Motivation: Defining Your Overarching Goal
Motivation is critical for learning a language. Good, motivating reasons for learning Spanish include:
“I want to understand people at salsa events.”
“I want to flirt with that cute Ecuadorian at work.”
“I want to read Borges in the original.”
“I want to understand people at my local taquería (taco stand).”
“I want to enjoy telenovelas (Latin American soap operas).”
“I need Spanish for work so that I can communicate with clients.”
These are all great reasons for learning Spanish because they includepersonal, compelling motivations that’ll keep you coming back to it when the going gets rough.
They also guide you to specific, achievable goals for study (more on this in the next section), like focusing on reading or focusing on vocabulary used in conversations on the dance floor.
Here are a couple of bad—but rather common—reasons for studying Spanish:
These are very likely not going to be truly motivating reasons when you can’t seem to find time to crack open that workbook. They also don’t give you any concrete desire to pay careful attention to, for example, a new tense that you’ve come across and how it might allow you to express yourself better.
If looking smart is your honest reason for wanting to learn a language, perhaps you could just lie and say you speak something like Quechua, which few people are going to be able to call you on.
Learning a language is a serious commitment, and rarely is it possible without a genuine motivation towards some sort of authentic communication.
Step by Step: Setting Achievable Short-term Goals
Once you’ve nailed down your overall motivation(s), these should then be translated into achievable short-term goals.
You’re not going to immediately get every joke passed around at the taquería and be able to respond in kind, but you should be able to more quickly arrive at goals like:
Once you achieve those goals, you’ll make new ones and continue in the same way throughout the Spanish learning process.
Each of the goals should be a step towards your overall goal(s). For example, if you’re already able to hold a basic phone call in Spanish, and you’re learning the language for professional reasons, one such step might be:
Notice how difficult it’d be to create such interesting short-term goals without a concrete, personal and compelling long-term goal for the language?
Getting There: Efficient Spanish Learning Resources for Beginners
Your long-term and short-term goals will determine the learning tools that you’ll use.
Here’s an overview of which tools you might choose. Your range of tools might, however, be different depending on your goals.
Use this as a sampler to get you on the right track with your beginner studies.
1. Real People
If your goals involve any kind of real-world communication with humans(as opposed to the also-valid goals of simply consuming books, music or film), you’re going to want to include a learning method in the mix that involves give and take with other humans.
No, talking to flashcards or a smartphone app isn’t enough.
Seek out one of the following:
I have a strong preference for online language learning, because it’s cheap and usually one-on-one, so you can really stay focused on your individual goals. I’ve argued that you should design the lessons yourself for maximum efficiency, but you can choose whichever option gets you interacting with real people.
2. A textbook or self-teaching guide
If you’re doing one of the above options, your teacher may provide you with a written grammar guide, exercises or textbook, but even then you may want to investigate getting your own that’s best for you.
These guides can save you a lot of time. Spanish conditional tenses, for example, can be pretty simple to master once the rules are explained—and take forever to figure out if they’re not.
If possible, make sure that your textbook teaches the register and regional variety of Spanish that’s most relevant to your goal; you don’t want to bother learning European Spanish’s vosotros (informal plural “you”), for example, if your goal is to hang out with Cubans.
To answer specific grammar or vocabulary questions the internet has a trove of answers too, of course.
You can find the best answers to innumerable Spanish conundrums—written by the most handsome Spanish experts on the internet—by typing into the search box to the right of this post.
Unless your goals involve strictly the written word, videos are an invaluable learning tool. They give you visual feedback while simultaneously showing you the correct pronunciation and context.
They’re also a lot of fun, and that’s so important for staying motivated as you continue in your Spanish-learning adventure (see the next section).
FluentU offers a system in which you can watch native-language videoson all sorts of topics and targeted to all difficulty levels.
Each video is integrated into a learning system that allows you to practice your new vocabulary and track your progress. Kind of beats trying to wade through YouTube to find something interesting and also at your Spanish level, huh?