Taking this question quite literally, it’s not hard to answer. The fastest way to learn Spanish is by “immersion.” The answer is not to prefer any particular Spanish course, but to live and breathe the language as much as possible.
I suspect that many, upon hearing that, would quickly say or at least think: “Of course that’s impractical. What course should I buy?” I’d like to suggest that some form of immersion is quite possible in our day without traveling outside our own country. If you are serious enough about learning Spanish and willing to dedicate the time and energy, it can be done.
So, let’s just imagine for a moment that we are that motivated. How could we effectively immerse ourselves in Spanish? Here are a few of the ideas which come to my mind. (I hope you’ll share your own in the comments below.)
I might start out by in the morning by reading from a Spanish Bible, easy to get on my iPad. Or, maybe I change my preferred language on CNN to Spanish to read the news and even watch and listen to some video clips.
Then, I get really radical and change the preferred language in my computer’s web browser from English to Spanish. I’m sure I can locate several newspapers online from Mexico, from another Latin American country, or from Spain. Or, maybe you want to begin with something easier, like a familiar children’s book in Spanish.
While driving or doing household tasks, I can listen to the radio in Spanish. I can probably find a variety of Spanish TV stations on cable. Or I could go to the library and take out a movie in Spanish, a TV series on DVD, or perhaps an audiobook.
Now, my own immediate feeling is fear that I wouldn’t understand much. And that might well be true at first. But the sounds are sinking in. I’m getting used to what the words sound like.
I could speed things up a bit by making myself flashcards of all the new words I learn. (I would suggest beginning with Gabriel Wyner’s list of the most common words in all languages and using the free version of Before You Know It.) Keeping with the method of immersion, I might use a picture or image on one side and the Spanish word on the other. It’s actually slower to translate back and forth from my native language to my new language all the time – much faster to learn to think in my new language.
Setting some goals would also speed things up. So, set a schedule of what specifically you intend to learn each month. Then break that down into daily activities and tasks to reach your goals.
So far, I’ve mentioned ways to listen and read, but I also need to speak. Any of the courses which employ interactive audio would be helpful. DuoLingo is free and a good starting point.
As soon as possible (set a date!), I need to begin talking daily with native speakers of Spanish. Even that is not as hard as you might think. ITalki provides an online platform for Spanish tutoring for a very reasonable fee. Interpals or My Language Exchange are other possibilities.
Maybe you have a Spanish speaking neighbor or friend at work. Scout out and make some new friends. Hang out in a Mexican restaurant. Maybe you can find someone learning English and help each other out.
One of the biggest hurdles for many of us to overcome at this stage is the fear of sounding silly. Get over it! Learn to make mistakes and laugh. You are learning.
What about You?
Now I realize that, depending on your family, work, and other responsibilities, you may have to scale back this approach to fit your lifestyle. My point is simply that immersion (at least to a degree) is possible. And this is really the fastest way to learn Spanish … or any other language.
Now, it’s your turn to share. How would you immerse yourself in your new language?