I never planned to learn Spanish actually. However, I managed to become fluent in Spanish in 6 weeks. How? When I left London in 2010 to study at Harvard University in the United States I had no idea how my life would change only a few months later.
Instead of coming back to England like I planned, I went and explored Latin America. I found an internship in a wine magazine in Mendoza in Argentina and decided to take it. Spanish wasn’t required for this internship so I wasn’t too worried about my absolute lack of Spanish skills.
I had never studied Spanish before. My parents made me learn German and French, so pretty much the only Spanish I knew was: “Hola, como estas?”. Right before my trip to Argentina I visited Costa Rica and Mexico with my former boyfriend and even though we spoke English I was constantly exposed to Spanish. I started to understand some words here and there, but I couldn’t compose my own sentences.
I knew I’d have to learn when I’ve decided to come back to Mexico right after my internship, but I though ‘I have time to learn’. Upon arriving in Argentina I quickly realized how wrong I was.
In Mendoza nobody spoke ANY English. I was staying with a host family that didn’t even know simple English words. I was terrified. Every time I wanted to ask them for anything I had to go to my room, compose the sentence with a dictionary, and come back to recite what I had learned.
Moreover, my internship turned out to be different than I thought. In order to work there I had to have at least an intermediate knowledge of Spanish, which I was obviously lacking. I had to come up with a back up plan and the company agreed to send me to a Spanish course at the local language school for 3 weeks.
Because the Spanish course was only 3 weeks, I had to make the most of it. Luckily for me there were no other beginners, so my classes had to be individual. Every day after class I was studying all the necessary vocabulary and grammar, so I could discuss it with the teacher the next day. This way I didn’t waste my time in the class waiting for the teacher to explain everything to me. At this point I was pretty starved for communication so I definitely took advantage of the lunch breaks where I could meet other students. Every afternoon I read some bilingual books from the local library and watched tons of Argentinian TV.
After only 3 weeks I had to actually start working and using my Spanish skills. I struggled a lot, especially because I had to interview a lot of native Spanish speakers, but it was manageable. I simply practiced what I had learned. I wouldn’t say I was fluent in Spanish straight away, but I was on my way to slowly become fluent.
People from Mendoza don’t really speak English, so I was forced speak Spanish whether I liked it or not. I’ll never forget when I went to the pharmacy to get some bandages but I didn’t know the word so I had to pantomime it. I must have looked no better than Bridget Jones at the Austrian ski resort, but what could I do?I had to go shopping, I had to organize things for myself, and I had to interact with the local community.
I finished my internship after 7 weeks and flew to Mexico. Upon arrival I could freely speak to my Mexican friends in Spanish. We were all surprised at how quickly I learned Spanish, but it just goes to show that a lot of work and having a good system pays off.
Right, what’s the point of my story? Here is my advice for people who want to learn Spanish in 6 weeks, or any other language, incredibly quickly:
Throw yourself into a place where nobody speaks your language.
Going somewhere where you won’t be able to communicate with anyone isn’t easy and in the beginning you’ll end up being frustrated most of the time. However, in the end you’ll thank yourself for this decision.
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes and just speak.
Most people are usually afraid of looking stupid and don’t even try to speak the foreign language until they’re sure of their skills. That’s the biggest mistake you can make.
Take individual language courses.
Group classes might be fun, but they won’t teach you as much as individual classes. Also, take advantage of the fact that the teacher is there and ask questions about things you’re unsure of.
Practice your skills with people, not with an online course.
Online courses might be helpful, but they won’t teach you how to speak like a local. As you can see in my Mexican dictionary there are many differences between Spanish spoken in for example Mexico and Argentina. Most of the recordings you’re listening to online aren’t real life situations. In reality people speak much faster in their own vernacular.