The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Spanish Learners

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Spanish Learners

by Dominique Cordero · July 5, 2022 · 2 Comments

In this post: We will focus on learning effective Spanish habits. I provide seven effective Spanish habits to help maximize your time and see visible improvement in your language skills.

“I want to be fluent in Spanish.”

This is what students tell me all the time. They just want to be fluent.

But, what most don’t realize is that “I just want to be fluent in Spanish” is the equivalent of saying, “I just want to run a marathon.” ⁣

You see, most students don’t quite comprehend how much time and hard work it takes to go from speaking zero Spanish to being able to carry on a conversation.

However, there are adult language learners in the world who have figured it out, myself included. Ten years ago, I went from a basic A1 level to a high intermediate B2 level in just 12 months. I’ve also had students who have done the same.

What are the language secrets of adult learners who finally became fluent in Spanish? And how can you do it too?

Here’s what I discovered from my own experience, and what I’ve seen my students do to learn Spanish effectively. There are 7 powerful and effective Spanish habits that we all share that made us widely successful at learning the language.

These habits will help you approach learning Spanish in a smart way so that you can maximize your time and see visible improvement in your language skills.

Let’s dive into the 7 habits that help highly effective Spanish learners stay consistent with their daily language-learning routine.

Habit #1: They choose one accent and stick with it

At least 20 countries count Spanish as their official language. This can be a huge motivator to learn Spanish. By learning the language, you’re not just opening the door to one country but several.

However, you can end up feeling confused as you struggle through all the regional differences in accent, vocabulary, and usage.

The best method is to stick with one accent from one country until you hit a high B1 or low B2 level. If not, you’ll spend too much time sorting out regional variations and less time progressing.

When choosing a podcast to listen to, a workbook to use, or a course to take, do a little investigating first. Where is the teacher from? What type of Spanish variation are they teaching? Are they teaching with “vos” or “vosotros”? This will help you stick to one style of Spanish.

Habit #2: They actively engage with their learning materials

If all you do is passively take in Spanish, you will always be a passive participant. What do I mean by this?

Well, if all you do is listen to podcasts and read without ever engaging in the materials, you won’t retain very much. Active language learning (the type of learning that actually helps concepts stick so you can use them later) happens when you’re engaged.

Here are some ways to effectively engage in your Spanish learning;

While listening to podcasts, jot down notes. Pause the audio and practice a new word or phrase out loud before continuing. Read the transcript as you listen and highlight new phrases.

While reading, underline words. Look up definitions. Explore new grammar structures you see. Use new phrases in your own sentences in your notebook. Read the chapter out loud.

Habit #3: They make Spanish a priority and show up every day to learn

There are so many reasons that inspire people to learn Spanish. For some, it’s to speak better with their in-laws. For others, it’s to travel through a Spanish-speaking country. For many, it’s just to be able to chat with Spanish speakers in their local communities.

What’s your “why”? Write it down and refer to it often.

One of my students, Kelly, came to me with a deep motivation to learn Spanish. She had been using Rosetta Stone religiously for 1 year and had reached a low-intermediate level on her own.

With so many people failing at online programs such as this, I was impressed by her progress. Her secret? She had a clear goal in mind – a dream of a bilingual, traveling family – and had made Spanish a priority in her life.

Both she and her husband worked from home so they both envisioned long trips with their two young children to Spanish-speaking countries. She is now not only fluent in Spanish but is living her dream. Her family has spent time living in Costa Rica, Mexico, and Spain.

So what’s your reason for wanting to learn Spanish?

Habit #4: They fall in love with the process of learning Spanish, not the result

Prepare yourself for learning Spanish to be more difficult and more rewarding than you could have ever imagined.

Many gleefully stroll into learning Spanish with the preconceived notion that it will be something they can pick up with little effort. These are the types of false results promised by gimmicky “learn Spanish in 90 days programs.”

In reality, It’s HARD. One study found that it takes considerable effort for an English speaker to reach basic fluency in Spanish.

However, like every other challenging thing in life, maintaining a deep conversation with your Spanish-speaking grandparents takes blood, sweat, and tears. (Ok, maybe not the blood, but you get the idea).

But here’s what the highly effective language learners I know figure out: it’s rewarding.

A long-time student of mine, Austin, worked in my programs for about 12 months while also showing an intense dedication to his daily study habit. And you know what? It paid off. He not only reached his goals but changed something about himself.

Not only was he able to hold a light conversation with his Spanish-speaking grandmother for the first time in his life, but he also inspired his mother to brush up on her Spanish. He not only changed his own life through language but also inspired those around him.

Austin continues to maintain his intermediate level of fluency. Spanish is now a fundamental part of his everyday life that he can now share with different members of his family.

You see, language learning is more like a long road with hills and valleys, not the vast mountain you may see it to be. Which is why it’s important to accept the process as more of a life-long journey rather than an end goal.

You see, once you fall in love with Spanish, it’s not just a brief love affair. It’s a long-term, committed relationship. Practicing Spanish becomes the comforting thing you do to unwind from a long day. The calming activity you do at the park on a Saturday afternoon. The exciting diversion you look forward to while the kids are in school.

Habit #5: They don’t take themselves too seriously

A baby takes 2-3 years to form a coherent sentence in their native language (and that’s with daily exposure!) My point here? Be realistic with your goals during the language-learning process.

Speaking another language as an adult requires you to let go of pride and fear like never before. It requires you to accept that your sentence structure and vocabulary will be that of a 3-year-old for quite a while. It requires you to be willing to put yourself out there and make mistakes because you know that’s the only way you will improve.

But, I’ve got some good news for you. There is no one-size-fits-all for language progression.

Let’s go back to our toddler example. There is a pretty extensive range of time for a toddler to start speaking. Same in speaking Spanish as an adult. There’s no magical time when you’ll begin to speak fluently. No one else is like you. And your goals and dreams are unique.

All the extroverts out there will have no trouble throwing themselves into more awkward social situations. Heck, they’ve probably already begun striking up conversations with native speakers at the coffee shops and grocery stores.

But for everyone else (I’m looking at you introverts and perfectionists), you’re probably saying to yourself, “speaking with a native speaker sounds terrifying! I’ll never be ready. ”

My advice for overcoming those fears? Join a Spanish course or program with a group of your peers, rather than doing 1:1 lessons which can feel intimidating.

In a group program you will find a community of people who are just as nervous as you. Hearing them make the same mistakes as you will help you feel more confident and at ease.

Habit #6: They practice thinking in Spanish

When we learn a second language as adults, it’s natural to use our first language as our only source of comparison. This is actually a superpower for us adults because, unlike children, we can use frameworks and prior knowledge from our native language to learn our second language faster.

However, the sooner you can graduate to thinking in Spanish, the better. Thinking in Spanish lets you have an authentic experience. It lets you think like a Spanish speaker. And it’s the most effective way to learn.

There are a few ways to start training your brain to think in Spanish, but, the absolute best strategy is complete daily immersion. (And, FYI, this doesn’t require you to be in a Spanish-speaking country).

It could be a dedicated one hour a day that you only surround yourself with Spanish. Maybe you watch a few episodes of Monarca on Netflix or listen to an episode of the How to Spanish Podcast, or curl up with one of Olly Richard’s beginner Spanish readers, or sing out loud to your favorite Shakira song, or journal about your day in Spanish, etc.

These types of intensively immersive activities will exercise your brain in a way that helps you switch between your “English-thinking” and “Spanish-thinking” brain.

Habit #7: They embrace discomfort

If learning Spanish were easy, everyone would do it, right? Well, that’s because learning a second language is uncomfortable. Sometimes embarrassing. And sometimes downright painful.

But, magic happens in that hard place. When we find ourselves immersed in the complete discomfort of feeling lost in the language. That’s where true progress happens. That’s when we take small steps towards real fluency.
My advice to you to amigo/a? Lean in. ⁣⁠
Don’t back away or quit when things get hard because this is where the magic happens. Lean into your discomfort, and I promise that soon you’ll be able to understand the next episode of La Reina del Sur.

Here are some ways you can lean in.

The next time you feel frustrated with a new concept in Spanish, walk away from it for a while and try doing something that brings you a lot of joy in Spanish. For example, listen to a few of your favorite songs to reconnect with the language. Then, come back to the difficult topic the next day.

The next time you feel embarrassed because you got tongue-tied ordering food at your favorite Peruvian restaurant, have a language-debrief session. Ask yourself: What went well? What didn’t go so well? How can I improve and be more prepared next time? Then try to go to the restaurant a few weeks later and try again.

Your takeaways as a successful Spanish-language learner:

Learning Spanish as an adult takes dedication. However, from one language learner to another, there are some key strategies you can use to see the most success along your journey.

These are the seven habits I’ve seen people adopt to effectively learn Spanish as adults:

  • Choose one accent and stick with it
  • Actively engage with your learning materials
  • Make Spanish a priority and show up every day to learn
  • Fall in love with the process of learning, not the result
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously
  • Practice thinking in Spanish
  • Embrace discomfort

Just like preparing to run a marathon, you have to start with running 1 mile. Then, over time, you start adding miles. Before you know it, you’re running 5, 7, 10 miles at a time. You even feel a little strange on the days you don’t run because it has become part of your life.

Learning Spanish is the same. You need to simply incorporate it into your life as a habit and improve on it a little bit each day.

Follow these strategies, and, before you know it, you’ll find yourself chatting with a local farmer over a cup of coffee at the farmer’s market or stepping in to translate for a woman checking out at the grocery store without even thinking.

Feeling stuck at the intermediate level? Grab a copy of my FREE 12-Step Guide to Overcoming the Intermediate Spanish Plateau, which details exactly how to break through to the advanced level.

Are you a high Spanish beginner? Jump into ALAS II, the next step in my two-part beginner series, where we refine your conjugation, vocabulary, reading, and listening skills before moving onto the intermediate level.

Do you get tongue-tied when you try to say something in the Spanish past tense? Check out Polishing the Preterit, my self-paced course for intermediate Spanish learners to help you speak effortlessly in the preterit tense.

Ready for a more immersion Spanish experience? Join Elévate Book Immersion Program - the community experience for intermediate learners to develop speaking and writing skills through a deep dive into a contemporary Spanish book.

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