Spain is an interesting choice as a study abroad location. Despite being the most popular country in Europe for international students to study, only a fraction of the local population speaks English. In fact, Spain has one of the smallest portions of English-speaking residents in Western Europe.
And when considering the entirety of Europe, Spain is only above a handful of Eastern European countries like Ukraine, Russia, and Albania in terms of percentage of population with knowledge of English. In other words, not many Spaniards speak English.
As a result, if you’re planning to study abroad in Spain, like tens of thousands of other American, British, and Australian students do every year, then it might be wise to brush up on your Spanish. This guide breaks down how you can quickly pick up a conversational level of fluency in just four short weeks.
Language Learning Apps
Without a doubt, your first avenue of learning should be a language learning app. Unlike 20 years ago, there are now dozens of language programs available online, all with differing learning frameworks and strengths. Companies like Busuu and Babbel have made language learning widely accessible, affordable, and effective.
With quick-hit lessons that you can work from your smartphone whenever and wherever you want, they are the preferable choice to adult language learning programs hosted in person. Most language apps incorporate short video lessons, audio practice and a series of fast-paced drills, making them highly engaging.
In addition, some language apps like Duolingo and Busuu even offer free versions for students on a real shoestring budget. However, even if you choose to pay, the average cost is just $10/month, making language apps an appealing starting point.
Perhaps the best recommendation is to use a language app as your homebase and jumping off point for other resources – providing the basics, while elevating your speaking skills and vocab other ways.
A highly effective but little-used hack for picking up vocab quickly is post-its. Every time you learn the Spanish word for a household item, write the word on a post-it and stick it to the item.
Yes, your home will be covered with hundreds of post-it notes by the end of your studying, but seeing these new Spanish words everyday can have a major impact. Repetition and consistency are the biggest keys to language learning, and this post-it trick leverages both.
The hope is that by seeing your juice in the fridge labeled as “jugo” a hundred times before your flight takes off, you’ll have that word burned into your brain.
Listen To Podcasts
Like in so many other areas, there has been an explosion of language podcasts the last few years, including several covering the Spanish language and culture specifically. Spanish tutors and culture gurus release weekly podcasts where they talk (slowly) and allow you to follow along.
This is invaluable, as post-its and language apps can only get you so far. Language apps in particular will do a great job of teaching you the basics of grammar, sentence structure and vocab, but without conversational practice, it won’t much matter.
Podcasts fill in this gap by training your ear to hear Spanish. You’ll start picking up on key words and phrases, and learning to process them more quickly.
In addition, many of the podcasts touch on cool cultural aspects that might give you some ideas for weekend getaways while in Spain. After all, half the fun of studying abroad is jumping on a train or quick hopper flight to explore nearby regions. Podcasts might help you form a bucket list while in Spain.
Read Children’s Books
This might sound silly, but children’s books are an awesome way to learn. Think about it. You know who else is learning to speak Spanish? Latin American and Spanish toddlers.
Given that you’ll be at the same level as them (at least initially), take advantage of resources created for this group. You’ll feel ridiculous reading Curious George in Spanish, but it really works. The vocabulary is basic, the sentence structures are simple, and they’re intended to teach.
If you can get your hands on a few Spanish children’s books used through Amazon or Thrift Books, they are a fantastic resource.
The final piece of the puzzle for learning Spanish in less than 4 weeks is television.
Spanish can be a very difficult language to understand at times. Locals have a tendency to speak extremely fast, and many of the sounds in the Spanish language are similar (with lots of words ending in a or o).
So how do you start to pick it up? The short answer is practice, and there is no cheaper or more widely available form of listening practice than television.
In terms of what type of shows to watch, soap operas can be particularly useful. Because of their melodramatic scenes and high emotion, you can leverage nonverbal communication to associate with words. So when a lady catches her husband in bed with another woman and dramatically yells “¡Qué tramposo!”, you’ll get the picture.
If you’re pressed for time before taking off for your Spanish study abroad adventure, this guide provides a clear cut path to learning Spanish quickly. Combining these elements into a fast and furious learning program should provide an exceptional starting point for you. You might not have a mastery of the language, but you’ll know more than enough to get by when traveling or hanging out at a café. Best of luck!