An Unconventional Guide to Learning a Language

I remember landing in Peru five years back and thinking that I would impress the hell out of all the Spanish speakers I was soon to meet. They would think who is this gringa and how did she manage to conquer the Spanish language by age 15? You see I had just completed my 3rd year of Spanish and could tell what an object was if you pointed at it as well as the color of my dog and descriptive sentences about myself in the present form (preterite if I was feeling bold). I was tragically wrong and learned that I still had a ton of learning left until I could even say I was remotely versed in this romance language. Five years later and countless classrooms filled with other students wanting to be considered bilingual, I still feel like I can’t go to a Spanish speaking country and hold a true conversation. After visiting both Spain and Mexico this year and with an upcoming trip to Peru in March, I really want to improve my speaking skills but I know that a traditional classroom won’t do that for me. Over the past 3 months I have have turned to some alternative methods to learning a language and have found that I have improved dramatically. I thought I would share these tips and tricks for anybody that would like to expand their knowledge of another language, no matter what that language may be.


I have met so many people from around the world that know multiple languages fluently. Every time I frustratingly ask them how they learn, many attribute it to watching shows in that language. I decided to give this a go and watched The People Vs. O.J. Simpson on Netflix in Spanish. I began watching it in English audio with Spanish subtitles but then switched it to Spanish audio with Spanish subtitles. This was really fun because the show was super interesting and I didn’t feel like I was sitting in a classroom and learning.


I am not an avid reader, but reading in another language is really useful. I have found that highlighting words you don’t know and either trying to put them in context with the sentence or looking them up is an effective strategy to learning vocabulary. The only book I own in Spanish is The Diary of Anne Frank so I’m probably going to go out and get some other (more uplifting) books soon.

Language Apps

Considering how much time we spend on our phone, it’s super easy to open a language app and learn for 10-15 minutes a day. I use two apps called Duolingo (free) and Babbel. Duolingo is great for learning vocabulary. I used it to learn some important words and phrases before I went to Italy (dov’è la nutella?). Babbel is great because it is taught in lessons and is a bit more in depth. It is not free, but it by no means breaks the bank and in my opinion is totally worth it. I just recommend that you set a reminder on your phone to actually do this daily since it can be easy to forget.


If you can, turn the games you play on your phone to another language. As of last week I redownloaded Trivia Crack and turned the settings to Spanish. It’s a game where you compete with random people by answering trivia questions. I feel pretty good about myself because I’ve been beating people that actually speak Spanish (insert hair flip).


Listening to music from other countries is a great way to hear new songs, learn about different artists and seem cultured as hell around your friends. They might roll their eyes each time you tell them about this new artist you found, but really they’re just jealous that they didn’t find them first. Go on Spotify, find a playlist and start listening.


If you have a friend that speaks the language you want to learn, tell them! I have so many Spanish speaking friends that I know would love to help me. Though it can be super intimidating, it’s awesome to have someone you know to encourage you and aid you in your learning. Treat your friend to some coffee and ask them to only speak with you in that language. In no time you’ll be sitting there laughing and talking about other people in Spanish or French (as you guys would probably do in English anyways).


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