright, this is getting more interesting now.

When we talk about basic Spanish, I mean the Spanish everybody needs if they are going to travel to a another country where this one is the official language or to communicate with  your coworkers/acquaintances and make you enough understandable.

This process from 0 to basic Spanish -using the techniques I tell you on point #5- normally takes like...


5 hours

Of course 5 hours of continous study, mixing it with conversation to a language partner for 20 minutes. Does it sound like a bad lie to you?

If you don't believe it is normally due the fact the way they have taught us to approach the Spanish learning in school or in regular methods.

Forget about grammar from now on and start using the language, you will have a 3-minute conversation in your first time (with the hacks I'll show you in point number 5).

In your second opportunity you could be talking for 5 minutes -and so on- until day #5 where you could be speaking 10-15 minutes.

Good enough for 5 days of learning, isn't it?

3. How long does it take to learn Spanish fluently?

We need to define the word "fluency" first.

I found this definition on the dictionary: "the quality of being facile in speech or writing".

It doesn't enunciate: "the quality to speak a language perfectly". Why does almost everybody think fluency means perfection then?

In other words and in my experience with other languages -which I don't speak perfectly yet- fluency means to be able to communicate almost any idea without translating in your head.

You can learn Spanish for years in school and be able to indentify mistakes, but if you don't use the language you won't be fluent. I mean, never.

Just merge normal study (verbs, vocabulary, etc.) with speaking practice since the very beginning if you want to achieve fluency in 3-4 months instead 5-10 years.

It's not a miracle but hard work. And most importantly, it is smart work.

In Mexico we take English in school. Since preschool until college. Do you know the percentage of mexicans who actually speak this language?

5% percent.

It's a shame but it is true. And we live so nearby the USA.

Five years ago I had some English background from school but I couldn't speak English at all. I felt so frustrated because I was always comparing myself to others who could speak English fluently (wrong!).

Until I couldn't handle it much more. I decided to look for native English speakers online and practice my nonexistent English.

The first time was scary, too much. Then it became to be just normal until it turned very natural for me. Ever since it is so easy to understand almost to any native speaker.

Nowadays, I learn new words or phrases in English like I do in my mother tongue daily. I don't need to translate anything, because English is an extension of Spanish now. How is this possible?

I learned by speaking not by memorizing meanings from my mother tongue to English.

You can also learn Spanish this way even if you are an adult. Actually, you should learn this way because you are an adult (I already explained to you the advantages we have).

If you want to speak Spanish fluently and have deep conversations you have to go and talk to a native for 2-3 months with a frequency of 2-3 times a week for at least 20 minutes per session.

This way you'd be speaking a very good Spanish in just 90 days and having amazing conversations all along the path. Afterwards, you can start mastering the language, which will take you a life-time (because there are always new expressions and words to learn).

We require only 30% of the words and phrases of a new language to communicate almost anything and this is totally possible in 3 months if you go out your comfort zone and speak the language right away.

4. How long does it take to learn Spanish through immersion?

I've told you -in my experience working with my clients and learning languages myself- how long it takes to learn Spanish:

Basic Spanish (enough to survive if you travel): 5 days.

Fluent Spanish (to have deeper conversations): 90 days.

But we are talking about making the less effort possible. By having only 2-3 sessions a week of 20 minutes of practice with a native Spanish speaker. Do you imagine yourself having this practice almost the whole day?

Well, that is what usually happens if you stay in a Spanish speaking country either for working, study or traveling purposes.

Except if you are too afraid to challenge yourself and decide to spend time only another American expatriates instead of speaking to the natives over there.

Depending on what you did, an exchange abroad to learn Spanish would be an amazing experience through super fast Spanish fluency or a waste of time.

If you take this seriously and decide to achieve fluency as fast as possible, you will be asking for the price of your meals in the market, ordering your own food in Spanish, asking for directions and almost everything. I'm not saying it would be easy, it will be actually very difficult at the beginning.

You could even overload your brain if you cannot speak at least a bit English during the day, but it will be worthy if you are dertermined enough.

Doing this you will need 15 days to speak fluent Spanish or a month (again, if you try to use the language during all the day in your trip or exchange).

Of course it's not always possible to afford a long exchange or trip. It requires money and time which not everybody has. Still if you had the opportunity you should take it.

5. The 5 hacks to learn Spanish as an adult effectively

Even if the fastest way to learn Spanish as an adult and achieve fluency is to make an exchange abroad, it is not mandatory or required to learn Spanish quickly.

I have never made an exchange abroad and have learned both English and German with the tools I will share to you down below:

  • Be sure you don't have any limit belief.

Be sure you don't have any belief such like:

"kids are more likely to learn a language than adults"

"I don't have the talent for language learning"

"it's very expensive to learn a language"

"I don't have enough time for learning"

Or so.

If you still have some beliefs like this, you better make some research about the real facts and you'll see that it is not totally true.

There is part of true. But we exaggerate the true part and build a very good lie, which is really an excuse to not do anything about what you want to achieve.

I'll finish with this:

My dad always says,

-"it is such a shame that I wasn't born with the talent to learn a language".

If this is true, then I wasn't born with that "special gift" neither or I would be very unlikely to have it (my mom does not speak another language neither).

And remember many of the new polyglots didn't grow up in a polyglot family. They made themselves.

Beat your limit beliefs by making some research first. I'll promise it will be worthy.

  • Look for a language exchange partner.

You need someone else to practice Spanish with or you won't make any improvement, right?

The best way I know to look for a language partner is online. Unless you had a latin neighborhood nearby and you were brave enough to ask a latin to join on this adventure and help you.

Still, normally, it would be difficult to find a person genuinely interested on helping you. Therefore, I recommend to go to Italki and get a perfect language partner from there.

Italki is the best language exchange site so far and I'm telling you this because I've found the best language partners on there for every language I've been learning (German-English-Russian).

Amazing people who really want to help you and be helped.

Go to Italki, get a partner and start the conversation! Check how Lauren makes it with Russian:

  • Use these phrases to start the conversation.

There are some phrases you can use to start speaking Spanish easily in your first conversation to a native (even if you don't know any word previously).

Here it is a helping resource:

Use these phrases and ask your language partner for more, so you can use them next time.

  • Google translator can be a good friend if used properly.

You have some questions and phrases you can use now in your first conversation to a Spanish native speaker.

Keep the image opened while having the conversation, you don't need to memorize them (you will by using them, you'll see). 😉

Still we don't want a flat talk with our language partner. We need to nurture it. The way to make it possible is by using Google Translator or the one which suits you the best.

The way to use it is very simple:

1. Write the question or phrase you want to say on the translator. Don't translate a full paragraph but simple phrases, so you will avoid the normal mistakes a translator makes.

2. Say that phrase or question to your language partner.

3. When he replies, ask him to write his reply down after he said it in case you didn't understand. This way you can translate it and feed your vocabulary.

It's important to use this technique in your first conversations. Once you have achieved a certain level of fluency, you have to avoid it and just translate specific words. Otherwise you will be translating in your head every word you say and you don't want that.

Use this technique smartly and you'll see how motivating this process can be even if you need to translate a lot of the conversation at the beginning.

  • Set a purpose and appointments.

One very common problem happens when learning Spanish: lost of motivation.

The only way to keep yourself motivated is to feel you are making improvement on whatever you are trying to achieve and to have a clear purpose or goal not only in your mind but written down.

Ask yourself this in order to discover your purpose -write it down for better results- or real goal for your Spanish learning:

1. Why are you really learning Spanish?

2. Who are those you want to connect with?

3. Would it be worthy to challenge yourself and make you feel uncomfortable to achieve fluency in Spanish because of the people you chose on questions #2?

4. What is it that you want to achieve in the following month by learning Spanish?

5. What is it that you want to achieve in the next 3 months by learning Spanish?

The first 3 questions will help you to stablish your prupose (your WHY) and the next 2 questions will help you to set your goals for your learning path.

After that it is very important to make appointments with yourself and your language partners in order to take this seriously.

You have to see this as a project not like a hobby (even if it is a hobby), you have to plan like a project must be planned or you will lose your motivation easily. Trust me. Schedule every appointment you make with your tandem partner and try to not lose any of them.

Besides, set on your  calendar the slots of time you will take to learn some vocabulary and phrases for your next conversation.

If you do this, you will feel super motivated and will see this as something else. You will boost your learning and acomplish your goals faster than you think.

A gift for you! [You can harness this only once]

Well, after all this, I wouldn't let you do this only by your own if you feel a bit nervous about trying this new way to approach Spanish. 

That's why I've decided to give you a special gift, which I should call "Double Bonus", because you'll get 2 amazing tools:

1. A FREE 20-minute session with me where you will use Spanish right away super easy. You can start feeling how amazing it is to speak this beautiful language by booking your free session. Just click the next picture to book it:

2. A Conversational Guideline you can use to have a real conversation in your first session with your language partner. You only need to book your free 20-minute session and you will receive the guideline too.

It is very simple, so go and book you free session now.

What do you think about how you can learn Spanish as an adult? Do you think it is possible? Is there anyone who have made it in such a short time that you know?

Let me know your thoughts and if you had any other hack to boost your Spanish learning, share it with us. 

Nos vemos! 😊

About the Author

I'm a Language Coach who helps people to speak Spanish and use the language right away. Big fan of FC Barcelona, social entrepreneur in Mexico and calisthenics beginner.