How I Became Fluent In Spanish In Less Than A Year

I am being nostalgic for the language I haven’t spoken for a long time in the same manner that I am reminiscing the first few weeks that I was trying hard to speak Spanish. I laugh. It’s hilarious! It was so hard to remember the person I used to be!

Spanish is beautiful and in fact, it is my favorite language in the world! I love how it sounds, I love saying it and I how I am able to express myself in this language is really surprising for me.

Below are seven tips that helped me become fluent in Spanish in a span of 3-4 months!

Tips on how to become fluent in Spanish

1. Listen to Spanish Songs

Don’t just listen to it. Sing it! Whenever I arrive a country, I make sure that I always have a background of their music. Who is this country’s Beyonce or Mariah Carey? What are the classics?

Good thing Spotify also changes whenever I move so I can always browse for suggestions. I love this app! Using Spotify also lets me see what my local friends are listening to so I can just simply click it without asking them for a list of songs.

Most of my friends listen to indie rock but I drifted in that department. I’d like to know the song that everyone knows; the songs they listened to growing up; tunes they danced to during their teenage rocking years.

I recommend artists like Paulina Rubio, Carlos Vives and Andres Calamaro. My Latin friends are very surprised because I know every word of their songs.

They usually hate their own music but even if they do, I promise you, they will always know the lyrics of the songs of the three artists I suggested above.

You don’t need to understand the lyrics right away. Once you already know how to sing it, you will slowly understand every word and phrase of it.

2. Change Your Phone Settings to Spanish

Whether you have an iPhone, a tablet or a laptop, change everything to Spanish. It will get really confusing at first but you’ll get used to it.

I realized this was very effective as I was also able to apply it to conversations. For example, I learned how to say “restart the computer” or “send me a message” through this method.

It really helps! You will also learn some words such as settings, profile, force quit, and all other common words used in gadgets.

3. Observe Other People’s Expressions

I am a freaking sponge and I realized this when I was moving country to country and also changing my Spanish expressions.

There will always be a phrase that locals would always include in their sentences and you better watch out for that.

When I was in Barranquilla, they loved saying “Ey marica” while the Argentinians add “che” and “boludo” in all of their sentences.

Learn the background of every country’s expression and along the way, by spending time with the locals, you will learn how to use it correctly.

FUN FACT: Che Guevara is Argentinian and his real name is Ernesto. He was called “che” because he kept on including the word in all of his sentences. In Argentina, che means mate, dude or buddy and three other things. I will discuss this in the future!

4. Play A Game With Your Friends

People will always be afraid to correct you even if you ask them. I told my friends a lot of times to correct me every time I said something in Spanish incorrectly and they still don’t do it!

One time, while we were in a club, I was surrounded with six Ecuadorians and I asked them if we could play a game.

Whoever corrects me first in every wrong sentence I say gets a free beer! Luckily, I didn’t end up making them drunk thought I must say, my time in Ecuador was level 2 Spanish for me.

Think of something that will motivate the people around you to help you learn Spanish. Free stuff is always a good idea.

5. Don’t Be Afraid To Make Mistakes

I know I’ve said this before but just talk, talk and talk! There was never a time that I was insecure with my Spanish even if I know it is 100% incorrect.

One problem that this human race cannot get over with is making mistakes. Why is it always hard for us to get out of the comfort zone and make beautiful mistakes?

I understand how others get humiliated whenever they speak another language incorrectly but that should not stop them from learning!

South America is very understanding to foreign Spanish speakers and believe me, they will always try to understand. They will never make fun of you except if you have the kind of crazy friends that I have. HAHA!

6. Pretend That You Understand Even If You Really Don’t

I know it’s hard but for me, it was part of an experiment. I wanted to test my listening skills. Whenever I say “que?” (meaning, I didn’t get what the other person said), they will always shift to English because they think it will be easier for me to understand.

That’s not the point! You can’t really blame locals because not everyone’s patient with helping foreigners learn the language so you have to do it your own way.

When I first went to Peru, I tried to pretend that I don’t speak English. It worked because they think I am Japanese, Thai or Chinese and only learned Spanish here.

Nobody spoke to me in English for days and I struggled everyday trying to understand the fast paced Spanish that everyone were speaking. They only knew that I spoke English when a British dude was asking for directions.

Nobody seemed to understand and the dude seemed too lost that I was forced to jump in and help. They all looked at me like with their WTF expressions then I explained that I needed to pretend I don’t speak English so I can learn more Spanish.

In the long run, the experiment worked. My listening skills were honed.

7. Do Not Go To A Language School!

You will be wasting money, time and you will never learn anything. I kept thinking how one can learn Spanish in a country where no one speaks the language?

How can you practice? How can you apply what you “learned?”

You’re not in school all day and those one-hour language classes you will take will cost big bucks. You end up responding the only word everyone says whenever they are asked if they learned Spanish: “un poco.” 

So after all those five levels of lessons you took and how much it cost you, you can only say one sentence?

If you really want to take classes, make sure that you can practice with a local by joining language exchange groups.

Come out here. Experience the world. Hear the words first hand from the locals. Have a tangible experience!

Today, after 15 months of traveling South America, I must say I am very surprised with my Spanish skills I couldn’t believe it myself!

Here’s a fun video of me singing Spanish, mimicking Latinos expressions and explaining the seven items above briefly. Enjoy!

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  1. Hey Trish!
    I’m starting to appreciate latin american music and i liked the song in your video. Can you make a playlist of their top 20 hit song right now? Or whatever is the counterpart of the billboard top 40. Would love to know more latin american artists and their music. =) Thank you!

    1. Francesca, if you have spotify, I have some awesome playlists there! You can follow me by searching “Trisha Velarmino” on the profiles section of the search page. Let me know if you need help. A post will be great too!

  2. I’ve always wanted to learn another language! I always struggle when I begin to try and learn a language and I can never get past a certain point. So these are great tips to make it more enjoyable than frustrating when just starting out! 🙂 x

  3. Thanks Trish, found myself laughing with helping out the British dude and the wtf expression … so entertaining and legit helpful in learning their culture and even more the language.

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