Read this article to discover Moving2Madrid Founder Pierre’s method to learn Spanish in six months. It is based on his personal experience learning three languages combined with Tim Ferriss’s language methodology.
Before coming to Spain
The key for the “pre-Spain” period is to learn the rules of the language and understand its rhythm. This way, you will be able to refer to your books if you have an issue saying something (which happens to everyone in the beginning). The best way to do this is to take language classes. If you already had language classes at school or university, taking classes again can help you reactivate it. Keep it intensive and short! Get to know the basics in 1-2 months without any oral practice.
The first goal is to get the grammar basics in your head, but you don’t need to know them perfectly. In fact, Pierre likes to tell the story of how he failed Spanish in high school, but after six months was considered bilingual by his employers. Having good grammar is a prerequisite if you want to learn Spanish in 6 months, but once you arrive in Spain other factors become more important.
Next, get your ear used to hearing Spanish. There are a number of ways you can do this.
Listen to podcasts
Pierre highly recommends Ben & Marina’s “amazing” podcast: Notes In Spanish. At this point, it may be hard for you to understand all the podcasts, but don’t worry. You’re preparing great foundations for when you arrive in Spain.
Watching movies in Spanish with English subtitles can be very beneficial if you want to learn Spanish in 6 months. Pedro Almodóvar’s movies are must-sees since most of them are in Madrid, and the characters speak Spanish like typical Madrileños. They are also excellent examples of the spirit of the 80’s Movida movement, which is important to understand if you want to understand Madrid. Other great movies about contemporary Spanish society are “Te doy mis ojos” and “Mar adentro.”
Read a book
A book in English on the Spanish culture will help you a lot. Pierre highly recommends “The New Spaniards,” a great presentation of what makes Spain different. It is written by a British journalist in Madrid.
To understand Spain today, you need to learn a little about its history. Giles Tremlett, a former writer for The Economist, wrote an excellent book called “The Ghosts of Spain.” And of course there is Hemingway. He lived in Spain for many years and wrote about his adventures.
Partly autobiographical, Hemingway’s classic is based during the Spanish Civil War
Get a phrasebook
Right before you come, read a phrasebook cover to cover. You won’t remember everything, but the important points will stick.
Find a place to live
Moving2Madrid specializes in helping expats find the perfect Madrid apartment. Contact us today to arrange a FREE CONSULTATION. We will speak to you in Spanish if you simply ask.
Buy some Spanish flashcards and a plane ticket
Now you are ready to go to Spain! You won’t be able to speak in the beginning, but you will know the grammar basics, have an idea of how Spaniards think and a grasp of how the language sounds. Don’t forget to pack your grammar books!
The key objective during your stay in Spain is to make as many mistakes as possible a day. It is the only way to learn. How do you do this?
Find the right living environment
First, find a flat with only Spanish speakers. They can be Spanish speakers from outside of Spain, but they should speak Spanish 100% of the time. If someone speaks English to you, just stick to Spanish even if it would be easier in English.
If you are coming with your significant other or your family, make sure you live in a building with only Spanish speakers- not an expat enclave. You will still get plenty of practice speaking with your neighbors, landlord, porter, etc.
Harness the power of passion
Another essential move is to find a way to continue working on your passion, or on a new hobby, whilst in Spain. But do it entirely in Spanish! It has to be an activity that you love doing, just make it in a Spanish environment. For instance, Pierre loves rugby so he went to a club in Madrid where every person’s mother tongue was Spanish. He tells everyone that his most authentic Spanish comes from rugby. Simply put, if you love to do something, and force yourself to do it in a Spanish environment, you will learn without noticing.
Do you love golf? If so, you are in in luck- Spain has some amazing golf courses. Just make sure your golf buddies are native Spanish speakers.
Make friends with your colleagues
If you’ll be working in Spain from Day One, find trustworthy colleagues to chat with. Ask them to correct every mistake you make.
These moves will ensure you meet new people and make lots of contacts who are native Spanish speakers. That’s where we come to the hardest advice for expats who want to learn Spanish: do not hang out all the time with other expats! We know it’s harsh, and of course there can be exceptions, but if you start taking the easy way and hanging out too much with expats, you will not learn Spanish efficiently. Our advice is to keep your non-Spanish contacts to a couple of die-hard real friends.
Download Google Translate
Google Translate is not fail proof, and can’t be relied upon for full translations. However, it is excellent when you are having a conversation and can’t find the word you are looking for. It is particularly helpful in situations such as banking, where you need a very specialized vocabulary.
Watch TV in Spanish
Even if you love your American or British TV shows, you should still watch them in Spanish. There is a button on your remote control that lets you choose the language of your favourite program. Avoid the temptation to switch it to VO (English). If you can’t fully understand, turning on Spanish subtitles can really help.
Keep up with your studies
Don’t forget your Spanish flash cards. Learn ten new words a day. Buy a great book about a topic you love and read it in Spanish.
Pierre’s Tip: As a general rule, do not try to learn anything if you will not need it or it is about something you hate. The best way to learn via his method is to leverage all the topics, activities and people you love!
Should I attend a language school in Spain?
This is a very controversial topic. We believe these schools are very dangerous. Going back to a classroom environment with lots of expats who have also just arrived and are looking for other expats to hang out with and do lots of activities will prevent you from socializing and speaking in Spanish, which is the only way to learn.
If you take classes, it is too easy to sit back and think you’re learning when you’re really not. Think about the French, Spanish or German you learned in high school. What happened to it? You can’t speak it even if you studied it for years. For example, Pierre likes to tell his story,
“I studied German for four years, more than three hours per week. I am now totally useless. On the other hand, I was able to learn Spanish in 6 months. I now speak Spanish fluently, and got a job after a demanding local recruitment process after only six months in Spain.”
We are not saying you should not attend a language school. All we are saying is you need to be very clear about your objectives versus the time and money you are investing. A classroom environment does not force you to make as many mistakes as possible. In fact, it usually discourages you to make mistakes, which greatly inhibits most people. Writing a Spanish paper is easy compared to chatting at a bar with Spaniards. You have time, you can review your work and correct it. And there’s no direct feedback when you write. When you speak, people do correct you. They either do not understand what you are saying and you will have to change tack very quickly, or they’ll simply point out your mistake.
But I really want to attend a language school!
If you do decide to take classes in Spain, we recommend private classes with a teacher from a school accredited by the Instituto de Cervantes.
If you’re looking for an academy, we highly recommend going for schools recommended by the Instituto de Cervantes. The official state schools, the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas (EOI) are an excellent option and have many locations in Madrid.
If you have the time and money to go to a school, please do so. However, the truth is you will not learn Spanish this way. The only way to learn Spanish in 6 months, and ultimately attain fluency, is to use Spanish in your daily life and to use it all the time. Read in Spanish, watch Spanish TV, follow your passion (in Spanish) and make friends with Spanish people. As Pierre says, “Speak Spanish 80% of the time and make 100 mistakes a day.”
Do you need help finding a place to live in Madrid? If so, arrange a FREE CONSULTATION TODAY and we can help. If you like, our staff is fluent in Spanish and would be happy to communicate with you in Spanish. Just ask!
Posted on 27 July, 2019 by Pierre-Alban Waters in Rent - Living in Madrid, New? Start Here
16 responses to “How to learn Spanish in 6 months”
%%title%% %%page%% %%sep%% M2M says:
27 October, 2019 at 1:46 pm
[…] to be able to communicate with my teachers in English. Once I got to a certain level, I needed total immersion or I wouldn’t have progressed, but in the beginning, this approach was the best for […]
23 October, 2019 at 11:01 am
I see your point- Mary Clare
4 October, 2019 at 1:12 am
I wonder what you mean by fluent?
I speak Spanish daily but would consider myself functionally fluent ..not fluent as a native speaker .
I’m told I speak good Spanish but I have not not mastered every word in the dictionary…Speaking fluently in six months!! …hmmm I have been speaking for years and the odd word comes up that I don’t know 🤔.
28 July, 2019 at 12:56 pm
Thanks! I tried to find the link for you, but it looks like it is broken. Sorry- the original article was written years ago. I did update it to reflect the changes (and the fact that no one uses ipods anymore- lol)
23 July, 2019 at 10:11 am
Hi, great article thanks! What is the link to the article you mentioned from Erin on EOI?
24 September, 2015 at 7:46 pm
Very good article — I like following one’s passion–as a horse-crazy little girl,I taught myself the most important parts of german by learning to read a “how to ride horse” book in german.
I might recommend “Collins Spanish with Paul Nobel” as a great audio series. I listened to them to and from work for about three weeks before visiting Spain and had pretty functional spanish for practical matter. His approach is very interesting and I felt more confident learning spanish than any other language I attempted. How can you fail when his first direction to the listener is “don’t try to remember anything I teach you”!
Bette Busch says:
31 March, 2015 at 6:47 pm
Hi Pierre, great real time thoughts on how to learn a language I like the emphasis on immersion techniques and being very clear about what a person’s objectives are to learn Spanish for what goals…I am trying to structure a trip later this year to Spain, my goals are to walk the Camino del Santiago and spend some time in Spain before this learning the language etc. I’ll just leave it at that, and again thanks for you taking the time to discuss intelligently what it really takes to learn a language, at least on the speaking level, muchas gracias.
Ben P says:
12 November, 2014 at 9:29 pm
thank you for your feedback!
2 October, 2014 at 12:37 am
Well, first of all: congratulations. I am from Madrid and I have to say it is really interesting and comforting to read this. I am a Spanish- English teacher and I totally agree with you in many points, such as not being stigmatize by mistakes… ¡ Equivocaos! One of the mothers of learning, as well as repetition but in a natural way as you may get by getting involve in sports, Arts or whatever you like. It is really nice to see someone like you , so involve in what it means to learn Spanish and giving so helpful tips. Thank you. Te deseo lo mejor.
Pierre-Alban Waters says:
3 June, 2014 at 4:56 pm
Nice job !
2 June, 2014 at 9:47 pm
I couldn’t agree more with your advice. Especially the parts about not hanging out with other expats all of the time, and that language schools aren’t always the way to go. I studied French for 6 years in school, and I can barely say a word in French. Now I’ve studied Spanish for 9 months, and I’m already fluent! The only part I don’t really agree with is about what you should do at home, before going to the Spanish speaking country. I learned A LOT before going to Argentina, and didn’t have problems taking to Spanish speaking people when I arrived. I made a video on how I studied, check it out, I hope you like it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4LOyJykgUI
Pierre-Alban Waters says:
8 April, 2014 at 6:00 pm
For grammar, I used the Notes in Spanish website. Tell me if it helps !
8 April, 2014 at 5:28 pm
Thanks a lot Pierre!
I couldn’t agree more. I became fluent in English exactly following the same footsteps mentioned in the article. I have a question. I am going to start my work in Madrid within a month and I would like to know which quick grammar guide you recommend.
8 March, 2012 at 5:54 pm
Great article and some great tips that make sense but I wouldn’t have thought of myself. Thanks for the plethora of link references as well.
Pierre-Alban Waters says:
11 September, 2011 at 8:30 pm
Thank you for your positive comment !
How my post states, my experience is that you can reach a moderatly good Spanish from speaking nothing in 6 months.
What it requires exactly is decribed in the post, but in a nutshell here it is:
1) learn the grammar before coming
2) come to Spain and forbid yourself to speak English – Go 100% inmersion and talk as mush as possible sharing a flat with spanish speakers for instance
3) leverage your passion: do not learn from boring academic stuff – go for stuff you love. For instance, if you love fashion, there’s the fashion week right now in Madrid, go and read and talk and wirte aboutas much as you can everyday.
4) make as many mistakes as you can daily and learn from them.
If you want any more details, do go back to the post and see the details, but I hope this summary helped !
Selica Holmes says:
11 September, 2011 at 7:34 pm
Truly much appreciated and most importantly was very helpful for people who have or wants to move to Spain. Great work ! In addition I have few questions to ask you and I would be much pleased if you could answer them.
First, I do not speak or understand a single word in Spanish. How much time do I need to read, write and speak moderately good Spanish if i go to an institution for learning Spanish.
Second, I have completed my graduation from another country, to find a better or high paid job, is it necessary for me to complete my Masters from Spain.
Thank you. Hope to hear from you soon.
It would be also helpful if you like to share important links that can be useful.
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