Imagine you’re in Madrid, Spain.
You hear a celebratory roar erupting from the street, like nothing you’ve heard before, as the whole city seems to be watching the same soccer game. “Vamos, vamos, vamos… gol!”
You’re late, on your way to watch said game at a bar with friends. The thought of the fried, salty patatas bravas and refreshing, cold cañas that you’ll soon consume is making your mouth water.
The stairs to the metro aren’t far, and once you’re down on the platform, joy ensues as the words “El próximo tren llegará en 1 min” (The next train will arrive in one minute) flash across the screen in neon green letters.
Being in Madrid, you are constantly surrounded by Spanish. Every day you hear, read, write and speak it, without going out of your way to do so. Through immersion, you’re learning Spanish faster than you ever have before.
But we can’t all be in Spain right now. Nor Chile, Honduras or Argentina.
So how can you immerse yourself in Spanish when you don’t live abroad?
How to Immerse Yourself in Spanish When You Don’t Live Abroad
Watch Spanish Videos on FluentU
Watching authentic videos—videos made by native Spanish speakers for a native-speaking audience—is an excellent method of simulating the immersive experience of being abroad in a Spanish-speaking country.
A great place to access authentic Spanish videos online is right here at FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Change Your Digital Language Settings to Spanish
Go into your Facebook settings and change the language to Spanish. That’s how I learned the word “muro” (wall) back in high school. Then go into your email account—and any other online accounts that you interact with daily for that matter (Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, etc.)—and do the same: change the language to Spanish.
Next grab your digital camera, cell phone, iPad, computer, GPS, Kindle—any piece of technology that you own—and head to the language settings. These changes will get you thinking in Spanish when you otherwise wouldn’t, and you are sure to learn new words.
Read Spanish Newspapers Online
If you regularly check the news online, start reading it in Spanish. My preference is the Madrid-based El País, since I grew fond of it during the two years I lived in Spain, but there are a number of other Spanish news sources available online. Here are a few to get you started:
Choose one and set it as your new homepage today. For smartphone users, most of these newspapers have free apps to download, as well. And to get the most out of your time reading the news, this post with 9 great tips for learning Spanish with the news is a must-read.
Read Children’s Books in Spanish
Go to your local public library and head to the foreign language shelf in the children’s section. If you’re more advanced, pick a young adult favorite and see if your library has it in Spanish (Harry Potter, anyone?). Already knowing the plot will help you understand what’s going on as you read in Spanish.
As a Kindle owner, I also like to browse Amazon’s free Spanish e-books from time to time. Reading books in Spanish on my Kindle is great because with a Spanish dictionary installed, Spanish definitions of appear on the screen at the tap of a finger. Many public libraries have digital libraries now too, so that’s another place to check for Spanish e-books.
Label Items in Your House
I’ve done this multiple times, when learning both Spanish and French, to master household vocabulary.
I simply wrote Spanish words on small flashcards, and then taped each to its corresponding item in my apartment. Both times I had roommates who were much less excited than I was, but ultimately they let the labels stay up for a few weeks. Staring at “ventana” every time I looked out of the window while doing dishes, or seeing “enchufe” on the electrical outlet took advantage of my visual learning style and got those words ingrained in my brain.
Grab a marker, tape, some paper and get started!
To make this even easier, you can get a Spanish set, which gives you pre-made, fun and colorful Spanish labels for sticking around your home and office.
Listen to Spanish Radio
Listening to Spanish music on the radio while you’re driving, working out, or simply at home is another great way to immerse yourself in Spanish. My favorite Spanish radio station is Cadena Dial (97.1 FM in Madrid), which plays Spanish music all the time. You can listen to Cadena Dial en directo (live) online here.
If you discover a song that sticks with you after listening, use FluentU to learn the words and meaning. Once you’ve practiced and studied it for a bit, play Lyrics Training to see how well you know the song.
Here’s a quick guide to learning Spanish through songs and music for your reference.
Mix it up and try listening to a talk radio show from time to time. To get accustomed to hearing castellano from Spain, I recommend Cadena Ser.
Listen to Spanish Podcasts
Similar to Spanish radio talk shows, you can easily find free Spanish podcasts online. There are many podcasts made specifically for Spanish learners, like . This educational podcast series has you covered from complete newbie levels through to fluency. But it’s so much more than a podcast, currently hosting more than 1,600 audio and video Spanish lessons and boasting a full suite of interactive learning features to guide you through them. Innovative Language - Spanishpod101Go ahead and check it out!
You can also listen to podcasts produced by native Spanish speakers about a wide variety of topics. Where can you find these podcasts?
Go to the iTunes Store and scroll all the way to the bottom of the screen. In the fourth column, Management, select “Change Country”. Choose any Spanish-speaking country that you want, and then scroll back up and click “Podcasts”. Then comes the fun part: Browse through the various categories and “top podcasts” from that particular country, and listen to a podcast that looks interesting to you.
Keep an Agenda or Journal in Spanish
I’ve always kept some sort of journal, but it wasn’t until I first lived in Spain as a study abroad student that I began to journal in Spanish. Writing in Spanish about your thoughts and everyday activities is a great way to hone the skill, even if you’re a beginner. My private thoughts also feel like they have an extra layer of protection when they’re written in Spanish!
If you keep an agenda/planner or any sort of calendar, start writing your appointments and events in Spanish.
Watch Spanish Television
I usually feel a bit guilty when I spend time watching TV, but definitely not when it’s in Spanish. That’s a mental workout! Many Spanish TV shows can be watched online, and will usually be divided into three categories: series, programas, and noticias. Series are fictional television series; programas include talk shows, documentaries, cooking shows, reality TV and game shows; while noticias are news segments. Two more helpful words when navigating these sites are “capítulos” (episodes) and “temporada” (season). Here are a few Spanish television channels to get you started:
Watch Spanish Movies
While many Spanish TV shows can be found online, don’t forget about your public library when it comes to movies! I love getting DVDs from the library because it’s easy to add Spanish subtitles from the main menu. Most foreign language movies that you can stream or watch online will have English subtitles, which is not recommended when you’re learning a foreign language.
Why not? Your mind will be reading all of the English and not listening to the Spanish. It takes great concentration to listen—especially in a foreign language—so if your eyes can read the Spanish while your ears listen to it, you’re setting yourself up for successful learning through immersion.
Check out these eight useful tips for learning Spanish with movies, which also includes some movie suggestions. Then, here are seven more great movies for learning real Spanish.
Join a Spanish Conversation Table
The only way to get better at speaking Spanish is to speak Spanish. I recommend joining a Spanish conversation table to be surrounded by other Spanish speakers. Search Meetup, Craigslist (Community), and Facebook groups to find an existing Spanish conversation group near you.
Not having any luck? Start your own group! Advertise in the same sites listed above, and then put up a few flyers around town. You could try looking for a one-on-one language exchange (intercambio) too, if you like. And remember: Talk a lot and make tons of mistakes, and then talk some more.
Work at a Spanish-speaking Restaurant
My good friend worked at a Qdoba during part of college, and he got to speak Spanish with the kitchen staff every day. No Spanish skills were required when he applied for the job, but he was surrounded by Spanish while working and picked up lots of slang. If you have time for a part-time job, why not consider working at a restaurant where Spanish is spoken by some of the staff or owners?
Volunteer with Spanish Speakers
Look for volunteer opportunities with Spanish speakers. One semester I volunteered as a childcare assistant for Spanish-speaking children while their parents were in free ESL classes. Playing with the children was a low-pressure way to use what Spanish I knew, while being immersed in the language. Here are four useful sites for finding volunteer opportunities:
Even when you’re not living abroad, you can clearly still take many measures to immerse yourself in Spanish. So kick that Spanish learning into high gear and use these tips to soak up all the Spanish that you can. There will always be partidos de fútbol and patatas bravas waiting for you in Spain; they’re not going anywhere.
Rebecca Thering is a freelance writer and editor who has lived abroad teaching ESL in Spain and South Korea. Valuing education and things that aren’t things, she inspires and helps others by writing about her experiences abroad, cultural insights and self-improvement pursuits at her personal blog, Rebe With a Clause.