My way of learning Spanish

I had a classmate at university who was determined to date one guy from each Spanish-speaking country. As Spanish is the official language of 20 countries and one dependent territory, it might not seem like an unfeasible idea but imagine the work you should put into the hunt if you live in Central Europe, where you mainly meet Spanish speakers from Spain. The number of those coming from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, or Puerto Rico, is way too small to fulfill such ambitions.

Undoubtedly, dating someone whose mother tongue is the one that you want to master has its benefits, but don’t despair if love finds you closer to home. There are ways to learn languages regardless of the origin of your significant other.

Having an unusually crowded past in terms of language learning, I know what works for me and what doesn’t. I’m sharing my thoughts in the hope that they will help your journey towards the freedom that speaking the local language guarantees in a foreign country.

I started learning Spanish two years ago with a few-month break in the middle. Age-wise I’m beyond the stage when I’d need to prove my knowledge and abilities at various exams, and it’s liberating. I learn what and when I want, and no one has any expectations of me. But most importantly, I have a motivation that nothing can beat – I want to be able to freely converse with my Spanish-speaking friends. They are not many but all the more motivating.

Live the language you learn

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Spanish learning took over my life. I freelance and I accept work in line with my lessons and homework. I have refused projects because I knew I had some Spanish-related tasks lined up. As an adult, focusing on homework might sound ridiculous, and it’s certainly a privilege, but as long as I can afford it, I’ll let this little obsession rule my world.

Full immersion is necessary for me to stay on track and for my brain to adapt to a new culture. In the past, I had the opportunity to live and work in the countries the language of which I was learning but in the case of Spanish, that’s not an option for now.

Thankfully, the brain is like a sponge wherever you are. Making sure it gets the right nutrients, we can achieve extraordinary things. And now, read on to find out what I consume daily to ensure that immersion.


Music is on all day from the moment I get out of bed, I only switch it off when I work. The bills must still be paid after all. Latin music is slowly becoming a favourite of my neighbours I’m sure for no one has complained. Make sure you turn down the volume though if they ask you to!

I didn’t know many Latin artists before beyond the most popular ones, but Spotify does the job for me, offering an endless list of performers daily. I have found a few gems in the last year and my current favourite is Alex Cuba. I just can’t get enough of his music, his voice is a balm to the soul and his lyrics are relatively easy to understand with a little help from a dictionary if you are still at the start of your language-learning journey.


I cook daily so why wouldn’t I give a chance to dishes from Spain, Argentina, or Colombia? Not everything will turn out as they should, especially if you have never tasted them in their homelands but who cares? In this case, authenticity lies in the intention, not in the end product.

Search easy-to-make recipes and give them a go. The good news is that traditional recipes are rarely complicated, and they don’t include fancy ingredients. If some of the ingredients are not available in your country, you can replace them with whatever is locally accessible. Getting a taste of the country is priceless and it can be extremely motivating. By the way, the frijoles negros I make are unparalleled. Whether Cubans would agree, that’s yet to be seen.

If you’d rather let yourself be treated or you can’t see the difference between pot and pan, try authentic food in a restaurant. The owners or the staff will appreciate being approached in their native language.


Up until a few months ago, Netflix was as strange to me as to a dinosaur. I didn’t feel the need to do those marathons that so many people enjoy on a lazy day. I subscribed solely to watch Spanish series and movies and to get access to real-life language.

I wouldn’t understand too much of the stories without subtitles but I understand words, expressions, and short sentences. At times my attention wanders off the screen and I catch myself suddenly understanding the conversation. When I told about this to my forever-supporting twin sister, she kindly noted: ’This is what I’m talking about. You’re so uptight that the only thing stopping you from speaking Spanish is you. Relax!’ She is my rock, isn’t it obvious?

Use your friends shamelessly

If you have friends whose mother tongue you are learning, use them in any way you can, but of course only to the extent they agree to. Don’t stalk them, that won’t help your cause – advises a professional stalker. Even those occasional few words in a chat can make a difference for your brain will accept them as your new reality and this one-time strange language will feel less and less foreign in no time.

After a while, even those who were initially reluctant to make the effort and help with the practice might suddenly switch to their mother tongue seamlessly. They realise that they no longer have to wait patiently for you to try to decipher their words and then listen to an answer that would only make the parents of a one-year-old child proud.

Travel abroad or locally

If you are planning a holiday anyway, visit a country next time where you can use your new vocabulary at whatever level you are. I have been to Spain twice and I have plans for this year too, and this time I’d like to look beyond Europe.

During my first trip, I could hardly utter a word, and even less I understood but reading felt easy already then, and it is partly thanks to the many words similar to English. Six months later, at the end of my second trip, I had a proper conversation with a waiter when I ordered my food for the last dinner. Don’t think of a sophisticated or deep conversation but it provided a sense of achievement and pushed me to continue my journey.

If you can’t leave your country but live in a bigger city, you might find a meet-up group or some kind of language exchange club where foreigners and locals meet to help each other practice their chosen languages. You might also find a cultural centre that promotes your destination. They often organize performances and various events around their culture. You don’t have to be fluent to appreciate the music or cuisine of a country but being in an authentic environment will inevitably and positively affect you.

Find your teacher

Apps don’t work for me. Period. No matter what their marketing tells me about their effectiveness, I need a human to learn from. I need someone who doesn’t mind questions for I have many, and I won’t let things go unresponded.

Your teacher must be able to adapt to your needs as well as your brain. Our abilities and personalities differ. I’m better at writing and reading whatever language I use, and when I’ve just started learning, the difference is even more pronounced. I will speak when I feel that I have enough information, and my teacher either accepts it or I’m out of the game.

My current teacher is from Argentina and his accent is one of the easier ones to understand. Even so, since he has relentlessly stopped using English as a common language during lessons, I often feel like I’ve run a marathon after our sessions.

Qualifications can be impressive on a CV but in reality, you need someone who understands your needs and no degree can guarantee that. My Argentinian doesn’t have any teaching qualifications but he knows the grammar inside-out, the logic or the lack of it behind certain structures or rules. He can tell me about the differences in the language used in Spain and Latin America, and I can’t ask about anything he can’t respond to.

Accept the road ahead, because it will be a long one

Unless you’re a genius, learning a language is hard work. The muscles you’ll most often need in the process are the gluteal muscles so it’s better to accept your fate and proceed accordingly. Thankfully, everything becomes lighter once you find your why. My reason for learning languages has always been to get to know the world as well as possible. This desire has only increased over time, and learning a language as diverse as Spanish provides me with a constant source of information. Behind the mind-boggling richness of its vocabulary lies a complex history that could keep me busy for decades, even if I don’t take up anything else to learn.

I started learning Russian in elementary school only because it was obligatory. The first languages I started learning willingly were Tibetan and Mongolian, followed by Swahili and sometime later Yoruba, with a few others in between as requirements during my university studies. All this to research and immerse myself in the culture, because I believe that the only way to gain insight into a tradition is to speak its language. Our knowledge as outsiders is still limited, but it gives us enough insight to appreciate the value of diversity, and goodness, how much the world needs us to appreciate each other more!

The difference between my experience then and now is that those languages were all for the needs of my mind, whereas Spanish is now purely for my soul. Excluding the break I had to take in 2023, I’m in the 20th month of my Spanish-learning adventure. By now I could be much further ahead if I could completely eliminate work from my life. But I could also be more behind if I didn’t listen to what I need at the moment, and that’s a little extra nourishment for my soul that I’ve been provided in the form of getting access to the Spanish-speaking world.

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