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For Those Learning Spanish

As a native English speaker, my decision to take Spanish classes wasn’t made out of a burning desire to become bilingual or because I felt a profound connection to Spanish culture. It was simply because it was either that or French, and rumor had it that the French teachers at my middle school were terrible. However, as a hopeful English major and author, words have always held power for me. And, it turned out, the same was true when they were spoken in another language. 

            I quickly became fascinated by the intricacies of Spanish, the ways in which it differed from English (gendered nouns, for instance), and the ways in which it was quite similar (cognates were welcome as I studied for vocab quizzes). Learning new words was like prying open a clamshell and finding within it a new pearl to add to my collection, and I adored every second of it. My favorite days of class were culture days. Not the ones when we’d be asked to memorize the fact that the population of Chile is approximately 18.73 million people, but the ones in which we’d watch music videos and movie trailers featuring Spanish celebrities, learn about Latin American dictatorships and holiday traditions, and eat the baby churros my teacher had bought from Costco to share with the class. I was enthralled by the vibrancy and depth of the cultures previously unknown to me. That being said, however, class wasn’t easy. I struggled to understand sentence structure and memorize the seemingly endless number of conjugations and grammatical exceptions (whoever came up with the idea of grammatical exceptions clearly wasn’t thinking about the poor language students who would be forced to reckon with them on an exam). And despite my casual enjoyment of the tongue, I still anticipated taking my final Spanish class senior year of high school and looking back on my language-learning days fondly. Once again, however, things changed. 

            The summer between my junior and senior year, I had my first interaction with a bilingual human. Watching him switch seamlessly between Spanish and English seemed to reinforce every benefit of being bilingual I’d half-listened to my Spanish teachers list at the start of each school year. He could communicate with a wide host of people, consume media in multiple languages (because watching a dubbed version of a film is not the same as seeing it in its original language), and intellectually speak about both Spanish and British/American culture. Suddenly, my plan to forgo language instruction after graduation day was a thing of the past. I’m currently taking language classes in college, considering a Spanish minor, and working to become fluent over the course of the next four years (hopefully!). 

            For those who are similarly striving for Spanish fluency, I’ve compiled some of my top tips below. I am by no means an expert (and I am by no means fluent in Spanish yet!), but I can certainly share some strategies that have helped me on my way to an intermediate grasp of the language. 



In grade school, although it seems counterintuitive, we never really spoke Spanish. Classes were conducted in English and all of our projects revolved around writing. As a result, I was terrified to speak Spanish and had little confidence in my abilities. I still remember a time when a Spanish-speaking woman approached me and asked if I could give her directions to a nearby building. Too terrified to respond in Spanish, I struggled to communicate with her in English and with a series of hand gestures. I knew the words, or could at least have given her a grammatically-incorrect but understandable response. But I was afraid of messing up. Incorporating more speaking into my language-learning routine has helped me to become a more able and confident speaker and to realize that, for the most part, no one will laugh at you if you use “por” instead of “para.” Half the battle is simply trying. Finding a language partner to speak with (especially if that someone is more advanced than you and can provide pointers) is a huge asset when it comes to becoming more fluent. No fellow Spanish speakers? When you wake up, speak aloud to yourself and list three things you are going to do, forcing yourself to utilize the future tense. Then, at night, list three things you did earlier on, requiring the use of the past tense (bonus points if you use both the preterite and the imperfect!). That way, you still get the speaking practice you need. 



You’ve probably heard that one of the best ways to learn Spanish is to go on an immersion trip. But even if you aren’t speaking Spanish on the regular, you can still immerse yourself in the language by consuming Spanish media! I’ve found that listening to podcasts and music and watching films in Spanish helps you to better recognize and understand colloquial Spanish (my friends and I always used to joke that we could say “potato” in Spanish but not “help, there’s a fire!” - sometimes, elementary language classroom instruction isn’t especially pragmatic). Some of my personal podcast recommendations include Duolingo (alternates between English and Spanish as narrators tell engaging true stories about Spanish or Latin American individuals), Coffee Break Spanish (this podcast is helpful to beginners and advanced Spanish students alike because the instruction and content become more challenging with every new season), and Spanish Language Coach (intended for intermediate learners, the host of this podcast discusses current events and relevant topics like social media, coming out, minimalism, and more). If you prefer to listen to music, some of my favorite Spanish and Latin American artists include Amaral, Café Tacuba (“Eres” is an awesome song!), Los Rodriguez, and Fito y Fitipaldis among others. And if you’re more of a TV kind of person, I’d recommend the Netflix hit series Las Chicas del Cable (although, admittedly it got a little too intense for me after the first season). 



Admittedly, one of the most devastating moments of my Spanish-speaking career was when I learned that, no, there isn’t a language hack that will allow you to easily memorize the many Spanish tenses and conjugations - you just have to study them. As frustrating and tedious as it sounds, taking the time to write out and read aloud the conjugations in every tense of common Spanish verbs - tener, dar, ser, ir, etc.  - can only make your life easier. Quizlet, in my opinion, is an invaluable resource to study vocabulary - use the writing setting to practice spelling as well as word retrieval. Finally, there are plenty of online resources - YouTube videos, websites, etc. - that will give you extra language practice. I kept my skills sharp over the summer by practicing with Duolingo - beyond lessons, the website also provides short, interactive Spanish stories to practice with.


I hope that some of these tips were new to you and will assist you in your quest to learn Spanish. ¡Buena Suerte!





Alexis Bentz

Wash U '24

Alexis Bentz is a junior at WashU majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing and minoring in Spanish.
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