1. Don’t rely on online translators. They are good for quick translations of words and expressions but don’t expect to type in a whole paragraph in English and have it translated into perfect Spanish. Online translators cannot understand the context. For example, in Spanish to say “What is Madrid like?” the correct translation is “¿Cómo es Madrid?” [Literally “How is Madrid?”] but if you put this into an online translator it comes out as “¿Lo que se desea Madrid?” – incorrect. [Literally, “What does Madrid like?”]
2. Don’t be unrealistic. If you attend a weekly Spanish class and do nothing until the next class don’t expect to be fluent within six months. Take responsibility for your own learning. To really progress in a language you need to listen, read, write and speak it regularly, ideally every day.
3. Don’t concentrate on the grammar alone. If you spend hours memorising all the different tenses and verb patterns in Spanish, this is not only boring but you will miss out on actually using the language. Put the language into practice; keep a diary in Spanish, write a letter or email to a Spanish friend or find a language exchange partner to speak with. (Try My Language Exchange or Conversation Exchange.) Keep Spanish fun! Do what interests you; watch a Spanish film, cook a Spanish meal from a Spanish recipe, book a weekend in Barcelona.
4. Don’t translate Spanish words into a similar word in English. In Spanish there are many “false friends” i.e. words that look like English words but mean something different:
sensible – does not mean “sensible” in English, it means “sensitive”.
emocionante – does not mean “emotional” in English, it means “exciting”
gracioso – does not mean “gracious” in English, it means “funny”
asistir – is not “to assist / help” but it means “to attend”
5. Don’t memorise endless lists of vocabulary. Spending hours on memorising words lists is monotonous and difficult. Learn words in context; put it into a sentence, draw and label pictures. Make your own set of flashcards or buy a bilingual picture dictionary. Label furniture and rooms in your house.
6. When learning a foreign language it is common for listening skills to develop more quickly than speaking skills. To keep improving your speaking skills, try to speak Spanish as much as possible. Find a native speaker to practice with or even talk to yourself (when no-one else is around).
7. Watch out for prepositions in Spanish. Often people translate these literally which is incorrect. For example, to say “to think about …” in Spanish, it is not “pensar sobre …” but “pensar en …”
8. Don’t confuse the two Spanish verbs for “to be”: “ser” and “estar”. Use “ser” for permanent and general characteristics; nationality, profession, physical descriptions. Use “estar” for temporary states; hot, cold, clean, dirty as well as to describe the location of something or someone.
9. Don’t be scared to make mistakes. This is how we learn. Spanish people encourage anyone who makes an effort to speak their language. 9 times out of 10 they will understand what you are trying to say anyway, even if it is not 100% correct Spanish. They will correct you and help you.
10. Don’t give up. At times you may become so overwhelmed with all the different tenses and grammar rules and think you will never master the language. You might have bad days or classes when you think you can’t remember anything. The key is to stick at it – “little and often”. Repetition and regular practice is the only way to improve. Stay positive – concentrate on the things you do know, not on the things you don’t yet know how to say.