All right, I’m going to tell you how to learn Spanish fast, and by fast, I mean about 10 times faster than your average sit-and-soak classroom setting. I’m planning on writing a lot more about how I’ve hacked Spanish, so make sure you subscribe via email at the end of the post, or grab the RSS feed.
First 4 Weeks: Pronunciation and Survival Phrases
Spanish is a phonetic language, whose alphabet is the mostly the same as English. This means that many of the sounds you know from English carry over to Spanish.
Some sounds do not carry over, however, and in order to not sound like a dumb gringo, it is advisable to work on your pronunciation.
Pronunciation in Spanish is very easy because each letter has a distinct sound, and that sound very, very rarely changes. So if you see the letter “i”, it always will have the “ee” sound, and not something else. Contrast this with English, when the letter “i” can sound different in different words, for example in the words bit, ski, and bite.
This fact means that you can learn proper pronunciation very quickly, and the sooner the better. If you can’t roll your R’s, just lock yourself in a room for a day until you can do it. That is the primary goal of this initial 4 weeks.
A good accompaniment for these weeks would be the Pimsleur Spanish program (Check out my Pimsleur Spanish review in its entirety). The best thing about this program is that it can really help your pronunciation if you work with it, and it will teach you commonly used verbs and expressions. You should plan spend 4-5 hours per day with the program, listening carefully to the pronunciations and responding when called upon. It will roughly take 90 hours to complete the program if you listen to each recording at least twice.
Also, do a google search for survival phrases in the country you are interested in, i.e. “Argentinian survival phrases” or “Argentinian Spanish phrases”. This will give you a good menu to work with in order to ask for directions, talk about your day, order food, and other common activities. At the very least you should have the basics of saying “I would like…”, “I have to…”, “I need…”, “Please”, “Thank You”, “Excuse me”, etc.
One final point is that you may want to look at verb charts to understand the patterns for the changes of various verb forms. You can buy a verb book, or (what I recommend) make your own verb charts using resources from the internet… like this one.
Second 4 Weeks: Unique Production and Grammar Exposure
In the second 4 weeks, you want to begin to express yourself in Spanish. That means saying what is really on your mind, and reporting things about your life.
To this end, the top priority of your life should be to find natives to practice with. You ideally do this in person, but you can also find them online, like in an online language community like Livemocha.
Make a commitment to speak only in Spanish for the certain periods of time while you are practicing, and you will begin to produce your own sentences. This is the true practice and will serve you better than 99.9% of any learning program.
Another practice you should develop is learning to embody your language. What do I mean by embody your language? I mean to make it directly related to the things you are doing with your body.
One easy way to do this is to eat at Latin restaurants. Think of all the things you have to do in a trip to the restaurant, and all the things you will need to say in Spanish in order to complete them.
For example, this dialogue is along the lines of what you might end up having:
Hello. How are you?
“I’m fine thanks.”
My name is Juliana and I will take your order. What would you like to drink?
“I would like some water please, no ice.”
And have you decided yet on what you would like?
“Actually. could I have another minute to decide? What do you recommend?”
I recommend the fish. I’ll give you a minue and will be back to take your order.
OK, ready now?
“Yes I’m ready. I would like to have the bandeja paisa. Does that come with mushrooms?”
No. It comes with egg, plantain, rice, beans, pork rinds, sausage, and arepa.
“OK good, because I don’t really like mushrooms.”
Ok, I’ll put this right in. Welcome!
Chances are you have had an exchange like this hundreds of times. So HACK it. Figure out how to say all of these phrases in Spanish. Ask your native friends, look up the words, then go to the freakin’ Latin restaurant and do it.
If you thoroughly understand an exchange like that, you will be well on your way, as it contains basic grammatical structures that you use all the time, and is embodied in your actual life and not some book.
Also during this time, you should avail yourself of the basic grammar rules. Note you don’t do this in the beginning, but here in the second 3 weeks, you want to make sure you know the basic patterns and rules for proper sentence formation and expression.
Third 4 Weeks and Beyond: Exposure, Exposure, Exposure
By the third 4 weeks, you should make conscious effort to exposure yourself to the language as much as possible.
Watching TV and movies in Spanish with the subtitles on is great practice. Listening to Latin radio and newscasts also helps. Read Spanish blogs and websites. Watch your favorite shows dubbed over in Spanish. All of these will increase your exposure to the language without boring yourself to death.
You can also change your computer language to Spanish. Change your iPod language to Spanish. Change Facebook to Spanish. Change everything and everything over to Spanish in order to immerse yourself as much as possible.
When possible, try to make sure your exposure relatively country-specific. For example, if you are interested in visiting Spain, try to find resources from Spain for your exposure. Spain has a slightly different accent than rest of the Latin world, and it would be best for pronunciation and comprehension’s sake to get used to that pronunciation if you are planning to visit there. Similarly, the pronunciation in Argentina differs from Mexico, and so on.
Presumably you are learning Spanish not because someone told you to, but because you are really interested in it. Along these lines, the key to staying motivated is to find something that is not excruciatingly boring and hook Spanish into it. If you are planning to travel somewhere, fill your mind with images and movies from the place you are going to visit. If sports is your passion, listen to them in Spanish and learn the translations of all the special words from the games.
Above all, continue to cultivate relationships with native speakers and socialize with them as much as possible. If you really want to learn a foreign language, one of the best ways to do so is to travel to the country you are interested in and have truly immerse experience. This will dramatically increase your exposure to the language, and thus the potential speed at which you learn.
Just Do It, Baby.
So there you have it. That is how you learn Spanish fast. You are only limited by the sweat you put into it, but if you follow these principles, you can be at a very good conversational level in just a few short months.