How to Achieve Spanish Fluency and Find Your Spanish Voice
Learning Spanish requires patience and persistence.
Trying to speak once in a while and taking courses here and there won’t cut it if you really want to become an independent and fluent speaker.
Let’s kick off our fluency discussion by defining what the term “fluency” actually means.
- 10 Techniques to Become Fluent in Spanish and Find Your Voice
- 1. Subscribe to Spanish Media
- 2. Immerse Yourself with a Specialized Program
- 3. Never Stop Talking
- 4. Listen to Audiobooks
- 5. Move or Visit Abroad
- 6. Get Yourself a Spanish-speaking “Partner”
- 7. Do Some Daily Spanish Writing
- 8. Talk to Yourself out Loud
- 9. Learn Your Grammar
- 10. Use Music to Your Advantage
- What Is Spanish Fluency?
- How Long Does It Take to Become Fluent in Spanish?
- How Hard Is It to Become Fluent in Spanish?
- How Do I Become Fluent in Spanish in a Year?
- In Summary: How to Become Fluent in Spanish
10 Techniques to Become Fluent in Spanish and Find Your Voice
1. Subscribe to Spanish Media
The first step toward fluency is to subscribe to stuff.
When I say “stuff,” I mean Spanish language channels on YouTube, movie networks, television channels, Netflix, Hulu and more. Anything with great, authentic Spanish video content that you can watch regularly.
Once you’ve tracked down the right video content to watch, the “subscribing to stuff” technique will improve your fluency in threefold ways:
- It gives you vocabulary variety
- You get superb pronunciation practice
- You’ll get exposure to native speakers in natural-sounding conversations
Aim to watch between one to two hours of programming weekly, or one movie per week. Two things are essential to this technique:
- Put on Spanish (not English) subtitles. You’ll be listening to and reading Spanish, helping your overall comprehension practice.
- Jot down between three to five new words or expressions for every 30 minutes of video content. Keep a little notepad going so you can write down your newly-found words along with their contextual uses. How was the word used in the video? Write it down. This will give you approximately 20 new expressions and vocabulary words monthly.
Where to Find Spanish Media
Here are some popular Spanish language channels that you’ll find in the USA (you can also access many of the videos online through the links included below):
And here are five great movie titles that make for perfect viewing pleasure:
- “Amores Perros” (Mexico) — My personal favorite!
- “Y Tu Mama También” (Mexico)
- “Mar Adentro” (Spain)
- “Volver” (Spain)
Learning Spanish on YouTube
YouTube can also be an amazing tool for learning Spanish.
There’s so much content available for free that you’d need a thousand lifetimes to watch it all!
YouTube allows you to get closer to fluency because it lets you listen to native speakers talk. You can choose the type of video you want to watch, the accent of the speaker, the topic… The possibilities are endless.
Many videos come with subtitles, so you can also practice reading while you listen. That’s two learning skills being worked on at the same time!
Besides, YouTube has the option of watching videos at a slower speed. I’ve found this feature extremely helpful when I’m doing listening exercises with my students. If you don’t know where to start, you can try these recommendations:
If you have a Spanish conversation partner or go to regular Spanish language club meetups, take your notepad and use your three to five new words from the week in live conversation.
Actively using new vocabulary is critical for long-term retention.
2. Immerse Yourself with a Specialized Program
As you can see, Spanish media is needed to learn the language as it’s spoken in the real world.
Immersing yourself in authentic content like that also improves your pronunciation and accent.
Choosing the right programming can be a bit challenging, though. You need to consider what’s appropriate yet challenging enough for your level. You also need resources that come with subtitles and other learning aids, so you’re not completely lost in native speech.
But you don’t have to search for content blindly, and you definitely don’t have to do it alone. A good immersion program can do the legwork for you, and help you actually learn from the authentic media you’re consuming.
When you watch movie trailers, comedy skits and news reports on FluentU, for instance, language tools guide your immersive experience. This will help you to understand and enjoy content made for native speakers. Spanish media clips are also divided by levels, which is handy for customizing the program to your needs.
Every clip is complete with Spanish subtitles with expert-vetted English translations. These subtitles are also interactive—hover over any word for its usage and image, or click on it for additional video references to see it in different contexts.
To make the most out of new vocabulary, you can review any new terms through multimedia flashcards and personalized quizzes, both of which test your speaking abilities and other language skills.
Other than the website, you can also use FluentU as an app on iOS and Android devices.
3. Never Stop Talking
Join your local Spanish conversation club or find a language exchange partner (local or online).
Then it’s time for conversation, conversation and more conversation! Habla, habla y habla (talk, talk and talk) with native speakers!
Having conversations with native speakers challenges you to use a more diverse vocabulary and explain things more in-depth.
Oh, and they’ll correct you!
It’s like having a live autocorrect in front of you! Investing one hour weekly to talk at your local Spanish Convo Club or with your language partner will pay off huge dividends in the long run.
Getting into the habit of having this weekly conversation exposure incorporates Spanish into your regular life and allows you to form a solid base of conversational Spanish. And thanks to applications like Skype and online language exchange networks, finding native conversation buddies is a breeze nowadays.
Just check out the following:
- Global Spanish Language Meetups (find a local Spanish group)
- ConversationExchange (face to face exchanges)
- MyLanguageExchange (online exchanges)
4. Listen to Audiobooks
For those interested in gaining serious, all-around fluency or studying Spanish literature, audiobooks are fantastic tools to increase your literary vocabulary, reading comprehension and writing skills.
This technique works similarly to the first one (“subscribe to stuff”), exposing you to written words alongside audio. However, it requires high levels of concentration and patience.
Following a literary work with audio is much more difficult than a talk show program or sports report on TV.
To make this an effective strategy, look for books you’ve already read and enjoyed in English then find it and the audio version in Spanish.
Look for less complex writing styles, such as those found in Young Adult literature.
Alternatively, you can pick an audiobook that covers a topic you know inside and out. All these strategies help ensure that you won’t get confused or discouraged after flipping to page two.
You can even find complete audiobooks available on YouTube, like “The Little Prince” (Antoine de Sain Expury).
Another resource you can use to find free Spanish audiobooks is Librivox, which is run by volunteers and currently has over 600 audiobooks recorded in Spanish.
In addition to audiobooks, podcasts on topics of interest are always good resources for learners!
5. Move or Visit Abroad
If you’re young and/or have few major responsibilities, move to a new country for a year—and make it a Spanish-speaking destination!
Moving abroad is key to achieving fluency in any language, and it does indeed enrich your life.
There are over 20 Spanish-speaking countries scattered across the Americas, Europe and Africa. And you don’t just have to pick a spot and move there all alone (though you certainly could do that if you’re an adventurous spirit).
There’s a wide array of university exchange programs, international co-op placements and teaching programs out there to support you and help you take those first steps.
So, why not go abroad?
Another big plus to this plan is that Spanish-speaking countries are generally cheaper to live in than English-speaking ones, so your savings will go a long, long way. You don’t need a huge income to enjoy a comfortable life in cities like Lima, La Paz and Bogotá.
Simply moving won’t make you fluent. You have to make local friends.
The availability of international exchange problems (and the relative affordability of international travel) means the chances of you running into English speakers and fellow countrymates are high, especially in big cities.
Avoid the trap of moving to, let’s say, Madrid, and spending a whole year meeting other Americans, eating at American franchises and talking to Spaniards that only speak English.
Guess what will happen?
Although you’ll return home with greater Spanish comprehension, your conversation skills will be the same as, if not worse than, when you left.
It’d be your own darn fault, too, because you didn’t take advantage of every opportunity to practice!
On top of that, you may have adopted incorrect sentence structure and vocabulary by listening to other English speakers who spoke the language incorrectly.
For the brave, try to avoid living in big cities and instead opt for small towns or rural areas. You’ll run into fewer English speakers out there, trust me!
Here are a few programs for English speakers in the Spanish-speaking world:
Also, look out for opportunities in the American Embassies in your country of choice!
6. Get Yourself a Spanish-speaking “Partner”
Ah, yes, el amor (love).
Is there any better way to learn than through love?
I mean, to a certain extent this one’s just up to destiny. And hey, it doesn’t have to be true love either.
But no matter the nature of the relationship, when you find someone you get along with well, it’ll open you up to new ideas and experiences.
Find someone who’s fun and understanding. It’ll motivate you, encourage you and create a safe space where you can practice freely and become a Spanish language expert.
It’s not like you can apply this technique as a real learning strategy, but having a Spanish-speaking boyfriend or girlfriend, perhaps that you met while you were living abroad, can be one of the most effective ways to really become fluent in Spanish and get exposed to local culture.
Firstly, you’ll be talking to this person daily. And this won’t only be talk about superficial topics but, rather, you’ll get to talking about your likes and dislikes, work stories, past experiences, future hopes and dreams, feelings, fears, etc. Talk about variety in vocab and verb tenses!
Your Spanish romance vocabulary will also get a big workout, especially during those special little love-oriented holidays!
There’s also a good chance that a big family will come in a package deal with your partner, and by meeting them you’ll get exposed to culture, food and general local ways of thinking and being.
All of this is invaluable for your fluency and language development. Plus, if it works out, you’ll have the cutest little bilingual kids!
7. Do Some Daily Spanish Writing
Keep a small notepad or journal by your side at all times. Whenever you have a moment, try to write out your thoughts with five to 10 full Spanish sentences.
Writing regularly like this is a great way to get creative, express yourself and improve your fluency in Spanish. Plus, it’s a practical technique that you can do anywhere and at any time. It’s great for spare moments at work, at home, on the train or bus—even in a cafe on a lovely Sunday morning.
Start by writing at least one entry weekly, then gradually increase this to two.
If you’re really invested in your fluency happening sooner rather than later, set aside 15 minutes daily where you write in your Spanish journal.
Challenge yourself with the topics.
One day you can write about how you feel, the next about the food you ate. Another day you can write about a discussion you had or will have with someone.
This way, you’ll exercise those verb conjugating muscles and use past, present and future tenses while extending the reach of your vocabulary.
For this technique, try to use vocabulary you already know and slowly incorporate new words that you hear while watching your television shows or listening to your audiobooks.
This should be an enjoyable activity, not one that you stress about.
When you feel confident, get your language exchange buddy or a friend who’s a native Spanish speaker to read over your entries and make note of any recurring spelling and grammar mistakes.
8. Talk to Yourself out Loud
Remember, habla habla habla (talk, talk, talk). You’re carving out your own voice, aren’t you?
Well, then it’s really important to not only talk to others but also to get used to your voice and speech in your foreign language.
Try to do this in private spaces where you know no one can hear you (at first). This way you’ll feel safe and free to blab away. Perhaps your safe space will end up being in the car, in the shower or in your bedroom.
Combine this with daily Spanish writing and you’ll get great results from your fluency practice. This is also a great technique to work on those tricky pronunciations in Spanish, like rolling your RRs or perhaps pronouncing a long word like civilización (civilization).
Try looking in the mirror when you do this, and then record yourself from time to time to hear your progress. You’ll definitely notice the difference in your overall fluency and confidence over time, trust me.
9. Learn Your Grammar
You’ve probably heard it all about Spanish grammar at this point.
Some methods will tell you that you don’t need grammar at all to become fluent in Spanish.
Others will shout out loud that the only way of becoming fluent is by starting to learn grammar as soon as possible (hello, high-school teachers with no experience in teaching languages!).
Some others, thankfully, will reckon grammar is important when it needs to be, and unnecessary when it gets in the way of improving your Spanish.
I love the metaphor of grammar being the glue that lets all the language components stay together. Glue is important, but so are the other components of your learning journey.
So, should you learn Spanish grammar to become fluent? Yes, you should, but…
First and foremost, you should learn how to learn Spanish grammar. You also need to understand its importance, its place in your path to fluency. I always tell my students grammar is the skeleton of a language. Without it, you’d only have a weird mass of muscles, nerves, blood and fat.
You need to learn grammar as a supplement, an addition to your vocabulary lists, your listening and speaking exercises, and your writing practice.
Learn grammar when you see constructions you don’t recognize.
Check grammar rules when you get lost and don’t know how to use a tense, a preposition or even a word you’ve found without context.
Learn your grammar because, without it, you’ll speak Spanish but you won’t achieve fluency.
But don’t obsess over it. Give it the importance it deserves. Not more, not less.
If you want a couple of resources to learn Spanish grammar and get closer to that coveted fluency, check out these excellent Spanish grammar resources:
10. Use Music to Your Advantage
Who doesn’t like singing along to their favorite songs? Because I know I love singing my lungs out every time I listen to Luis Fonsi.
What about you?
Music is a super powerful tool to learn a new language.
It’s kind of magical, to be honest. You’re doing something you enjoy (listening to music or singing along), and at the same time, you’re learning.
Achieving fluency with the help of music may be one of the most pleasant activities you can do. You get to listen to your favorite Spanish artists and understand what they’re singing about.
Meanwhile, your brain is getting Spanish with rhythm and perfect pronunciation.
There are many ways to use songs to learn.
During my almost 20 years of teaching languages, I’ve tried a lot of methods and approaches with my students, and I think I’ve come up with the perfect set of steps to master it:
- Choose a Spanish song you like. This is the easiest step. Just choose a song you want to learn, but make sure you pick a Spanish native singer.
- Listen to the song without looking at the lyrics yet. Try to guess what the singer is singing. Listen to the song a couple of times and imitate the pronunciation. You chose a native speaker, so you can be sure he/she has the correct pronunciation.
- Now have a look at the lyrics. Read the lyrics and see if you guessed correctly. Underline the words you know and circle the words you don’t understand. Now is the perfect time to look them up in a dictionary.
- Sing along while reading the lyrics. Now that you know what the lyrics mean, you can play the song again and sing together with your favorite singer. Mark words with difficult pronunciation or that make you hesitate. It’s very important that you get the pronunciation right, so listen to the song as many times as you need, or use Forvo in case of doubt.
- Sing your lungs out. Once you’ve listened to the song enough times to know it by heart, lose the lyrics and sing!
There you go. You’ve mastered the perfect pronunciation of a song.
Perhaps you have a different method of learning songs, and that’s okay. This kind of practice has to be enjoyable, so you do what you like the way you like it.
At the end of the day, the result is going to be the same: You’ve learned Spanish with music and you’re one step closer to fluency.
Where to find cool Spanish music to sing along, you ask? Well, the number of options is huge! Take a look:
- Spanish Spotify Playlist
- Best Spanish songs to learn Spanish
- Best Spanish songs 2020
- Top Latin songs
- TuneIn Spanish music radio
- Radio.net (3,097 radio stations in Spanish!)
What Is Spanish Fluency?
Even if you’re armed with tips to become fluent, we still need to go over the definitions of Spanish fluency. After all, you need to understand what you’re working towards.
- Fluency doesn’t mean being a perfect bilingual. In fact, that doesn’t really exist. Research has unveiled that even children exposed to two different languages from a young age will still have stronger skills in one over the other.
- You aren’t striving to be a translation machine. This would require you to have the ability to quickly translate everything you hear and say between English and Spanish in your head. You’d automatically know the literal English equivalent to every Spanish sentence you read or hear. No way, José. But why?
Direct translations will result in limited fluency, continued incorrect grammar use and awkward sentences. Ew. For example, you can say “yo soy 25 años,” and everyone will understand what you mean, but you really need to remember that, in Spanish, age is used with the verb tener (to have), so you’d say “tengo 25 años” instead. As you can see, literal translations will only get you so far.
- Language shapes our perspective on the world. Spanish and English speakers think differently, and so to be fluent means that you have the ability to think in Spanish and carve out your own voice within the language. This is why fluency comes with a great depth of knowledge.
The key is just to remember that fluency doesn’t begin and end with knowledge—to be truly fluent in Spanish, you’ll need to develop, slowly but surely, the ability to think, write and speak in it without any English floating around in your brain.
Being able to think in Spanish is, as you might imagine, a very personal thing. That’s why there’s no one-size-fits-all track to Spanish fluency. Everyone needs to determine their own path to getting there.
Let’s take a look at how you can start doing this.
Spanish Fluency Made for You, by You
Consider these two key questions:
- Why do I want to learn Spanish?
- What do I want to use Spanish for?
Defining your “why” and “what” when it comes to fluency is extremely important.
Having the answers to these two questions will give you direction, purpose, the ability to define short-term goals and adjust techniques to your unique needs.
All of this is crucial in language acquisition as speaking foreign languages plays heavily on our egos and confidence levels.
You want to have a concrete vision in mind of what you’ll be like as a fluent Spanish speaker. Without any kind of strong vision or defined final destination, you’ll never get to really assess your progress and accomplishments.
Let’s explore some possible “why” questions and “what” answers to help you get started.
The Why and What of Spanish Fluency
Why: “I want to learn Spanish and travel to South America or Spain.”
What: “I’ll use Spanish to manage travel logistics and get around.”
In this case, you’d require fluency with vocabulary tailored to travel and tourism in the Spanish-speaking world (hotel bookings, flights, buses, food, shopping). It would be smart to tailor your Spanish to the specific countries where you’ll be traveling. There’s quite a lot of regional linguistic variety.
Why: “I want to learn Spanish for professional advancement.”
What: “I’ll use Spanish for meetings, workshops and conferences abroad.”
In this case, you’d require an advanced level of fluency with vocabulary tailored to business and your industry, perhaps in trade, language teaching or tourism.
Why: “I want to learn Spanish to communicate with my extended family or partner in their native language.”
What: “I’ll use my Spanish for personal reasons, to bond with people and strengthen relationships.”
In this case, you’ll require fluency with vocabulary linked to family, food and home (the holidays, special occasions, feelings, etc.).
Or maybe, just maybe, you have no particular reason and you just like learning languages or you need it to call a Spanish-speaking country home.
Now let’s move on to the next question: how long will it take to become fluent in Spanish?
How Long Does It Take to Become Fluent in Spanish?
Let’s address your other big questions about achieving Spanish fluency.
According to the U.S. Foreign Services Institute, Spanish belongs to the Category I languages, which means you need between 600-750 class hours to reach Professional Working Proficiency.
Professional Working Proficiency means you speak well enough and have enough vocabulary to be able to participate in any social interaction professionally.
Language teachers normally call a learner with that level of proficiency “an advanced independent user,” which is roughly equivalent to having a B2-C1 level on the CEFR scale. They’re still not fully advanced, but they’re more than just independent users.
But enough with the theory. You want numbers and specific answers.
Let’s say we’re optimistic enough to accept a person can become fluent in Spanish in 600 hours.
This will make this person an advanced independent user, and they’ll have conversational fluency.
Conversational fluency is that level where you’re able to talk about practically any topic without hesitating or having to look for words in the back of your head.
Your grammar is pretty decent, and even though you still make mistakes, you can get your message across without trouble and can understand around 90-95% of what you hear or read.
Sounds pretty impressive!
If conversational fluency takes 600 hours, you can divide that time in several ways:
- 1 hour a day for 600 days (semi-intensive mode, less than two years)
- 2 hours a day for 300 days (intensive mode, less than one year)
- 4 hours a day for 150 days (super-intensive mode)
- 6 hours a day for 100 days (hyper-intensive mode)
You can also take your time if you’re not in a hurry:
- 3 hours a week for 50 months (a little over four years)
- 4 hours a week for 37.5 months (a little over three years)
- 5 hours a week for 30 months (two and a half years)
These are just examples of ways in which you can divide those 600 hours depending on the time you want to spend learning. You can divide those hours however you see fit.
But what about real fluency?
What about that sweet spot where you don’t make mistakes anymore, you understand practically everything you hear and you can talk and write in Spanish almost like a native speaker?
That, my friend, is the dream of every language speaker in the world. Being able to talk to native speakers without them noticing you aren’t one of them requires a ton of time, effort and practice.
There’s a polyglot I follow and admire called Tim Ferriss. According to him, once you’ve reached conversational fluency (which for him is equivalent to mastering 95% of a foreign language), you then need five years for each 1% you want to add to that number.
This can sound depressing if you’re aiming for perfection, but there’s a silver lining here: mastering 95% of a language is very doable and might just be what you need to find your voice.
The other 5% can be a “perfection bonus” you can get without effort by visiting Spanish-speaking countries, dating a local or listening to your favorite Spanish music.
TL;DR: If you implement a hyper-intensive study routine, you can even become conversationally fluent in Spanish in over three months. Being native-level fluent can take you decades.
How Hard Is It to Become Fluent in Spanish?
There isn’t a simple answer to this question because each learner is unique, and there are different factors to be taken into account depending on the person.
When my students ask whether Spanish is hard or not, I always answer the same: You tell me!
I’ve been asked this so many times that now I use my first class with a new group to help them analyze their situation and find an individual answer to the question.
I’ll do the same for you.
If you want to know if it’s hard to become fluent in Spanish, start by answering the following questions:
- Do you know any foreign languages?
- Are you fluent in that language?
- Is it a Romance language?
- Is your native language a Romance language?
If you’ve answered yes to at least two of these questions, then you’ll have no problem becoming fluent in Spanish.
The next thing you have to take into account is your age.
We know learning a foreign language gets harder the older we get. If a child starts learning Spanish at the age of five, they’ll have zero problems with Spanish. But chances are you’re over five already, so on a scale between five and infinity, add one point for each decade.
For example, if you’re 17, you’ll add 1 point. If you’re 34, you’ll add 2 points. If you’re 124, you’ll add 11 points.
If you score over 3 points, you can have some issues when trying to become fluent in Spanish. If your score is between 4 and 7, it’ll be hard. Any score over 8 might make this feat impossible, but never say never!
Last, but not least, you need to know the number of hours per week you’re going to use to learn Spanish.
Bear in mind that this number, as I said in the previous section, will mainly tell you how long it’ll take you to reach fluency. However, it can also be used to assess your chances of reaching that goal.
Before you answer this question, you need to take into account that the more often you have contact with a language, the bigger the chances of becoming fluent in it are.
Thus, if you study Spanish for 30 minutes five days a week, you’ll probably get better results and will become fluent in Spanish easier than if you study for three hours twice a week.
That being said, from what I’ve seen during almost 20 years of teaching languages, if you study Spanish at least four hours a week and have additional contact with native content (even passively) for an additional three hours, becoming fluent won’t be hard for you.
After doing this personal assessment, you should be able to give yourself an honest answer to the question of “how hard is it to become fluent in Spanish?”
As you can see, I haven’t buried you with grammar and vocabulary information or told you about irregularities, tenses, moods and exceptions.
That’s unimportant if you aren’t committed to learning Spanish, so first and foremost, you have to be convinced you can reach Spanish fluency, then we can take care of the obstacles should they appear on your way to mastering the language.
TL;DR: Becoming fluent in Spanish is hard or not depending on different factors, but if you’re committed to making that a reality, it’ll be an easy and enjoyable journey.
How Do I Become Fluent in Spanish in a Year?
So, let’s cut to the chase: How do you, a potential fluent Spanish speaker, become fluent in my native language in say, 12 months?
The main section of this post includes nine superb techniques that will give you tons of in-depth information and a lot of resources to help you become fluent in general. This section, though, will give you five super-specific instructions to make the whole process faster.
Get ready for some speed!
- Include microlearning in your daily schedule: If your plan is to reach fluency in less than a year, there’s no time to waste. Include two or three five-minute microlearning sessions in your daily schedule apart from the time you’ve already reserved for studying Spanish.
- Pick one telenovela from this list and binge-watch it once, even if you don’t understand a word of Spanish. Remember to always have the Spanish subtitles on while you watch (if possible). Then watch it a second time after a couple of months, paying special attention to the dialogs. You’ll be surprised at how much more you can understand this second time around.
- Do Spanish shadowing: Once a week, pick any of the episodes of the telenovela you’re watching and do a shadowing session. Use the same episode fragments for the four/five sessions you can fit in any given month.
- Read in Spanish: You might not know it, but reading in Spanish can boost your learning process. Reading will help you improve your grammar and vocabulary, and will let you see how Spanish works internally.
In Summary: How to Become Fluent in Spanish
Now you know how the art of achieving Spanish fluency works, so let’s review what you need to get done:
- Define what Spanish “fluency” means to you.
- Outline your why and what for Spanish fluency goals.
- Review and begin testing out techniques one through nine.
- Pick a few techniques that meet your needs, interests and learning style. Adjust as needed.
Most importantly, stick with them long-term.
If you do, your brain will thank you and your Spanish fluency will become personalized to your needs. No longer will you be imitating or translating. You’ll be too busy speaking and communicating for that.
Olé! (oh yeah!)