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Buying a home in Spain is more than just a financial investment. This is especially true if it’s your intention to move to Spain full-time, in which case it’s a complete change of lifestyle, and one that will only be enhanced, and made a lot easier, by the being able to speak the language. Thankfully, with the advent of the internet, learning Spanish is no longer just a matter of sitting in a classroom and being ‘taught’ the language by a teacher. While the traditional methods are still important, nowadays, they only form part of a more varied and stimulating learning experience. Below are Sonneil’s tips for the five best ways to improve your Spanish skills.

Apps

Apps have revolutionised our world in ways we never could have imagined before they became as ubiquitous as they are today. This is as true when it comes to learning a new language as it is in any other aspect of our lives. This being the case, here are some of Sonneil’s favourite apps for learning Spanish.

Duolingo

This is an excellent language learning app because its game-like format with satisfying bleeps every time you get an answer right, coupled with the feeling of rapid progress, is perfectly calculated to hit the reward centre of your brain and keep you coming back for more.

You start with simple vocabulary and progressively move to more complex sentences, all the while developing your reading, writing, listening and communication skills. The idea is to improve your language skills in just 5 minutes of training per day. This application is extremely popular because it is very effective!

Memrise

Developed by a group of scientists specialising in the study of memory, Memrise ensures that every new word, once learned, will never be forgotten. A nice feature of this app is that it allows you create your own learning paths (courses) and add the words you need to know. You will be amazed, how quickly you will make develop your vocabulary. Another advantage of Memrise is its offline mode that allows you to continue to train even when you have no internet connection.

Google translate

Don’t forget the much-maligned Google translate – some of its results can be hilariously wrong, but there’s no denying that over the years it has improved exponentially. In its app form, it has a nifty feature which allows you to highlight text on any website and automatically translate it for you. This allows you to quickly check the meaning of a word you might be stuck on and move on quickly, without disrupting the flow of your reading by having to reach for a dictionary. You can even take a photo of an entire page of text and Google will translate the whole thing for you.

Change the language on your devices

This piece of advice doesn’t relate to an app as such, but to all our digital consumption in general. Given that our phones, laptops and other devices are such an integral part of our lives, consuming a large part of our visual attention, it’s surprising how often people overlook the language learning possibility that this presents.

Many of the operations we perform on our devices are done almost by muscle memory – we are constantly hitting the ‘send’, ‘reply’ or ‘post’ button without so much as a second thought, so changing the language shouldn’t cause much confusion, but will definitely help to embed these commonly used words in your memory. Of course there will be times when you are performing some less common task on your computer, so you might have to take out a dictionary or use a translator to get you through it, but this will only serve to reinforce what you have learned.

Television

The arrival of high-quality online streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have been a blessing for people trying to learn a foreign language. The ability to turn on subtitles from a host of foreign languages transforms a leisure activity like watching a tv show or movie into a learning opportunity. For those further along the language-learning path, you can watch Spanish-language content with English subtitles; and for the really advanced, Spanish-language content with Spanish subtitles. A bonus of doing the latter is that by watching movies and shows produced in Spanish-speaking countries you get the added value of an insight into those cultures and societies.  

Now, if you really want to turbocharge your language learning experience with Netflix, there is a new Google Chrome extension called Language learning with Netflix (LLN) which lets you watch shows with two sets of subtitles on at the same time – one in English and one in your target language. It comes with added features to turn your binge watching into a more active learning experience; for example, if you hover over a word it produces a pop-up dictionary, and clicking the word lets you hear it. You can also slow down the dialogue or automatically pause playback at the end of every subtitle, so you can learn line by line. There’s even a catalogue of recommendations for movies and shows that are good to study.

Another wonder of the internet is the access it gives you to many of the world’s tv channels, enabling you to watch live tv from just about anywhere in the world. In Spain there are more than 20 public channels, many of which stream at least some of their shows online. Here are some of the best to choose from:

RTVE: Radiotelevisión Española is Spain’s national broadcaster. It hosts several channels on its platform, each dedicated to a different theme: kids, sports, politics and music. Much of its news content and some of daily scheduled programming is freely available on the world wide web.

Mitele: This is a Mediaset online platform where you can find lots of talk shows, reality shows and much more. You can watch channels like Telecinco, Cuatro, FDF, Boing, Energy and Divinity.

Atresplayer: Like Mitele, Atresplayer is a privately-owned network of channels known for its dramas and political debates. Included in its package are popular channels like Antena 3, laSexta, and other minor channels like Atreseries, Neox, Nova and Mega.

For beginners to the language, much of what is broadcast on Spanish tv maybe too fast and advanced to comprehend, so it might be best to start off watching kids tv, which after all, is how young Spaniards learn their own language. With its simple vocabulary and repetitive nature, kids tv is perfectly suited to a beginner’s audience.

Podcasts

Podcasts really are the ideal format for language learning on the go, and further evidence of how modern forms of communication have revolutionised the experience. Here are some of Sonneil’s favourite for learning Spanish.

Coffee Break Spanish

This popular series of podcasts are, as the name suggests, perfect for enjoying during a break at work or whenever else you might find yourself with 20-30 minutes to spare during the day. Produced by Radio Lingua it features Spanish lessons led by experienced teachers. They have been going since 2008, so there is an enormous back catalogue of material to listen to where they walk you through all the elements of the Spanish language through teaching, dialogues, and interesting stories. The Podcast slowly works its way up and gets more and more advanced over time.

SpanishPod 101

SpanishPod101 offers free Spanish audio lessons every week ranging from beginner to advanced levels. The weekly lessons are available free for a certain amount of time before they are archived in the library, which can only be accessed by subscription. Besides access to the library archive, paying members also get access to other materials to accompany the podcasts. Each episode features a dialogue in Spanish, followed by a discussion in English of the main grammar points and new vocabulary. Whether you use the free or paid version, these podcasts are great for listening to interesting conversations from different parts of the Spanish-speaking world. Most of their lessons are quite short, ranging from a few minutes long to about 15 minutes or so.

News in slow Spanish

If you want to keep up to speed with the latest current affairs but you can’t quite keep up with the pace at which it is delivered on Spanish tv or radio, this podcast is an ideal stepping stone. It gives you news bulletins read at a much slower and more intelligible speed, making it perfect for students of Spanish. There are podcasts at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels and you can choose between listening to Iberian or Latin American Spanish. Basic access is free; however, paid subscribers get access to premium content such as episode transcripts and bonus grammar lessons that are not included in the free version.

Read

With all this talk of modern approaches to language learning, it mustn’t be forgotten that old-fashioned methods like picking up a book or newspaper remain indispensable to the process. So here are the most important newspapers (printed and online) in Spain:

El País, El Mundo and ABC: These three constitute the newspapers of record in Spain covering the latest national and international news. They more or less occupy the centre-ground in terms of their editorial outlook.

Público: This is another widely read daily to the left-of-centre politically with a focus on social issues.

Eldiario.es: Politics and economics are the main themes here.

La Razón: A business daily with a focus on economic matters.

Conversation exchange

When it comes down to it, the point of learning a language is to speak it. And while this is the most daunting part, the fear of saying something stupid or being hopelessly unintelligible can only be overcome by getting out there and practising the language in conversation, preferably with native speakers. Now when you first move to Spain you may know very few people, or you may very easily find yourself stuck in an expat bubble. But don’t let these things hold you back. If needs be, there is always the option of language exchange – or intercambio de idiomas – as it’s called in Spain. There are a number of options for how to do a language exchange, depending on your circumstances and what suits you best.

Group exchanges

In this type of exchange, you meet in a bar or cafe to practice your Spanish in a group. Sometimes activities such as darts tournaments or film sessions are organised. This is ideal for extroverted people, who seek to make new friends and have fun learning. To get the most out of them, it is better that you have at least a medium level of Spanish, as group conversations in bars with background noise can be harder to follow. If the group chat isn’t your thing then find someone willing to meet one to one. There are many websites dedicated to language exchange, so it won’t take long to find people to meet up with, either as a group or in a one-to-one setting.   

Language exchanges by chat

If you live in a remote area or you are more interested in practicing your written communication skills, you can avail of language exchanges via webchat. There are many free websites where you can get in touch with people from all over the world without having to leave home. You also have the option of using Skype to talk.

Conclusion

When you learn a language, getting started and talking with locals can seem completely terrifying. We are afraid of ridicule, of people laughing at our grammatical mistakes, or being frustrated by our limited vocabulary. But if you really want to improve, you have to say goodbye to these fears. And in the end, most people will be impressed – and even grateful – to see you make the effort to communicate in their language. It’s inevitable that you will make mistakes, but don’t let your fear stop you from interacting with the locals – It is, in the end, the only way to improve.

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