10 Tips for Learning Spanish
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(or Any Other Language)
By Mike McGuire
Congratulations! You have decided to learn another language.
Learning another language is not as difficult as it seems. Anyone can learn a language, right? After all,
you have learned at least one so far. Maybe your goal is to become a polyglot and speak several
languages. So, let's begin.
In this report, you will learn 10 tips that will help make your language-learning journey effective.
1. Select a language
That seems self-explanatory. Consider what your options are. One of the most spoken languages in the
world is Mandarin, spoken by roughly 1 billion people. (Source: https://www.ethnologue.com/statistics/size).
The second most widely spoken language is Spanish.
My journey with Spanish started with my having to prepare for college entrance requirements. My high
school offered three options: Latin, French, and Spanish. I figured, why spend time learning Latin if I
wanted to speak a language? Few if any people speak Latin. Don't get me wrong, Latin has its value, but
it is limited in speaking.
Next was French. Where I grew up in Texas, no one spoke French.
Spanish was my choice. Many people in Texas speak some form of Spanish. By learning Spanish, I would
be able communicate with Spanish-speaking people. At the time, I was not aware of the subtle
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differences between, say, Mexican Spanish, Colombian Spanish, and Cuban Spanish. These differences
are not insurmountable, however, in fact, that is one of the things that makes speaking Spanish so much
2. Determine why you want to learn it.
What motivates you to learn this language? What do you want to accomplish with it?
This will help you determine which kind of program you need to purchase. Do you want to travel to a
Spanish-speaking country? Do you want to shop and get the best bargains? Do you need to be able to
negotiate for business, or do you need more technical language skills?
Knowing what you hope to accomplish will help you select an appropriate program. People often ask me
which program is the best. I answer, "It depends on what you want to achieve." Some programs are
better than others, but a program that you do not follow is good for nothing.
3. Determine how you learn best.
Discover what your learning style is. Psychologists and educators have identified four basic learning
a) Visual--This type of learning involves a great deal of demonstration. Learners with this method find
learning through descriptions to be easy. They often use lists to organize their thoughts. They may also
recognize words by sight rather than sounding them out. They may also forget names, but they can
remember faces. About 60% of students fall into this category.
b) Auditory--These students prefer verbal instructions. They also enjoy dialogs and discussions of the
topic. They may tend to try to "talk out" their problems. These students tend to remember names, but
c) Tactile--This type of learning involves touch. These students may prefer to write notes while listening
to a lecture or reading from a text book. They may also tend to doodle while they are processing
information. This group likes hands-on demonstrations.
d) Kinesthetic--This learning involves activity. These students learn through moving. They exhibit high
energy levels, and may experience problems when asked to sit and read. They would rather do than
What style are you? Fortunately, good language learning programs can, and should, incorporate several
different learning styles. So, which is the best learning style? None, they are just different.
Copyright 2017—Mike McGuire
Language acquisition skills take time. You do not remember how you learned your first language. The
Mayo Clinic states that by week 18 of pregnancy, a baby's ears have formed, and he or she might be
able to hear. Perhaps language acquisition begins even in the womb.
There are four areas of language acquisition skills:
a) Listening--if not before birth, then at least after birth, a child begins to listen. Parents start speaking to
the child as soon as he or she is born. As the child develops, it appears he or she is not making progress.
He or she is just absorbing the language. Children can learn to comprehend a language before being able
to speak it. For example, your child is trying to stand up in her high chair. You say, "Sit down," and she
instantly does even though she cannot say the words "sit down." This action demonstrates she has
heard and comprehended.
b) Speaking--Children mimic or imitate the people around them. At first, they begin just making noises,
then they start making monosyllabic sounds like ma and da. Next, they begin to put them together and
say "mama" or "dada." (I'm speaking here of English, of course.) Then they begin to build longer words,
then phrases, then sentences. Then they ask why, why, why?
c) Reading--Parents who read to their children from an early age give them an advantage in school.
Reading to them gives them the idea that reading is valuable. If you enjoy reading to your children, they
will want to pick up that skill. You can teach them the alphabet long before they attend school.
d) Writing--Unfortunately this is a highly complex and difficult skill to master. Some never master it even
in their native language, much less a second or third language. Written Language composition skills are
often overlooked in language learning. it does not mean that you should not attempt it, just do not be
dismayed if you do not become a prolific author in your other language.
Language acquisition takes a long time, and you should never stop learning your languages. Work on
your language skills every day.
The Japanese have a term called "Kaizen," which means to change slowly and wisely. (Source:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DbvSl_C_kY&t=140s). That video explains the one-minute
principle where you practice whatever skill or habit you want to develop for one minute at the same
time every day. For language skills, you should work up to at least thirty minutes a day. Try working on
some of the skills in tip 4 above.
5. Start talking with someone as soon as possible.
Preferably a native speaker. I will never forget the thrill I had on my first trip to Mexico and trying to talk
to the people there. I had already studied Spanish for a little more than two years. Although I had done
well in school, I was disappointed in how little I could communicate. Unfortunately, the high school
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curriculum did not emphasize conversation as much as it did drills. Nevertheless, I was so hyped up after
that trip, I returned to class with a new desire to learn even more.
You do not need to wait until you have studied for two years or more before you are ready to speak the
language. Use what you know, as much as you know, as often as you can. Technology today means that
you could learn something in class this morning, and then put it to use this evening on the internet.
There are several programs that allow you to communicate in real time, face-to-face if you want.
If you live in a large city, you can find places where people meet. You might try shopping in a market
where the target language is spoken. That way instead of the shop worker struggling to speak English
with you, you can struggle trying to speak that language. You may be surprised as to what bargain you
can reach that way. You can also try going to a deli or a coffee shop to practice. People often enjoy
helping someone out who is trying to learn their language.
You also don’t have to understand every word to be able to understand the conversation. Even in our
native language, we don’t focus on every single word in a conversation. You will be able to get the main
idea. Success comes with practice.
6. Read the target language out loud
You may want to go where no one can hear you if you might feel uneasy at first. Reading out loud will
help you to hear how you sound. You might even want to record yourself to hear what you sound like to
others. Don’t worry, no one likes the sound of their own voice in a recording. The reason is that you
usually hear yourself on the inside of your head. Sound waves travel through your skull and sound
different when your voice comes back to you only through your ears. It is normal to feel this way about
your recorded voice.
Focus on your pronunciation. Try to mimic the accent of the language you are trying to learn.
Make it conversational. This will help you to begin thinking in the target language. You will never achieve
mastery without this. If you always have to translate in your head, you will never be able to keep up
with a conversation.
A good reading website, at least at the time of this publication, is: www.allyoucanread.com. There you
will find newspapers and magazines from countries all around the world. You pick the country of your
target language, then you select a newspaper and begin reading. Pictures there will help you get the
idea. Also, you can learn using context clues as to the meanings of the words. Best of all, on this website,
the news is free.
7. Learn 30 new words or phrases every day.
The key here is “every day.” In the same way that you learned to speak your native language by using it
every day, so you must work on your target language every day, although you will have to make a
conscious effort to do so. You do not have the time to absorb another language. You will need to focus.
How many words do you really need to know?
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Make flash cards of the objects around your home and office. Placing the target language on the object
will help you to start thinking in the language. If you put the flash card “silla” on your chair, you will not
have to think of the English word “chair.” You will simply associate the word directly with the object as
you did in your first language.
Use picture dictionaries. Particularly if you are a visual learner. Focus on the pictures rather than the
definitions of the word.
8. Discover the similarities between the languages
Spanish is a Romance Language (not necessarily a romantic language). That simply means that it finds its
roots in Rome. French, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian and Catalan all stem from Vulgar or Common
Latin. That means mastering one language in that family group will make it easier to learn another from
I am fluent in Spanish, but I can read in several of those languages, and I can understand much of what is
said even though I have never formally studied them. Some time back as I was waiting to board a plane,
I observed a tall distinguished-looking man in a white suit speaking on his cell phone while waiting in line
to board. He boarded the plane before I did and sat in first class. While making my way to my seat, I had
to stand near him for about a minute. I could overhear his conversation. He was speaking in Italian, and I
could understand every word he said. (I was not eavesdropping on him. He was speaking in public.)
Russian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian are Slavic languages in eastern Europe, while Polish, Czech, and
Slovak are in the west. Slovenian, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Macedonian, and Bulgarian to the south.
Once you account for the differences between the alphabets, you can learn several of them once you
master one of them.
Then there are the Germanic languages such as German, English, Dutch, Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish,
Afrikaans and Swedish. If you study from this group, you will notice similarities, however, English may
seem far removed from the rest due to its influence from other languages and cultures.
One thing you should look for are cognates. In this word, you see the root for the word “recognize.” You
learn to recognize words from one language to another language. Be careful, though, because languages
also contain “false cognates.” That is, you think it means something and may not even be related at all.
For example, the Spanish word “embarazada” does not mean “embarrassed.” It means “pregnant.’ You
can see how this might lead you to an embarrassing situation if you mistake the two words.
Additionally, you can learn language roots. This works particularly well with English and Romance
languages. This is because Latin and Greek made great impacts on the English language, as well as the
French influence after the Norman Conquest of 1066. (Language learning may also help you with
Using “word attack” skills, you learn to break words down into their roots, prefixes and suffixes. In many
other languages, speakers use verb endings when speaking and writing. These endings tell you the
person, number, tense, voice and mood of the verbs. Some languages also have case endings on
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adjectives, nouns and pronouns as well. These terms will make more sense as you delve into your
9. Listen to the language
The internet can stream movies and videos to your screen from virtually any place on earth. You can
watch news casts in other languages, and you can learn much from the context.
You may also have some foreign language channels on your television subscription plan. If you are
learning Spanish, you may not even have to pay additional fees for them as you might with Russian, for
Several years ago, I taught an English language course in Ukraine. Usually I teach the very beginners
because I love the challenge of helping them overcome language barriers. You can see more rapid
development in the earlier stages than the later ones.
One of my students I’ll call Vika came to me with virtually no English-speaking skills at all. She started
the course late, and I feared she would not do well. She struggled through it. I returned to the same city
a year later, to the same program. One of my fellow teachers approached me during the registration
process and asked me if I remembered a student named Vika. “Yes,” I said. “Why?” He told me that he
had just tested her level of English, and she tested out at a high intermediate level. “She said you were
her teacher last year. Am I missing something?” he asked.
That got my curiosity up. I located her in the commons area and greeted her. I was surprised at her new
level of fluency. She had gone from a basic beginner level to high intermediate in one year. “How did
you do it?” I asked her. “American movies,” she replied. She started watching American movies with
Ukrainian or Russian subtitles at first, then she progressed to watching them without subtitles. Her
progress was tremendous.
Listen to your target language every chance you get.
10. Have fun
Warning: People may laugh at you. You must overcome this fear. That is one reason why some people
live in a foreign country, but never learn the language. They are paralyzed by the fear of making
mistakes, and others finding humor in it. Turn that “laughing at” into “laughing with” and learn to laugh
at yourself as well. Those humorous times may be some of your best and most memorable learning
Warning: You will always have a foreign accent in your new language. Unless you grow up speaking
multiple languages, you will probably have an accent in your other language. Although I am fluent in
Spanish, I will never sound like a native speaker. I have learned to accept this accent. Just think of how
quaint Americans think English spoken with a foreign accent is. Think about your favorite foreign actors
Copyright 2017—Mike McGuire
and how much you love their accent. Americans are particularly fond of British or Australian accents,
however, Spanish, Italian and French accents are also sexy. I particularly love trying to identify accents in
public. I enjoy recognizing people and the effort they have made to learn English.
Don’t be afraid to use gestures and pantomime to communicate ideas or ask questions. Act situations
out in a child-like manner. Play with the language. Also learn how to ask, “What is this?” in the target
language. One question that helped my Spanish development was the question “¿Qué es esto?” while
pointing at an object. I learned many words this way. (Another invaluable question to learn in your
target language is, “Where’s the Bathroom?” for obvious reasons.)
So, enjoy the language you have chosen to learn. It will become a lifelong experience, one that will
enrich your life if you let it. Never stop learning.
Start here to learn with just 138 words.
Who is Mike McGuire?
Mike is a lifelong language learner, not just of foreign languages, but of his native language as well. He is
curious about words and how languages work. He loves talking to anybody about just about any topic.
He is an ordained minister and an educator. He has taught Spanish and English as a Second Language on
the high school and university level through contractual agreements. He does language workshops to
teach people language-learning skills.
He started studying Spanish as a high school student and continued all through the university to become
a teacher. He began travelling internationally at age sixteen. While his first “international” trip was just
across the border, that trip was the impetus to become a fluent speaker. Mike has traveled to Canada,
Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Cuba, Honduras, El Salvador, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Ukraine,
Belorussia, Poland, Lithuania, Thailand, Kenya, and most recently, Peru.
In those countries, he as often served as an interpreter, translator, and teacher. Mike has also written
several articles and two books.
Mike also does training workshops in industrial safety in both English and Spanish. He is an authorized
OSHA Outreach trainer, and has traveled across the United States teaching the OSHA 30 Hour safety
training for General Industry.
He and his wife, Linda, have three grown children and five grandchildren. Mike and Linda live in
southeastern New Mexico.
Copyright 2017—Mike McGuire