How I Became Fluent in Spanish in 6 weeks

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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.

A lot of people in Mendoza, but noone to talk to.

There were a lot of people in Mendoza, but noone to talk to in English.

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.

My school in Mendoza

My school in Mendoza

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.

Lunch at the school

Drinking Mate with other students.

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.

2 years later: debating on a Mexican TV program.

2 years later: debating on a Mexican TV program.

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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25 Comments

  1. Nov 8, 2014 / 4:37 pm

    I think your tips apply to every other languages, not just Spanish. Nothing speeds things up like when you have no choice but to do it.

    • Nov 8, 2014 / 4:56 pm

      That’s definitely true!

  2. Nov 9, 2014 / 2:18 pm

    We’ve learnt our Spanish in a pretty similar way. When we arrived in Barcelona 4 years ago we didn’t speak a word of it and even though it was possible for us to get jobs with English only, we had to find a flat, get registered, open a bank account and do all the official stuff you must do when you start your life somewhere new. I remember calling my landlord, who didn’t speak a word of English, for the first time and having problems understanding the time of the flat viewing. We arrived on time though 🙂
    We were sharing a flat with a couple of really cool Italian guys who didn’t speak any English or Spanish, and were new in the city like us. And because we instantly got on amazingly well and knew we could be really good friends, we made a lot of effort trying to speak Spanish to each other. So the first evening we sat together with English-Spanish and Italian-Spanish dictionaries and tried to speak. It worked and after about 2 months we could freely communicate with each other. That shows that you can easily learn a language quickly if you force yourself to do it and if you’re not embarrassed of sounding like a retard 😉

    • Nov 10, 2014 / 2:17 am

      Exactly! 🙂 However, if you look at the amount of American expats living in Holland for years without even a simple knowledge of Dutch (my own boyfriend is guilty of that lol!) I started to think that maybe because of our knowledge of already hard language like Polish it’s easier for us to learn any other foreign language 😀

  3. Nov 16, 2014 / 8:51 pm

    The question is how to speek WELL in six weeks! 😉

  4. Kevin Gates
    Nov 23, 2014 / 4:14 pm

    You seem to imply that Spaniards and Latin Americans must be a bit slow since they obvious spend way more than 6 weeks to become fluent in thier own native language, more like many years. Were you fluent in Polish in 6 weeks? Spanish is not THAT simple, it’s not baby talk but rather a complex language, Iwould say more complex than English. I have difficulty believing cliams like this..or Benny
    Lewis, fin3m. Depends on your definition of “fluent ” i suppose. Your English writing still sounds very “foreign” and stilted sometimes, do you consider it on a level higher or lower than your Spanish?

    • Nov 23, 2014 / 5:50 pm

      By fluent I mean being able to talk about everything, understanding anyone (considering different accents & slang) and not missing necessary vocabulary. I’d also add to talk with a normal speed, but many would argue against my opinion.
      I agree Spanish is more complex than English – but so does any other foreign language, English grammar is simple 😉

    • Michelle Cantu
      Jul 6, 2016 / 8:09 am

      GET EM GATES!!!!

  5. Feb 28, 2015 / 6:16 am

    Hi Anna,
    I just discovered your blog and it is amazing, full of great tips!
    If you don’t mind me asking how do you afford all the courses (MA, diplomas, etc.)? Education is quite expensive so I was just wondering. I did a MA abroad too but it costed me a lot of money and am still paying for it. I would like to study more but the cost of education is too high these days!
    Thanks, Elisa

    • Mar 1, 2015 / 7:20 pm

      Hi Elisa! Thanks a lot!
      Well, there is a way to study for less, but the options are very limited. Example: my BA in Poland was free and moreover I got a good GPA so the university paid me instead 😀 . When I started my degree in the UK I was fortunate enough that the fees were 3-4 times lower than now… Degrees in the Netherlands are cheap if you’re from the EU, so there are a few options. Also a lot of universities offer a bunch of scholarships 🙂

  6. Sep 4, 2015 / 7:05 am

    Great Post! I spent a few weeks at Spanish school in Guatemala and learnt a lot. What I lacked however was the confidence to just speak in Spanish outside of my host family and the school, it’s pretty sad, because I’ve forgotten a lot of it, but part of me dreams about heading to South America, so I want to try and relearn it again. Watching Movies and listening to music in the language you are learning also helps, just because you get used to hearing the rhythm of the words.

  7. Lloyd Clay
    Jan 31, 2016 / 12:59 am

    So if I want to learn in 6 weeks, what Country or City should I go to b immeresed if money is no object?
    Thanks so very much for all your advise. I must learn Soanish right away

    • Jan 31, 2016 / 1:04 am

      I’d suggest Guatemala?

      • Lloyd
        Aug 15, 2016 / 3:49 pm

        Why Guatemala?, and where exactly? Last I was there, they were robbing people at night along the highways . Although that’s been 20 years.

        • Kevin Gatzz
          Aug 15, 2016 / 10:43 pm

          Guatemala because it’s the trendiest locale especially Antigua, you will see more foreigners/gringos than locals in the streets..

  8. Kevin Gatzz
    Aug 15, 2016 / 10:45 pm

    “Throw yourself into a place where nobody speaks your language.”

    in Antigua, Guatemala, often recommended there will definitely be hundreds, if not thousands of English speakers

    • Aug 16, 2016 / 6:26 pm

      I never said Antigua 🙂

  9. Lloyd
    Aug 16, 2016 / 7:51 pm

    Yes, Antigua makes no sense if there are many English speaking people. I spent 3 weeks in Costa Rica in a CPI school which was great however, the town Monteverde had too many English speaking people
    Lloyd

  10. Aug 27, 2016 / 5:44 am

    Thanks for sharing 🙂 How many languages do you speak nowadays?

    • Aug 27, 2016 / 6:25 pm

      These days 6 🙂

  11. Lloyd
    Dec 29, 2016 / 2:20 pm

    Anna
    I ended up going to,Cabo for 3 more weeks of private Spanish lessons. That’s now a total of 6 weeks of private lessons over the last 6 mo. I now may be appointed an ambassador to a South American country and really need to finish my lessons so I can speak and communicate reasonable so. The best for me would be to hire a teacher to live with my wife and I in Scottsdale to finish my process. Otherwise, I will be forced to go back to Cabo and learn. I only have 6 more weeks to finish and get fluent. I am very concerned , any thoughts or new ideas? Much appreciated

    • Dec 29, 2016 / 3:13 pm

      Yes! A live-in Spanish speaking person is great. But make sure she speaks ONLY Spanish as then you won’t be tempted to use English 🙂

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