Nothing is more gratifying than learning something new like Spanish, the stages of learning create an exciting process that helps us maintain a young and healthy mind. One of the most exciting aspects of the information age we are experiencing is the ability to be an autonomous learner; learning on your own has never been easier than now. Although taking a class can be an incredibly rewarding experience, where you can share in the journey with others who are going through the same things you are, it is far from the only option and is simply not enough on its own. Group learning has definite benefits, but is not the answer to becoming bilingual. It is a complement to your change in mindset, one where you introduce the new language into your everyday life, a class once or twice a week is only a part of that change.

Get out there and give it a try

This first step is crucial; language is about communication and learning is about making errors and reorganizing your brain to correct the errors. There is no more powerful step to these ends than just simply talking to people. Learn a phrase or two in order to begin interacting while shopping. Always know how to say, “excuse me, I’m sorry, can you help me?” in the target language. When you have to go to the bank, ask the almighty Don Google or his sidekick Google Translate, to learn a phrase or two. Use the notepad app on your phone, write the phrases and translations there and practice them a couple times before leaving. The first time you might have to hand the teller the phone, which I am sure they will be thankful for, but the more you do it the further you’ll get in following a conversation. When someone speaks back, don’t sweat not understanding. If you relax, half the battle is won. When you listen, take in the whole person, not just their words. Look at facial expressions, body language and most importantly, fill in the gaps. Guess what they are talking about and throw something back. It gets easier and easier as you try it.

Don’t hold the bar so high

Most people want to wave a wand and they can magically understand; others get very frustrated that they are still struggling after a year. Rewiring your brain to incorporate another language is a challenge for the majority of people. Interestingly, once you have created a truly bilingual brain, the next languages become increasingly easier to learn. Within the first year of language learning, your goal is a 15 to 20 minute conversation while understanding around 20 to 30 percent of what the speaker is saying. I hear so many people complain that they want to understand everything that people are saying. I dare you to do that in your native tongue, once accents and different word choices are mixed in. You need to let go of knowing what is going on all the time and be content with knowing the gist. I have been perfecting my Spanish my entire life. As a US immigrant, I had a very distinguishable accent compared to natives and I still don’t understand when people speak in slang Spanish from a country I have never been. Each place I go, I need to relearn tons of vocabulary, tone and how to address people.

The internet is your new amigo

The opportunities for learning online feel limitless. I am sure there is a limit, but I have yet to encounter it. You can use YouTube to find any number of teachers offering explanations and teaching grammar topics. There are sites that offer games, flashcards, stories and interactive experiences. There are apps that can also infuse a bit of Spanish into your daily routine. Netflix is an invaluable resource, where you can watch a movie in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. Listen to music in Spanish and sing along with YouTube videos that stream lyrics as well. If you have a special interest or hobby, do some research about it in Spanish. You can also find free and paid courses online that can offer you modules of learning when you come to a concept that perplexes you. The important thing is to engage in the language every day; it must become part of who you are. Your practice should not be boring or droning, or it will not pass to long-term memory. Only being engaged, interested or yearning can do that.

Learning another language is one of a human’s greatest voyages and the greatest gift you can give yourself. Today, learning is easier than it has ever been and your excuses are futile. Go out there and conquer a new point of view, learn another language.