Let me know if this sounds familiar…
You've worked hard on learning Spanish. In fact, once upon a time you used to even feel pretty fluent!
You were confident. You could handle conversations. You could understand native speakers.
And then for whatever reason, you stopped using your Spanish so much.
Maybe you were abroad and you moved home.
Maybe you lost touch with your Spanish friends.
Or maybe you've just been really busy.
Either way, you've realisde you're not so fluent any more.
As the saying goes:
“If you don't use it, you'll lose it”
And it's truer in language learning than most things in life!
Even with the best of intentions, it's easy to lose fluency over time through lack of use.
Or putting your focus into learning another new language.
But the good news is, it can be fixed!
In this post, you'll learn exactly how to brush up on your Spanish and regain your fluency level.
3 Steps To Brush Up On Your Spanish & Regain Your Lost Fluency
No matter the reason, brushing up on your Spanish and regaining fluency is possible. And it doesn't have to be hard.
I have 3 simple steps for you to try, so you can regain and even surpass your past level of Spanish fluency:
- Step 1: Listen A Lot
- Step 2: Have A Clear Plan
- Step 3: Speak, Speak, Speak
So read on and prepare to get your Spanish fluency back in no time.
Step #1: Listen… A Lot!
When you surround yourself with Spanish audio, your brain quickly perk up and start remembering more Spanish than you realise.
Anytime you're brushing up on Spanish, listen to as much Spanish as you can. Whether you're a polyglot trying to maintain multiple languages or a Spanish speaker who has fallen out of practice, listening is the key to regaining your level.
Remember, the ability to listen and understand comes from exposure the language comes from exposure.
When you travel to a Spanish-speaking country, that exposure comes naturally. But not so if you're practicing at home…
If you're brushing up on Spanish at home, you'll need to create an immersive environment for yourself.
Start With Familiar Audio
If you jump right in with audio that's too fast or too complex for you to understand, you may get discouraged and simply tune it out.
That's why I recommend starting with familiar audio first:
- Listen to an audiobook you've already read
- Watch a movie in Spanish that you've seen before
- Check out a TED talk you love
- Listen to 101 Conversations In Simple Spanish to defamiliarise yourself with everyday spoken Spanish
Doing this will create context and help you understand any new or unfamiliar words.
Look For Audio With Accompanying Text
Reading along with audio will help you decipher confusing words, similar pronunciations, or words that blend together when spoken.
If your Spanish textbook doesn't come with audio tracks, try RhinoSpike for recordings on a variety of topics made by native speakers.
You can also use Spanish Conversations, my dedicated listening training material that comes with both audio and transcripts. It's specially designed to help intermediate learners understand real, spoken Spanish.
Make Spanish Part Of Your Everyday Life
As you improve your listening comprehension, add more Spanish audio to routine each day:
- Listen to podcasts an audiobooks in Spanish.
- Seek out authentic language in the “real world”, like news broadcasts and instructional videos (cooking, auto repair, etc.) in Spanish.
- Listen to Spanish radio and watch movies and TV only in Spanish.
Improving your listening skills will help you hold natural, meaningful conversations with Spanish speakers.
After all, conversations are at least 50% listening!
Step #2: Have A Clear Plan
When you're coming back to Spanish after time away, revising vocabulary and grammar can help you remember what you used to know.
The trick is to be smart and methodical about the way you revise to get back to your previous level of fluency as quickly as possible.
Start by reviewing
- Essential Vocabulary
- Key Grammar Topics (e.g. the past tenses, por vs. para, etc.)
- Common conversational phrases
Revising Spanish Vocabulary
When you first try to jump back into Spanish, you may be discouraged by how few words you can remember.
The goods news is that the words will come back quickly once you start using them.
Before you start compiling vocabulary notebooks and memorising word lists, figure out what you really want to say first.
In an episode of my podcast, I talked about the best way to use your vocabulary notebook (and whether or not you really need one).
In that episode, I shared the vocabulary strategy that has helped me in my own language studies:
- I spend most of my time on a small number of words.
Do you really need to know four different ways to say the same thing?
Not at first!
Pick a handful of words you actually want to use regularly and spend all your time and energy on those.
If you still feel overwhelmed, start by making a list of just 10 words you use frequently. Try to get at least one word from each of the following:
- High-frequency verbs (to go, to want, to be)
- Common adjectives (new, good, other, large)
- Adverbs that help you express yourself (finally, unfortunately, still, yet)
- Discourse markers (right, okay, well)
- Niche language that you use frequently, such as words related to your profession or your hobbies.
Once you've mastered those 10 words, make another list of 10 more!
It's much more manageable to learn fewer words than it is to try and memorise everything right away. With a smaller word list, you won't get discouraged and you can progress faster through your review.
Tackling Spanish Grammar
Take some time to review the key aspects of Spanish grammar.
You probably don't need to re-learn simple conjugation in the present tense. But Spanish has quite a few grammatical points that are easy to forget without regular use.
Start with this list. See how much you know and what you still need to study. I've included links to helpful resources for each:
- The difference between ser and estar
- Common irregular verbs
- Using reflexive verbs (dormirse, sentarse, etc)
- The Spanish past tenses
- The Spanish subjunctive
As with vocabulary, less is more here.
You don't want to get so bogged down in grammar review that you get discouraged and give up. Commit to 5 minutes of grammar revision each day and move on.
As you practicing your Spanish by listening and reading, watch out for the grammar as it comes up in context and just take note of how it's used.
Soon, it will start to sink in more and more and you'll find yourself developing a “natural feel” for what's right.
Review Common Conversational Spanish Phrases
Your ultimate goal is to communicate effectively in Spanish as quickly as possible. To do that, you'll need some common phrases ready that you can use with confidence even if you are still a little nervous speaking Spanish.
Find a list of common phrases that fits with your current skill level and focus on memorising them. For beginner phrases, check out this popular common Spanish phrases post I put together.
You'll feel a lot more confident speaking in Spanish if you always know how to start (and end) the conversation.
If you are more of an intermediate Spanish speaker but still feel like your conversations are stilted or forced, check out this list of phrases I put together just for Spanish students like you:
Step #3: Speak, Speak, Speak!
By the time you've immersed yourself in Spanish audio and methodically reviewed grammar, you may have regained more Spanish ability than you would have thought possible.
But the only way to develop true confidence and fluency in conversation is to… speak!
Even if you haven't reached your fluency goal yet, nothing will help you regain lost language skills better than speaking as often as you can.
If fear is keeping you from speaking Spanish, it's important to push through that fear and start speaking soon. You'll feel the better of it once you do.
If there's one thing I've learned throughout my language learning experiences it's that it will never get easier to start. The longer you leave it, the harder it gets!
4 Ways To Start Speaking Spanish From Home
Once you've committed to speaking Spanish regularly, how do you go about doing it? What if you can't travel to a Spanish-speaking country and don't have Spanish-speaking friends or relatives to practice with?
There are many ways to speak Spanish no matter where you live:
- Take a Spanish class: No, I don't think a traditional Spanish class is the right strategy for brushing up on Spanish after a long time away. A conversation class, however, can be very helpful. Conversation courses are focused on just that—getting classmates to speak to each other in the target language.
- Find a Spanish club or group: Search for Spanish language clubs near you on Meetup.com or look for a local group on Facebook.
- Get a language tutor: It's never been easier to speak Spanish from anywhere in the world thanks to services like Italki. All you need is an internet connection and you can be speaking with native Spanish speakers from your very own home. I've written regularly about how helpful Italki.com has been for me in learning languages. If you're completely new to the process, here are my 12 steps for finding the perfect language tutor online.
- Learn song lyrics in Spanish: Just like with reading out loud, learning song lyrics in Spanish will give you plenty of practice speaking in safe, low-pressure environment. Start by speaking the lyrics slowly and clearly before you add music. As an added bonus, melodies are very memorable. You may find new words from the song working their way into your vocabulary without any extra work on your part!
Why Spanish Is Better The Second Time Round
Fluency can come and go.
We've all gone through periods where we've lost some fluency in a language. But it's never too far away.
And brushing up on your Spanish, or any language, doesn't have to be so tricky.
With a bit of planning and daily commitment to listening, reviewing key grammar and vocabulary, and by speaking Spanish regularly, you'll be regain your lost fluency quickly.
And your Spanish might even become stronger than it used to be.
So, enjoy your return to the Spanish language. And know this: it's even better the second time around.
You'll appreciate it more because of the effort you've put into brushing up and getting your fluency back.
If you've recently returned to Spanish or another language, what has worked for you? I'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.