Traffic. Crowded trains. Uncomfortable work clothes. Not enough coffee.
Sound like your daily commute?
Then it’s time to add some Spanish learning to your ride.
For many people, commuting is the least exciting part of the day. It’s boring, frustrating and can just feel like a complete waste of time.
But if you’re a Spanish learner, you can make your commute a lot more interesting and productive.
Whether you’ve got a five-minute walk (lucky you!) or an hour drive to and from work every day, you can take the time to drill essential Spanish grammar, build your vocabulary and even practice your conversational and listening skills.
In this post, we’ll show you five simple and engaging tricks for transforming your daily commute into a personalized Spanish class.
Why You Should Learn Spanish During Your Commute
Trying to fit in some Spanish practice every day? A daily commute can be a great time to practice your Spanish language learning. Commuting often feels like lost time where you’re stuck in your car or on a bus every morning and afternoon with nothing to do. You might as well make good use of this chunk of time!
Even if your commute is just ten or fifteen minutes long, remember that every little bit counts when it comes to language learning, and frequency is key to getting grammar concepts and vocabulary to stick in your brain. Dedicating your commute to Spanish practice can also be a great motivational hack—it forces you to concentrate specifically on language learning for a discrete, regular chunk of time.
Not to mention, practicing Spanish on your morning or afternoon commute can be a great source of energy and can help you jump-start your brain! In the morning, a little Spanish practice can be just as good as your cup of coffee for waking you up and getting you in the right frame of mind to excel at work.
And if you experience a mid-afternoon slump during your commute home, fun Spanish language games can help you re-energize in a relaxing and productive way.
5 Simple Tricks for Learning Spanish During Your Daily Commute
1. Make Use of Spanish Audio Resources
Audio language learning materials are a classic way to practice Spanish while in your car or on public transit. Listening to some Spanish every morning (or better yet if you’re in your car, singing along) will do wonders for your Spanish comprehension.
Studies have shown that listening to a language—even if you don’t understand every word—can be a huge help in language learning. Some call this passive listening, and it can have fantastic benefits for your comprehension, grammar and vocabulary.
Perhaps you’ve never thought of listening to Spanish podcasts during your commute because you’re a beginner or have a relatively short ride. Never fear—there are plenty of podcasts for all levels that can fit into a five- to fifteen-minute commute. Here are some good options:
- The Spanish lessons at SpanishPod101 range from two to ten minutes. They have audio-only podcasts that are great for a car trip, as well as video blogs for those who take public transit to work.
The great thing about SpanishPod101 is that the content is made by professional teachers covering a wide range of topics, from grammar and vocabulary to real-life conversational skills, so no matter what your language weaknesses are or what your proficiency level is, you’ll have your bases covered.
If your hands are free during your commute, you’ll enjoy the interactive captions to help you learn new words in-context, and FluentU’s learn mode offers flashcards and quizzes that’ll make sure you’re retaining what you learn. All this means that you’ll be taking concrete steps toward fluency with every trip to or from work.
- 5 Minute Spanish provides languages lessons in—you guessed it—five minutes. No matter how short your daily commute is, you have no excuse to skip out on this one!
- Spanish in 180 Seconds (from the same producer of 5 Minute Spanish) gives three-minute clips focusing on various grammar topics. These are great if you have to switch trains frequently and only have a few minutes at a time to focus on Spanish. If you have a slightly longer commute, you can listen to more than one a day and quickly advance through the list of lessons.
Looking for more resources? Here’s a list of great podcasts for Spanish learners, here you can find audiobooks to check out and here are some helpful tips for learning Spanish by listening to the radio.
2. Use Your Phone
Most people have their phones with them 24/7, and commuters are no exception. Whether you’re walking, biking, driving or taking public transit to work, you can use your phone for language learning!
If you’re taking public transit, your commute may be the perfect chunk of time to use a language learning mobile app on your phone. One easy idea is to use a flashcard app to drill specific vocabulary sets or grammar concepts that you’ve been struggling to remember. For more general language learning, check out these heavy-hitting Spanish learning apps to develop a range of skills.
If you’re walking or driving, using a smartphone app might not be the safest idea. But you can still use your phone to practice Spanish during your commute. Try switching your phone’s language settings to Spanish and turning on navigation when you leave the house. Since you (presumably) already know the way to work, you can listen along to the navigation and pay attention to the Spanish directions.
This will help you learn important vocabulary, as well as the grammar structures for giving commands and suggestions.
3. Observe Your Surroundings
Ever played “I Spy” on a long car trip?
You can do the same on your commute to work, whether you’re driving or on public transit. This trick is simple: just pay attention to your surroundings and try to describe what you’re seeing in Spanish. Who knows—you might even become aware of things you never noticed before!
If you’re an absolute beginner, maybe start with just trying to identify ten objects on your commute that you can name in Spanish. These can be things as simple as calle (street), coche (car) or sol (sun). You can also practice colors by trying to say the colors of cars as they go by.
If you’re a little further along in your language learning, try giving yourself a script to target specific vocabulary lists or grammatical structures. Here are a few examples:
- Practicing prepositions: This one is super simple—just make sentences using prepositions. Not only will you become more comfortable with the prepositions themselves, you’ll also reinforce other vocabulary at the same time.
El restaurante está en frente de la escuela. (The restaurant is across from the school.)
- Making comparisons: Challenge yourself to make ten comparisons between things you see on your commute, incorporating as many different nouns and adjectives as you want. This is a great way to practice comparatives and superlatives.
El árbol es más grande que el semáforo. (The tree is larger than the stoplight.)
- Clothing vocabulary: This one works great if you’re on a crowded bus or train. Simply describe (in your head, of course!) the clothing of the people around you. Bonus points if you can also use adjectives to describe other attributes of the person as well!
La mujer alta lleva una bufanda rosa. (The tall woman is wearing a pink scarf.)
- Practicing haber (there is/there are): Haber is one of the most useful and important Spanish verbs! For beginners, learning how to use it is an absolute must—here’s a whole article on the topic.
Describe the world around you using hay (there is/there are) and no hay (there isn’t/there aren’t). For an extra challenge, try using the past tense: había (there was/there were) and no había (there wasn’t/there weren’t).
Hay un libro en su bolsa. (There is a book in her bag.)
Había dos mujeres en ese coche azul. (There were two women in that blue car.)
These are just a few examples of “scripts” that you can use, but to get the most out of this exercise, create your own to match whatever vocabulary or grammar topic you’re covering in your Spanish class or studies.
4. Think in Spanish
Being able to have an inner monologue in Spanish is a great sign that you’re progressing toward fluency. It’s also a great way to get out of the trap of constantly translating everything you say between your native language and Spanish.
But it’s not easy, especially if you’re a beginning speaker.
Your commute is a discrete chunk of time that you can devote to “thinking in Spanish” as best you can. If you’re a beginner, or if you have an especially long commute, you can set aside a small portion of your trip to think in Spanish and work up from there. It may be difficult at first, but after a while, thinking in Spanish will feel like second nature.
Once you’re inner monologuing in Spanish, just think about whatever you would normally think about on your commute—your workday, the driver who just cut you off, your weekend plans… whatever comes to mind! Each topic will give you a chance to practice different sets of vocabulary and different verb conjugations.
If you’re commuting on public transit, get the most out of your stream of consciousness by writing down your thoughts as you go. When you have a free moment later in the day, look back over what you’ve written down with a dictionary or conjugation tool and correct any mistakes you find.
One of the trickiest parts of this exercise is realizing you can’t express a certain thought because you don’t know what word or grammatical structure to use. This might get you flustered, but just keep your cool and move past it! If possible, it can be especially helpful to make a note of these moments on a pad or note-taking app when you realize something you don’t know.
Then, later on, you can go back and fill in the gaps in your knowledge. That’s what stream-of-consciousness thinking is good for—it forces you to grapple with lots of varied subjects in Spanish that’ll make you aware of language concepts you’re not familiar with!
5. Find a Commute-and-Conversation Buddy
Learning a language with someone else can be a great motivational tool and a fun experience all around.
Do you have a carpool buddy who’s also interested in learning Spanish? Or maybe a co-worker who lives nearby who would be interested in ride-sharing? If you’re lucky enough to share your commute with a language learning partner, take advantage!
This way, you’ll be able to practice both your speaking skills and your language comprehension, and you’ll be well on your way to achieving conversational fluidity.
Not to mention, carpooling will make your commute fly by since you’ll be engaged in your conversation—and it’s good for the environment as well.
Can’t find a Spanish-language carpool buddy? No worries! There are some other techniques you can use to get a similar experience.
If you have a Spanish-speaking friend or a language partner who has a similar work schedule to you, maybe schedule a morning or afternoon call to practice Spanish while you’re both on your way to or from work. If you’re on public transit, consider reaching out via text!
Pen pals and email conversation buddies can also be great, especially for beginning speakers who don’t feel confident holding full conversations. If you’re stuck on public transit for your commute, use this time to write an email to your language partner to practice your grammar. You can use Conversation Exchange to find partners for emailing, phone conversations or video chatting.
If you’re in your car alone and still want to practice your conversational skills or accent, consider turning on a voice recorder on your phone and staging a mock conversation. Then, you can listen back to the recording later on and make a note of areas that need improvement.
Have we convinced you that your commute is a perfect chunk of time to devote to daily language learning? Whether you prefer jamming along to Spanish music, mentally yelling at other drivers en español or running through flashcards on the subway, a few minutes of Spanish in the morning and afternoon will do wonders for your language ability.
Keep at it every day and you’ll see improvements in your speaking and comprehension in no time. Instead of dreading your daily commute, put it to good use with fun, engaging and energizing language practice!