Really – there are only two main things to learn a new language:
Foundation and Practice
Simple, right? I’m an Engineer. I like to break things down and simplify them.
Each of these two items has two parts:
The good news is you can do almost all of this alone – on your own. But there is one VERY IMPORTANT part that you need to do with someone else. Keep reading.
First, the foundation.
Vocabulary. You can’t tell someone to run unless you know the word for run. (Correr) You can’t say you have a dog unless you know the word for dog (Perro). You will need to gradually learn new vocabulary.
Grammar. How do you distinguish between I run and I ran? (Corro. Corrí.) How do you say “Green Chili” (Salsa verde) – the noun and adjective are reversed in Spanish. You need to learn these things – but they don’t have to be hard.
Where/How can you improve your foundations? Everywhere! There are hundreds of ways to build vocabulary and learn about grammar in a natural way. That is, by learning what sounds, or looks, right. Books, Youtube, Rosetta Stone. Even leaflets at Lowes or Home Depot or other marketing materials have English and Spanish. Use all of these resources to pick up more vocabulary. As you review these materials, you will pick up grammar aspects automatically. Like: Today I go to the beach. Yesterday I went to the beach. This month, I have gone to the beach three times. (Hoy, voy a la playa. Ayer, fui a la playa. Este mes, he ido a la playa tres veces.)
Next, practice. If you want to learn to swim, you have to get wet.
Listening: Duh – you can’t have a conversation with someone – even to ask their name (Como te llamas), or where they’re from (De donde eres), if you can’t make out the words and accents. To do this, you have to “tune your ear” to the words. This means you have to spend some time just listening – even if you don’t understand what the person is saying, you will begin to make out more and more unique words – that you can then go look up to build your vocabulary! You will also start picking up the grammar aspects from what the speakers are saying. Listen to something for at least 30 minutes twice a day.
Speaking: This is the one area where you need someone else’s help. Let me say that again. You need a real person to help you practice speaking. Practicing in front of a mirror. Or recording your voice and playing it back to yourself doesn’t cut it. For this part, you need to practice with a person. Why? Because you need immediate feedback and positive reinforcement. Say you’re teaching a kid to say hippopotamus or cinnamon. You can’t just go tell them to practice on their own. It’s not like throwing a baseball or dancing. They can’t go practice till they get it right. It’s a back and forth thing. They try to pronounce a word, you help them. They try again, you encourage them.
Where/How can you practice? Again – everywhere! Listen to the radio. Watch TV (with subtitles, if available). Join a meetup group for English/Spanish (or another language). You probably run across native Spanish speakers every day. Guess what. They really want to practice English with you. But they’re not going to ask you. YOU have to connect with THEM. It’s a cultural thing. [If you want an Easy Button, check out The ShareLingo Project which brings native speakers together to help each other.]
Whatever you do – keep it simple. Don’t overthink it. The keys are Desire and Being Consistent. You have to want it. And you have to commit to it.