Why Can’t I Learn Spanish?! How to Tackle the 4 Biggest Learning Blocks
Some things just don’t come easy.
If you’ve ever struggled with studying Spanish—just couldn’t memorize those conjugations or get your mouth to pronounce the right sounds—you might feel like you’re fundamentally unable to learn the language.
Don’t give up, though. Take a look at four common obstacles students face when learning Spanish and follow our tips to start taking action today!
- 1. “There’s So Much to Learn, It’s Overwhelming!”
- 2. “I Can’t Seem to Learn, No Matter How Much I Study.”
- 3. “I Find Studying Too Boring.”
- 4. “I Don’t Use Spanish, so I Keep Forgetting It.”
1. “There’s So Much to Learn, It’s Overwhelming!”
Why is the rain female (la lluvia), but the ocean is male (el océano)?
Is that verb ending with -er, –ar or –ir?
What’s with the difference between estar (to be) and ser (to be)?
And let’s not even mention the existence of the subjunctive mood.
All in all, Spanish can feel terrifying for non-native speakers. But just like driving, riding a bicycle or cooking start to feel fluid and intuitive over time, so can Spanish.
What You Can Do About It
What do we do when faced with a new challenge? We stick to things that are familiar to us!
You’d be surprised at how similar English and Spanish can actually be, particularly when it comes to the logic of verb tenses and vocabulary. In fact, if you know the words actor, capital, crisis, musical, natural or vulnerable, you already know some español!
Not only do these words exist in Spanish, they also have the exact same meaning. Why not start by taking advantage of 54 Spanish cognates you’ll instantly recognize and 68 familiar Spanish words that came from English?
If you speak a Romance language other than Spanish, you have even more of an opportunity to focus on the many cognates, borrowed words and similar grammar rules among this group of languages.
Extra tips! Focus on vocabulary or grammar that seems more relevant to you, rather than learning vocabulary that you’re unlikely to use or be interested in. This will help you narrow down your study materials and set specific goals based on what’s meaningful to you.
Working in Spain? You may be interested in business-related lingo. Are you an exchange student? Start by focusing on colloquial language for your target country. Who’s interested in some slang from Spain, the Dominican Republic or Colombia?
Another great tip is to use resources that are specially designed to encourage an environment of learning. If you can slowly incorporate Spanish into your everyday life, you can overcome these early hurdles.
There are plenty of ways to Spanishify (OK, that was a word-creating bridge too far…) things you would already do normally. If you love TV series, try throwing some telenovelas into the mix. If you have a specific interest, photography for example, find a Spanish-language blog that covers it.
If you’d like a way to immerse yourself in Spanish content with a little less guesswork, consider an immersion-based language learning program.
For example, FluentU uses authentic video content like movie clips and music videos that have learning features integrated into them. These tools include dual-language transcripts, post-video comprehension quizzes, video-enhanced flashcards, interactive subtitles and more.
The subtitles, in particular, give you a chance to interact with the immersive material you’re consuming. By hovering over or clicking on any word in the subtitles, you can see its contextual meaning. You can also view example sentences and videos, listen to the audio pronunciation, check intricate grammar details and add the word to one of your custom flashcard decks.
Practice your new vocabulary with the program’s multimedia quizzes, which adapt to your learning and present you with personalized questions. FluentU also makes it easy to choose the right video for you by organizing clips by difficulty level, topic and format.
The program as a whole is designed to make authentic content approachable at any level, so you can dive right in and not feel overwhelmed. It’s available for browser, iOS and Android.
interactive captions for instant definitions and adaptive flashcards for efficient vocabulary reviewing) to help you learn both about the Spanish language and Spanish-speaking cultures.
2. “I Can’t Seem to Learn, No Matter How Much I Study.”
Here you are again: face to face with a grammar handbook, staring at conjugation tables and endless vocabulary lists like it’s the first time.
Maybe you spent time and money on an intensive Spanish course… from which you remember absolutely nothing.
And as much as other other people seem to get it right, you might just feel like you’re wasting your time. You’ll remember none of these things by tomorrow. Sound familiar?
What You Can Do About It
There are no dumb students, only inappropriate study methods.
Human beings have different ways of acquiring and retaining information and not all methods work equally for everybody. So stop insisting on a learning methodology that just isn’t the best for you!
The first step is acknowledging that there’s a difference between conscious learning and unconscious learning. Completing a university Spanish course qualifies as conscious learning. Listening to Spanish music on your way to work or watching movies in Spanish could qualify as unconscious learning.
Self-teaching at home with manuals and online materials is conscious learning. Living in Colombia and listening to people around you speak Spanish daily is unconscious learning.
Combining just the right amount of both methods could do wonders for your Spanish skills! You do have to keep an open mind and experiment with different methods to understand what works best for you.
Do you learn best from dynamic, highly-visual content or more formal, structured materials? Do you prefer to study a little at a time, or follow intensive courses? Are you able to focus on your own, or is the classroom the best place to provide some sense of responsibility and accountability? You decide!
Extra tip! Your overall method can be a combination of different tricks and sources, rather than a boring repetition of the same old routine. This isn’t just possible, it’s also advantageous.
An example would be joining a class (in a traditional classroom or online, perhaps even with free YouTube lessons), while using apps for learning Spanish and surrounding yourself with Spanish media such as telenovelas (soap operas), movies and music.
3. “I Find Studying Too Boring.”
Churning through a textbook or drilling flashcards works wonders for some students, but many need something a little more engaging to succeed.
Forcefully memorizing grammar, tables and vocabulary can work for the first two or three days, but even the most steadfast students can start to get distracted, impatient or just plain bored without some other tools in their language learning tool belt.
You can’t stick too long to something you find boring, unproductive and unrewarding!
What You Can Do About It
You want to make Spanish learning feel fun, exciting, productive and dynamic. You want it to feel relevant to your life. You want results, preferably without hours of needless sacrifice and boredom.
Fortunately, there are tons of learning resources out there that make this possible.
Why not try revisiting three or four of your favorite books—this time in Spanish? Why not watch your favorite movie for the gazillionth time, only this time with Spanish language dubbing or Spanish subtitles?
If you want a fun learning method that’ll also ensure you actually learn, check out FluentU.
Extra tip! If your Spanish level is quite advanced and you’re in need of some serious fun, you can also learn how to get a job, make friends or talk about zombies with the YouTuber HolaSoyGerman!
While you’re at it, make sure you visit Butterfly Spanish‘s channel: They teacher there will teach you how to talk about being sick in Spanish, how to take a taxi in a Spanish-speaking country and will even reveal the coolest tricks for correct Spanish pronunciation!
4. “I Don’t Use Spanish, so I Keep Forgetting It.”
Whisking off to Spain, the Dominican Republic or Cuba to practice the language would be great, but that simply isn’t an option for most of us.
If you live in a city or state where a Spanish-speaking community surrounds you, that’s a great alternative opportunity to strengthen your Spanish. But this is also not the case for some of us.
So what to do when you don’t use your Spanish at all?
What You Can Do About It
Even if you can’t travel to a Spanish-speaking country right now, you can still imitate that immersive language learning environment at home.
The thing about staying in a Spanish-speaking country is that your brain starts getting the message that you definitely must learn Spanish, because if you don’t learn the language, you can’t survive!
Learning Spanish stops being optional when you need it to get food, navigate your city, date and make friends.
The trick is to create a similar feeling without leaving home. Your brain must be tricked into thinking it’s urgent to learn this language.
Surround yourself with Spanish music and watch Spanish TV series or movies on a regular basis. Change the language settings on your phone, computer and other devices to Spanish. Write your to-do lists in Spanish and switch your news diet to Spanish-language outlets. The more you can incorporate the language into your everyday life, the better!
One easy, fun and effective trick is to label items around your house in Spanish. It’s an awesome way to learn tons of essential, everyday Spanish vocabulary, and it also gets you thinking in Spanish from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep.
You don’t even have to make the labels yourself—check out Vocabulary Stickers, which come with more than 100 color-coded Spanish labels ready to stick all over your house! Here are the stickers that are available and more about how it works.
After a few weeks or months of home immersion, you’ll start remembering keywords, you’ll start feeling curious about certain expressions that keep popping up in different songs and you’ll be able to describe your own possessions in Spanish!
Extra tip! Interaction is one of the best ways to trick your brain into thinking you should be learning Spanish… like, yesterday! So why not start connecting with Spanish speakers around the world through the specialized website italki? The italki site allows you to hook up with free language exchange partners (people who will help you practice Spanish, in exchange for you practicing English with them) as well as private language tutors. You could even make great friends online!
If virtual immersion isn’t really your thing, enrolling in a local language course could be a great way to create a sense of commitment to Spanish and give you that first push forward. You could also check Meetup (check the Language and Culture section) for the coolest Spanish learning meetings in town.
Plus: Start learning some text message slang today, and send your Spanish classmates or penpals a piece of your Spanish awesomeness!
Hopefully, these tips and tricks will have helped you recover that sweet Spanish learning drive! Remember: your Spanish learning skills can always be challenged, improved and pushed forward. Make sure you don’t neglect your inner student who feels curious about the world, and you’ll certainly master Spanish and everything else.