In this volume, we discuss the alphabet, definite and indefinite articles, and verbs ser and estar, among other topics.
Spanish is one of the best languages to learn as an adult in terms of effort to reward. The grammatical structure is relatively simple, many words have similar roots to ones in English and romance languages, and there’s a superabundance of resources to help you on your way.
However, many popular language learning methodologies are based on the assumption, implicit or explicit, that the learner is a child—even though language study as an adult is also common, and a very different matter.
Here’s ten strategies that’ll help you master Spanish by working with—not against—your fully developed brain.
You can take the first steps towards mastering Spanish on your own, in a matter of weeks. Language learners typically make the fastest progress when going from absolute beginner level A0 to A1 (on the CEFR framework)—so at this level, self-study works fine.
If you’d like to use learning apps or YouTube videos to study, this is the point in your learning journey where they’ll be most effective. Once you’ve internalized some basic vocabulary, the alphabet, and perhaps the structure of the present tense, you’ll have a solid foundation of Spanish to take into a classroom.
However, a word of caution. Once you’ve achieved this level, it’ll be more efficient to swap language apps and games for more goal-oriented study methods.
The Graf method is a powerful, research-backed methodology that builds upon an adult’s natural inclination to build new skills with logic and reasoning, instead of expecting them to acquire language like a child would. Here’s what that entails, and why the Graf method helps adults learn Spanish efficiently.
In novels of the 19th century, it seems typical for educated people to speak three or four languages with fluency, despite the rarity of travel. Yet now, native English speakers with few cultural ties to another language are often monolingual. Why?
One reason is that languages were taught differently back then. Most modern second language learning methods are inductive—students practice producing sentences in a target language and eventually infer the underlying patterns. Between the 1840s–1940s, the dominant mode of teaching languages in Europe was, instead, deductive. Students learned grammatical rules, then practiced them by translating from and to the target language.
Whilst deductive language learning methods have fallen out of popularity, research shows they’re simply more effective for teaching adults. The Graf method follows this wisdom. It reinstates the importance of grammar, so students fully understand the building blocks of language before they start to produce it. However, unlike 19th-century language learning methodologies, the Graft method also prioritizes speaking practice.
As a result, students get the best of both worlds: a methodical approach to learning Spanish, where speaking with confidence is the #1 goal. If you are thinking, "Where can I take Spanish classes for adults near me using this approach?" With Berges Institute, you can learn Spanish by the Graf method via online classes.
If you’re learning Spanish with the Graf method, you’ll quickly get to grips with the most frequently used tenses and vocabulary sets. Now, it’s time to extend your range.
It’s not glamorous, but rote learning can help you level up quickly. Use flashcards to memorize the 200 most common verbs, and you’ll be able to express yourself on a far wider range of themes. At this stage, you should also develop a habit of writing down new vocabulary you come across, to avoid forgetting words as soon as you learn them.
There are strong advantages to learning Spanish with a grammar-first methodology, especially if you consider yourself an analytical thinker. But beware of hiding behind textbooks.
Learning to speak a new language always involves a degree of social anxiety. If you wait until you feel ready to start having conversations in Spanish or making friends with hispanohablantes, you may never start.
The best advice is to create low-stakes environments for yourself to practice speaking Spanish. Conversational classes with Berges Institute will take the pressure off you since you’ll be speaking in a context dedicated to learning. Otherwise, you can look for a language exchange partner—someone you meet up with who speaks Spanish and wants to learn a language you’ve already mastered. In this instance, you’d take turns to be the teacher and the student. The important thing is to get used to producing Spanish sentences with the spontaneity required for live conversation.
Reading is one of the most effective strategies for adults learning Spanish—yet also often overlooked. For many, this technique for picking up new vocabulary and consolidating grammar knowledge is unintimidating as well as effective—after all, reading something in a new language is a similar skill to reading a difficult text in your mother tongue.
At a beginner or early intermediate level, look for parallel textbooks—that is, books where one page is in Spanish, and the next page (the parallel one) is a translation in your native language. If you don’t want to read a whole book, there are many language apps offering short stories and news articles in parallel text.
At an upper intermediate or advanced level, read Spanish books whilst listening to their audiobook at the same time. Many polyglots swear by this technique. It allows you to read at a faster pace than you normally could, and encourages you to learn new words with the correct pronunciation—two benefits in one.
Listening is half of every conversation—and for many adult Spanish learners, it’s the trickier half. Since Spanish is the official language of around 20 countries, there’s a wide range of regional variations. It’s also typically spoken 25% faster than English.
It’s vital, therefore, to build listening practice into your study routine. There are many thoughtfully-produced podcasts to help with this. Duolingo’s podcast for intermediate speakers tells stories from Spanish-speaking nations in simple language, with a presenter chiming in with English sentences for context. For more advanced learners, Ted en Español offers fascinating, well-structured talks.
For best results, switch between active listening—when you pay full attention to a podcast—and passive listening—when you put on, say, a Mexican radio station whilst cooking, and half-listen to the headlines. Passive listening can help you get a feel for the pronunciation and rhythm of the language. Make it a habit, and you’ll be surprised how quickly your comprehension improves.
Adults don’t have the same vocal flexibility as children, and some adult Spanish learners struggle to pronounce the language’s essential sounds with clarity. Top of the list is the rolled R, but many native English speakers also struggle to consistently produce short, sharp vowels.
The best way to improve your accent is to keep pronunciation in mind consistently, throughout your learning journey. Ideally, you should learn new words with their correct pronunciation. One great tool is Youglish, a database of Spanish words as spoken in YouTube videos. Search for a word, and you’ll find a selection of videos of that word spoken in context.
In the language learning community, it's widely acknowledged that progress isn’t linear, no matter how consistent your study habits are. Most learners make fast progress initially and experience a plateau around the intermediate level—when they finally understand just how much vocabulary, grammar, and cultural context they need to master Spanish completely. Going from intermediate to advanced Spanish takes significant effort over a sustained period. Going from advanced to fluent Spanish is harder still.
However, this shouldn’t dissuade you. One of the advantages of learning Spanish as an adult is that you can educate yourself on common problems like this one, and plan for them. If and when the intermediate plateau strikes, the best way to overcome it is to add structure to your learning routine.
Where can I take Spanish classes for adults near me? If you aren’t already enrolled in classes, consider signing up with Berges Institute, which has courses designed to take you from one level to the next in the most efficient way possible.
Once you’re at an intermediate level, you should increase your contact with Spanish in your daily life. You could switch the language of your electronic devices to Spanish—that’s an extra couple of hours of language immersion effortlessly achieved. You’ll also learn phrases relevant to life online, like “saltar anuncio” (skip advert) and “etiquetar amigos” (tag friends).
Most large media streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime produce series in Spanish, available to watch with or without subtitles. If you’re earlier in your language learning journey, you can use an additional plugin to get dual language subtitles on your favorite shows—in Spanish and your native language. You could also rewatch a classic series with very familiar dialogue, dubbed in Spanish.
Finally, consider consuming your world news in Spanish. If you aren’t yet ready to pay for a periodico, subscribe to a newspaper’s mailing list instead, and get the headlines in your inbox for free.
As an adult learner, there’s a good chance that your biggest barrier to learning Spanish is simply finding the time. Sometimes, the only way to accomplish a life goal is to set a deadline. Book a Spanish test at your target level, and you’ll create accountability to level up your skills.
The DELE (Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera) is one of the most popular and globally recognized Spanish language qualifications. You can take it at any CEFR level, and passing the certificate at B2 or above often allows you to access study or work in Spanish-speaking countries. There are exam centers in over 100 countries, and certificates start from 110$. If you need additional support to see your goal through, consider taking dedicated DELE preparation classes.
Whilst it's obviously easier to master languages you grew up with, there are advantages to learning Spanish as an adult.
As language teachers often note, adult students usually take pleasure in the learning process. After many years out of the classroom, many find the intellectual exercise fulfilling, and even notice a positive knock-on effect in their cognitive abilities. After all, learning a language as an adult can increase your ability to concentrate and may even stave off dementia.
Whilst the challenge of mastering Spanish as an adult may be considerable, it’s absolutely possible with the right tools and a little determination—and the rewards speak for themselves.
Miranda Gabbott is a content writer at Berges Institute.