Friday, August 2, 2013

How to practice Spanish before studying abroad in Spain

I didn't prepare myself too well the summer before I studied abroad in Madrid in college.  I think I downloaded some free podcasts, but I didn't do much else.  So: do as I say, not as I did!

How to practice Spanish before studying abroad

These are some of the ways I keep from losing my Spanish, now that it's at a fluent level after my two years in Madrid.  If you're planning to study abroad or live in a Spanish-speaking country, I highly recommend doing some or all of these in the time before you leave.  You may (and again, I recommend) do all of them no matter where you're living to improve your Spanish.

1) Speak at a conversation table or intercambio

The best way to get better at speaking Spanish (or any foreign language for that matter) is to do it.  Speak, speak, speak, and make tons of mistakes!  The sooner you start, the sooner you'll improve.  In Madrid there are many intercambios, and many cities around the world have conversation tables (Madison does!).   Check Craigslist and ask around -- or start your own!

2) Watch TV in Spanish

In the states, I feel like watching TV is being lazy - a waste of time.  Not if you're watching in Spanish!  Start watching Spanish TV shows before you study abroad.  In Spanish, TV shows are split into three main categories: series (fictional TV series), programas (talk shows, game shows), and noticias (news).  One channel you can watch both online and in Spain is Antena 3:

Antena 3 is another great site to watch TV shows, documentaries, etc.  It's got a few channels, whereas Antena 3 is just one.

Here's my complete guide to learning Spanish with TV shows from Spain—including many show recommendations!

3) Watch Spanish movies

Some movies you can find online, but if you've got a local library I recommend checking out the DVD copy.  This way you can turn on the Spanish subtitles while you watch, which is the preferred way (if you need subtitles).

Need movie recommendations? Check these out.

4) Listen to Spanish podcasts

Notes in Spanish is a separate site that offers free real-life audio and video in Spanish.

5) Read Spanish newspapers

Start reading El País instead of spending time on Facebook or reading the news in English.  Reading this newspaper will not only help your language skills, but it will ease the transition to your future community by increasing your cultural knowledge.

6) Listen to Spanish radio

When living in Madrid I would often listen to Cadena Dial (91.7 FM in Madrid) on my radio in my room.  The station only plays music with Spanish lyrics.  Again, not only did this help my Spanish, but I also felt a step closer to fitting in with my Spanish friends.  If you're out and your fellow Spaniards are all singing along to a popular song, it feels really good when you know the lyrics and can sing along with them!  Oh, the little things.  Not in Spain yet?  Listen to Cadena Dial in real time here.

Cadena Ser (105.4 FM in Madrid) is a talk show / news station that will definitely help your ear get used to the Castilian Spanish (castellano).  Listen directly online here.

And here's an exhaustive list of Spanish radio stations that you can stream live on the internet to find your own favorite.

7) Play

Lyrics Training is an online game where you watch music videos of popular songs as the lyrics appear on the screen.  Every now and then there are blanks in the lyrics, and you need to type in the missing word as quickly as you can.

I actually showed this game to my English students, but it was also fun for me to play in Spanish and French.  Lyrics Training has songs in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, German, and Dutch. Definitely give it a try!

8) Set electronic accounts to Spanish

Change the settings of your email account, Facebook, cell phone, camera, laptop, etc. so that the language is set to Spanish.

9) Various Online Resources

This page from CEC Study Languages Abroad offers 10 free online resources for learning Spanish, and it's a good place to start.  This BBC Spanish page is another.


New Spanish-learning resource added 4/21/14:

10) FluentU

I received an email last week from the founder of FluentU, who describes his site as a "new education startup for learning languages with real-world videos like cartoons, TV shows, and songs". Here's a quick tour:

I opened an account and have actually been using the site to continue learning French. I'm really impressed so far, and highly recommend the site for learning/practicing Spanish (or any of the other languages offered, for that matter!).

Additional Resources for Learning Spanish

In the year after originally publishing this post, I began working for FluentU and was with them through the end of 2016. During that time I wrote several articles with advice/tips for learning Spanish, which I've listed below. Honestly, these posts are much more detailed and helpful than this old one you just read!

What tips/resources have been helpful for you on your Spanish-learning journey?


  1. If you really need to brush up, I would always recommend a Spanish course before starting studies, depending on your level, just to give you that confidence boost.

  2. These are great suggestions Rebe. The suggestions that you have here represent a more realistic view of learning. This is great!