I definitely made the mistake of studying abroad without having brushed up on some very out of date high school Spanish. My host family brought me into the living room, chattering away and asking basic questions while I stared back at them with my mouth open. It was several days before things started coming back to me and I was able to get through basic conversations.
Whether you have some Spanish under your belt or are starting out with nothing, there are hundreds of ways to start practicing before you come. Learning basic greetings, how to count to 10, how to order your tapas… every little bit that you learn before you come is 1 step towards communicating well while here.
Here are some of our tips to get started:
1. Apps: There are great apps out there, our personal favorite is DuoLinguo. It is free and you can play on your phone or the website. WordPower has an app that gives you a word a day. MangoLanugages and Memrise are also great apps that are free.
2. Lessons Online: Websites like LearnSpanish.com have great lesson plans that you can review and quiz yourself on. Try http://learnspanish.com/ or vocabulary and verb review games here, or the burrito builder game here.
One of the best sites is the BBC one, http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish/ Particularly interesting is their Mi Vida Loca which is an interactive mystery drama for beginners. Plus it is free!
3. Make the switch. Change your google, facebook and other accounts to Spanish settings. It is amazing how instictively you know how to use facebook, but seeing the words in Spanish will help reinforce them. Adelante!
4. Listen to podcasts. While you’re driving, washing the car, folding laundry… why not be brushing up on your Spanish as well? There are podcasts in Spanish for advanced speakers but also some especially made for learning. Notes in Spanish is for intermediate learners, Spanish 101 is for beginners, and coffee break spanish is great for intermediate and advanced levels. Here’s a list of 9 great podcasts for learners.
5. Read the news. Whether you read it in Spanish or in English, reading about what is happening in Spain is a great idea before you come. What’s going on with the economy? Who is the president? Who are the members of the royal family? If you’re advanced, go directly for El Pais or La Vanguardia. CNN is available in Spanish and you can also listen to News in Slow Spanish.
6. Watch Spanish Movies & TV. Click here for a list of movies set in Spain (both in English and Spanish). If you have an intermediate level, try watching the film with the subtitles on (in Spanish). You can also watch Spanish TV online: http://www.rtve.es/television/, http://www.antena3.com/, or some websites even have shows like the Simpsons in Spanish for streaming.
7. Listen to Spanish Music. iTunes and Spotify have vast Spanish music archives. LyricTraining.es is an amazing way to learn the words to your favorite Spanish songs.
8. Read in Spanish. Whether you want to try a challenge like Cervantes or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, prefer a mystery set in Barclona (like La sombra del viento) or want to re-read something you’re familiar with (like Harry Potter translated into Spanish), this is a great way to build vocabulary. Have a kindle? Even better, as you can look up words automatically as you go along and save them to your vocabulary builder! Books set in Spain.
9. Check out Muy Interesante. This site has lots of video clips, science articles, lots of things that are, well, muy interesante.
10. Get talking! Join your school’s Spanish club, or find a native speaker that wants to learn English and trade off. Meetup.com often organizes language meetings in cities throughout the world and www.conversationexchange.com has lots of people looking to practice, you can even set a meet up over Skype!