Spanish Refresher: 6 Ways to Revive Your Spanish and Achieve Long-term Fluency
Stops and starts.
You’ve probably experienced these a couple of times in your life.
When it comes to languages, unless you’ve already reached an advanced to near-fluent level, it usually feels pretty hard to maintain your ability to express yourself in that language when you stop practicing it.
But don’t panic, todo bien (everything is alright). Let us help you with that.
- 1. Tap into your memory and find your Spanish skills.
- 2. Create a realistic daily routine for Spanish practice.
- 3. Give your writing skills a boost.
- 4. Use engaging resources to read in Spanish every day.
- 5. Actively listen to Spanish audio content every day.
- 6. Speak Spanish to anyone who will listen.
- And One More Thing…
1. Tap into your memory and find your Spanish skills.
Now, in case you’re wondering, you should be aware that once you start learning a language there’s only a very low chance that your skills will disappear para siempre (forever) if you stop practicing.
Some of the things that might happen when you stop using Spanish after a sustained period of learning? Your mind may become a bit idle and it’ll start losing its familiarity with using the idioma (language). It’s like you know how to say something but the words just won’t come out of your mouth.
Sometimes your tongue even loses its ability to reproduce Spanish sounds, like the very special rolled RR or the typical Argentinean ch sound.
If those things happened to you, rest easy, you’re not alone! Believe me, even if you forget some Spanish during your aprendizaje (learning process), it’s still somewhere in your mind. With the proper stimulation, it’ll come back quicker than you think.
Let me tell you a quick story. One of my native languages is a Caribbean language called Kréol. It’s a mix of French, English, Spanish, German and some African dialects. When I moved to Buenos Aires, needless to say, I had very little opportunity to speak Kréol. After a couple of years spent without having any Kréol words coming out of my mouth, I had an online call with my family.
What happened? I couldn’t speak a single sentence in Kréol, my native language! It was a pretty disturbing experience, but guess what? After a couple of minutes in the conversation, it was getting easier and easier to speak. And after 30 minutes I could speak Kréol again fairly well.
I know a couple of polyglots here in Argentina and they all talk about the same phenomenon. When you speak 3, 4, 5 or more languages it isn’t always easy to maintain a good level in each of them. However, my polyglot buddies all agree that it’s always possible to come back to the level you had—provided you’re willing to work for it.
2. Create a realistic daily routine for Spanish practice.
Now, you need to know that maintaining your Spanish level boils down to one thing: creating a daily routine using the language so your mind doesn’t forget it again. Let’s explore some good tips about how to create that daily routine.
- Have a checklist of all your routine tasks. The best thing you can do is to pick your favorite techniques from this post and commit to using them every day. Then write down your daily Spanish practice routine in the form of a checklist. This way you won’t have to think when the time comes to get some work done. It’ll quickly become automatic.
- Make the checklist as straightforward as possible. Say you want to practice your Spanish every day via reading. You don’t want to write down “read something in Spanish” on your checklist. Be precise. That way when it’s practice time all you have to do is sit down and do whatever you’ve committed yourself to doing. A better routine could be to read one page per day of a specific Spanish book for 4 weeks straight.
- Keep the checklist visible. Make sure to write it down on a piece of paper, not on your computer. If it ends up on your computer or smartphone, be sure to have an app send you daily notifications and reminders about it. Otherwise, stick that list on the wall or keep it somewhere it’ll be easy for you to see daily.
- Practice Spanish in small doses. The last ingredient for daily practice to work is to make sure that each item on the checklist just takes you a couple of minutes every day (think reading one page per day of a Spanish book instead of 10, or just listening to five minutes of Spanish radio per day).
One of my favorite proverbs is the following: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” I love it because it’s totally true. When I was studying Spanish, I can’t tell you how many times I had firmly decided to work on it daily. Then, of course, I’d get to the end of the week without actually having practiced seriously.
I then decided to compensate by working on my Spanish for three to four hours on the weekend. Bad move on my part! Eating seven apples on Sunday just isn’t going to get the job done. Some things you’ve got to do daily.
Next, the best daily routine you can create will incorporate the following four main areas: writing, reading, listening and speaking. Let’s examine each of those four areas in detail and how you can practice them all efficiently.
3. Give your writing skills a boost.
Writing is a highly engaging exercise.
When I was learning Spanish, I believe writing one or two pages per day about my workday seriously skyrocketed my skills in that idioma (language). Here’s what I’d advise you to do: Set out 5-10 minutes per day to write in Spanish.
What do you write about? Write about something outstanding that happened to you that day, for example, or about what you’re planning to do the following day or week. It doesn’t need to be something really complicated as long as you write about something that’s interesting to you.
What really matters is to engage your mind to produce a piece of writing in Spanish every day. The ideal thing would be to do your writing on a piece of paper. But you can consider other ways that’ll be more convenient for you.
For example, if you commute on public transport often, you might want to write with the Evernote app on your smartphone or tablet. The nice thing about Evernote is that you can write absolutely whatever you want, almost wherever you want (provided you have a mobile device) and then have it back on your computer muy fácilmente (very easily).
Another possibility could be to write an email, social media post or even a WhatsApp message to somebody who speaks Spanish fluently. HelloTalk and Speaky are great for finding people to text with as part of a language exchange.
Make sure to set aside some time for these writing methods so you’re doing them regularly as well (maybe send one or two emails per week and exchange Spanish messages more often).
4. Use engaging resources to read in Spanish every day.
Incorporating some reading practice into your daily routine is really important in order to maintain your comprehension skills. This is the siglo 21 (21st century) so you have a great number of resources available at your fingertips.
- E-books: Amazon offers a fair selection of free Spanish e-books. It also offers really cheap Spanish e-books that you can read on your Kindle, your computer or pretty much anything that has a screen.
- Readers: You may also want to invest in a Spanish reader or two. These are small books written to suit the needs of Spanish learners and are usually much more approachable than classic Spanish literature. Highly recommended!
- Newspapers and news websites: I really like 20 minutos or the Spanish version of HuffPost (previously known as The Huffington Post), HuffPost.es. You can find a list of news revistas y periódicos (magazines and newspapers) here.
- Magazines: If you’re more of a magazine type of person, you’ll probably find some nice Spanish revistas (magazines) online, in your local bookstore or a nearby digital library. Emprendedores, for example, talks about topics related to emprendedores (entrepreneur).
- Blogs: Reading Spanish blog posts every day can be another good way to consume some Spanish content daily (for example, when you commute). I’d advise you to choose three or four good blogs. Just Google one of your hobbies in Spanish and you should be able to come up with a good list of potential blog posts in Spanish.
At the beginning, start your reading practice small. Just read one page of a book or magazine per day or one blog post per day. As it gets easier and easier, you can try to read more for longer periods of time and choose more advanced content.
5. Actively listen to Spanish audio content every day.
The next area we’re going to cover is listening.
It’s pretty straightforward to practice this one. You have to find some good Spanish audio content to listen to regularly. As usual, listen to it for small periods of time to start off. 5-10 minutes per day is perfectly fine. You might even want to listen for more time if what you’re listening to is really interesting!
- Podcasts: One of the first things you can do is check out some Spanish podcasts. You can choose podcasts specifically for language learners or those created for native speakers. With the second, there are all kinds of genres that you can choose from!
- Audiobooks: You may want to invest in some Spanish audiobooks. Audible is one of the leading audiobook vendors, and you’ll find high-quality audio versions of popular Spanish books for a fair price. I especially like “El poder de ahora” (“The Power of Now”) by Eckhart Tolle. The voice in this audiobook is really clear and easy to understand.
- Radio: I’d advise you to download the very easy-to-use and free Simple Radio app. This app allows you to listen to a large variety of radio from all over the world. If you need some radio station recommendations, check out this list.
- YouTube: In your spare time check out YouTube in Spanish. One thing you can do is go to YouTube and type in the name of one of your hobbies translated into Spanish and you should find enough content for several days.
Keep in mind, though, that some of this content might be much harder to understand because of the topic or the technical language used. But, hey, there are hundreds of options available, so if one piece of audio is really out of your league you can just pick another one.
6. Speak Spanish to anyone who will listen.
Last but not least, you’ll have to complete your daily Spanish routine by speaking Spanish for several minutes per day. You essentially have two main ways to go about doing this.
Firstly, you can (and you should) talk with yourself. You might want to isolate yourself to do this if you don’t want people to think you’re crazy. And once again it’ll only be for 5-10 minutes per day. Just have a chat with yourself. It’ll be like the personal writing exercise described earlier in this post, but this time you’re doing it out loud.
You can talk about what you did that day, your plans for the following day or even imagine catching up with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. Make sure to write down every word or expression you don’t know how to say. That way you can look for them later, add them to a Spanish vocabulary notebook and study them every night.
If you have the opportunity, you might want to speak with a real person on a regular basis instead. The absolute most convenient way to do this would be to have a weekly online call with a Spanish native speaker. You can find people willing to do such an intercambio de idioma (language exchange) on websites like The Mixxer or Couchsurfing. Here are some other places you can find a language exchange partner.
Once you’ve found someone you like to speak with, consider exchanging WhatsApp contact information. This way you’ll be able to send recorded audio notes to each other or even call each other up for free. My only recommendation is to not exchange contact information until you’ve built up a good connection with this person.
Having a language exchange buddy certainly helps you to maintain your Spanish-speaking skills. You absolutely need somebody who’s serious and committed to speaking with you every week.
Although it’s not so hard to find that special someone—there are plenty of people willing to do this—I’d recommend that you both speak to yourself and your language exchange buddy as often as possible.
So there you have it! If you apply the recommendations provided in this article, your hard Spanish work doesn’t have to fade away.
If you just give yourself five minutes per day for writing, reading, listening and speaking, you’ll rock! You might even improve your level this way instead of maintaining it.
It won’t take you more than 20 to 30 minutes per day to do all of this, and you can do most of the exercises at home, during your lunch break or while commuting.
And One More Thing…
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