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tips for learning spanish

10 Tips for Learning Spanish More Effectively

It’s no secret that Mallorca isn’t the easiest place in Spain to learn and really be immersed in Spanish. Between Catalan being the language of the locals and the wide use of English and German due to tourism, you almost have to be intentional to learn and improve Spanish, at least more than you might if you moved to some random small town in the middle of Spain. I can’t count how many times I’ve tried speaking Spanish with people only for them to switch to English. But still, learning Spanish and improving your fluency is important for coming to Mallorca. It helps you have a more immersive, well-rounded experience and also shows respect. And Spanish is more accessible than Catalan.

I moved to Mallorca with a Spanish degree and an intermediate high level. But over the past year, my listening and speaking skills have improved significantly. So while I strongly recommend taking a structured Spanish course, experience has taught me that while a classroom setting is a wonderful foundation, it might not be enough, especially if you’re wanting to improve in a short period of time. It is best to have a well-rounded approach to learning Spanish through different methods, which I’ve compiled in my 10 tips for learning Spanish in Mallorca.

1. Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice is the most important way to get better. In addition to a Spanish course, find a setting where you can regularly practice Spanish outside of the classroom without being afraid of making mistakes, whether it is a language exchange or meeting up and getting coffee with a Spanish-speaking friend.

You have to make mistakes and be okay with making mistakes to get better. It’s hard and can feel uncomfortable but it is what it is. Just speak. The more you speak, the better and more fluent you will become. You will learn what you don’t know how to say, and then you can learn to say it.

Also, in my experience, the embarrassment of some mistakes ensures you will be less likely to make that mistake in the future because you will remember it. And I’ve never had more empathy for my friends who speak English as a second language, no matter how fluent they are. It might be painful to not be able to say what you want to say or not be as witty or talkative as you are in your first language, but it is part of the process.

In college, I didn’t start to improve until I started going regularly to my university’s Spanish Coffee Hour where students met with professors and members of the community to just chat together in Spanish about anything and everything. And then the improvement happened rapidly.

And the same goes for moving to Mallorca. The more I’ve forced through the discomfort and just talked, the better I’ve gotten. Nothing feels more validating than your Spanish-speaking friends saying that you’ve improved and sound more fluent than when you first met.

2. Download Language-Learning Apps

I love Duolingo. The TikToks are iconic and the app is fun. But I would not recommend Duolingo as the way someone primarily learns a language, if it’s a language they’re taking seriously and want to use. I do recommend Duolingo as a wonderful tool and supplement though.

The app is free and the lessons are bite-sized. It’s a great way to reinforce some grammar structures, learn new vocabulary, and refresh old vocabulary. I’m also using it to try to break my social media addiction. Are you on a bus or waiting in line? Don’t scroll on Instagram, do a Duolingo lesson and keep your streak. 

But, if you can’t beat your social media addiction, at least make it work for you. Start finding and following Spanish language accounts for things you like. Sure, you can follow some Spanish learning accounts, but those can feel boring after a while. Do you like cooking? Follow some Spanish chefs. Do you like comedy? Follow some Spanish comedians. Traveling? Ditto. Train the algorithm to fill your feed with Spanish. Before you know it, you’ll be sending your friends Spanish memes.

3. Listen to Podcasts in Spanish

Besides speaking with others, consuming Spanish media really helps with listening and comprehension skills, be it podcasts or watching films and shows in Spanish. I enjoy listening to Spanish podcasts while going for a walk or commuting on a bus. News in Slow Spanish or Coffee Break Spanish are great podcasts to start with.

News in Slow Spanish has ten-to-15-minute episodes discussing the news headlines of the day and as the name of the podcast suggests, they speak a little more slowly for nonnative speakers. Coffee Break Spanish is structured slightly differently with different seasons being different levels. For example, season one is a beginner’s level and season three is more advanced. Both of these podcasts are intentionally for Spanish learners

When you’re feeling more confident in your listening skills and are ready to level up, try TED en Español. As the name suggests, these are TEDTalks given by Spanish speakers. They aren’t produced for Spanish students, but they’re still shorter and have the wide variety of topics that TEDTalks are known for from student activism to navigating a polarized world to neurodiversity. 

And again, when you start feeling even more confident and you’re ready to listen to something a bit longer, I highly recommend Radio Ambulante. It is an NPR podcast with episodes lasting between 30 minutes and an hour. Like TED en Español, there are a wide variety of topics, but they are more in depth. You can listen to episodes about turtles and climate change in Costa Rica, social street networks in Cuba, and general human interest stories. The best thing about this podcast is that they have both a Spanish transcript and an English translation online. Please note that the focus of this podcast is Latin America, not Spain.

la casa de papel

4. Watch Spanish TV Shows and Movies

Watching TV shows or movies in Spanish is also a fun way to improve your listening and comprehension skills. For beginners, I recommend watching something that you’re really familiar with in Spanish, but with English subtitles. And if you’re a little more confident or want an extra challenge, try watching something you love in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. Now, if you’re like me and don’t really like when things are dubbed, try doing this with your favorite Disney or Pixar movie. My favorites to do this with are Coco and Encanto since watching them in Spanish just feels right. 

And when you’re feeling even more confident, try watching something that was made in Spanish with either English or Spanish subtitles depending on your comfort level (I will say that I think Spanish subtitles are more effective but it depends on your level). Some shows I’ve enjoyed are Cable Girls, Elite, La Casa de las Flores, and Smiley. Smiley is particularly a fun one because it is set in Barcelona and there is also some Catalan thrown in there (the primary language is Spanish though). It’s a cute, short rom-com series. The other three shows are more dramatic and have longer episodes.

Please note that La Casa de los Flores is set in Mexico. Other shows I’ve had highly recommended to me are La Casa de Papel and Valeria. Some Spanish films I recommend are:

Full disclosure: the first six recommendations come from a Spanish film class I took. So they are Spanish professor-approved.

5. Read Spanish Books

While speaking and listening are incredibly important, don’t forget to work on your reading comprehension skills! Reading in Spanish helps expand your vocabulary, improve your grammar, opens your world up to a whole new world of literature and news sources, and prepares you for the inevitable day that you have to read and fill out forms/legal documents in Spanish with no translation to be found. 

Books are a wonderful way to improve your reading skills. A great way to start is by finding the Spanish version of a book you love. I’m currently reading the Spanish translation of the first Harry Potter. It helps if you know the plot because then you can focus on the language.

Last year, I made the mistake of being overly ambitious. I went to La Biblioteca de Babel in search of a novel in Spanish. And I found one. It’s called Un Hipster en España Vacía and it ticked all of my boxes. It was short, it was a comedy, and it had a nice social commentary element. The problem was that it was very literary and one day I found myself sitting with three Spanish-speaking friends: one from the Dominican Republic, one from Castille y Leon, and one from Venezuela. There were a few words I asked them about that I couldn’t find on Google. And… they didn’t know what those words were either. So I decided to switch back to my Harry Potter book and save the literary Spanish book for another day.

I also recommend paper copies that you can annotate with definitions. And if you’re really motivated, you can go back and add all the new words to a Quizlet.

If you struggle to fit reading in your native language into your day, much less reading in your target language, follow Spanish news accounts or accounts in general on social media. Reading captions is still reading. Or if you’re someone who enjoys checking the news, check Spanish news sites. Besides reading practice, it’s also a nice way to get different perspectives on current events.

6. Change Your Phone Language

Switch your phone and devices to Spanish. My friends have and they swear by this technique, though it can be a bit frustrating at first.

7. Take a Tour in Spanish

Even if you’re familiar with the city you’re in, take a tour in Spanish (if you’re intermediate/advanced). I did this in Valencia because there were no tours in English at the time I wanted. I was exhausted afterwards, but it was an amazing way to be immersed in the language.

In Mallorca, there are a number of free tours, or you can find ones with paid guides.

8. Go to a Museum

Go to a museum and try reading only the Spanish descriptions (if there even is an English one). This is a great way to learn about Spanish culture and history in the native language.

See our Palma guide for a list of great museums in the city.

9. Cook or Bake in Spanish

It might be intimidating, but try using an original Spanish recipe. For a really well-rounded experience, get your ingredients from the market. The pressure of trying to remember how to order/ask for things, food vocabulary, and people waiting behind you adds a little spice to your practice. And hey, it’s no big deal if you add a little too much garlic.

10. Date in Spanish

Get on a dating app (if you’re single, of course). Since you’ll have a wide pool from the local area, there will plenty of people you can chat with in Spanish. And who knows, that writing practice might turn into in-person conversation practice…

Bonus Tip: Keep Your Eye on the Prize

Always remember your goals and why you want to learn Spanish. It’s a journey that’s worth every step.


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