Learning Spanish in Spain

So you know you want to learn Spanish, but now the question is where and how?

If you are thinking about learning Spanish, going to Spain is a very good option, for the many reasons that people visit Spain but also for learning what the Spaniards are proud to call the ‘original’ Spanish. If you live in Europe, not only is Spain closer and cheaper to get to then any other Spanish-speaking nation, but knowing Spain’s Spanish will be more useful to you to get a job across Europe.

Spain is the country that gave me the solid foundations to get to a very good level in Spanish. I was there for just six months, and I got to a near-fluent level in that time. If you want to know how you can improve your español in España, this article has all you need to know.

If you are going to Spain but not sure if you should learn Spanish, read my thoughts on why you should learn the language of the countries you visit, then come back here so I can walk you through the steps!

How to Stay in Spain

If you are planning to stay in Spain for a period of time to improve your Spanish speaking skills, you may want to settle down for a while and stay in one place where you can make friends and get used to navigating on your own.

A few options of what you can do:

  • Teach English: Spain has a Language and Culture Assistants programme which is available to almost any native speaker of English who has had a tertiary education of at least two years. But because there are so many people in Spain trying to learn English, there are other more informal opportunities if you don’t meet these requirements.
  • Au Pair: Being an Au Pair is awesome as you can immerse yourself in a Spanish family, interact with young kids, gain experience, gain local contacts and connections, all while getting free food, accommodation, and getting paid! Personally, this is what I did and I loved every moment of it. You can sign up for free to be an Au Pair online, or email me directly (as I know some great families I can put you in contact with!).
  • Workaway/WWOOF: Work for someone, usually a farm or a hostel in exchange for free food and accommodation. These are generally unpaid opportunities, but a really good way to immerse yourself in the culture and language, and stay somewhere for free. Simply sign up online and start searching for your new volunteer job!
     WWOOF (farm work) | workaway
  • Study: Depending on where you are from, you may be entitled to for free tertiary education (or at least a semester or two) in Spain. If you are in Europe, you can opt to do your Erasmus programme there. Most universities have exchange programmes which allow you to pay your normal course fees to go to a foreign university and study abroad. This is a great opportunity as you can opt to be taught in Spanish, which is a great way to learn academic language and learn quickly. lternatively, you can enroll yourself in a Spanish language school, and dedicate your time in Spain fully to studying Spanish. Click here to compare and book language courses in Spain.

Languages in Spain

Spanish is not the only language spoken in Spain. Depending on which region you go to, there are a fair amount of smaller, native languages which are spoken by the locals of that area, although almost every Spanish person speaks Spanish as well. If your goal is to immerse yourself in Spanish language and learn Spanish very well, it may be best to avoid areas. In saying that, if you’re a language guru and want to pick up more languages, these places are ideal.

Some of the main regional languages (although there are quite a few more) are:

  • Basque Country – Basque
  • Valencia – Valencian
  • Barcelona – Catelan
  • Galicia – Galician

English in Spain

The level of English for Spaniards is one of the lowest in Europe. If you are not in a touristic place you will be unlikely to find anyone (much less anyone over the age of 30) that can speak English. Most of the people I came across were trying to or willing to learn, but struggled with it immensely for some reason (they blamed it on their education system). In short, it is not something that you can just expect from everyday people. This means good opportunities for tutoring, teaching English and au pairing. It also means people may see you as an opportunity to brush up on their English skills.

Spanish in Spain

There are more than 20 countries in the world that have Spanish as the official language, but no country that speaks the language more differently to the rest than Spain. The Spanish spoken in Spain is characteristically unique. Although it varies from South to North, you will find a few key things that distinguish it from all other dialects of Spanish:

  • Accent: The pronunciation of the ‘c’ and ‘z’. ‘C’, when followed by an -e or an -i, is pronounced as a ‘th’ sound (phonology: ϴ). Any ‘z’ is also pronounced as a ‘th’ sound. In Latin American countries, this sound is non-existent and everything is replaced by an ‘s’ sound. The rhythm and tone of the spoken language is also very different.
  • Slang/expressions: Common words or phrases you are most likely to hear in Spain:
    • Guay/chulo – cool
    • Majo/maja – nice, lovely (person)
    • Vale – OK
    • Quedar – hang out, meet up
    • Da igual/me da igual – it doesn’t matter/ I don’t mind
    • ¿Qué tal? – What’s up?
    • Tío/tía, chaval/chavala – dude, girl/bro, sis (affectionate nickname)
    • Venga – hard to say, because depending on the context it could mean almost anything. Could be used to express agreement, shock, disbelief, friendliness, concern, amazement or many other things. One of those words that you really need to hear a lot of times to understand when to use it.
    • Hombre – can be used much the same way as the English ‘man’, inserted into every second sentence for no apparent reason. (E.g: ‘Hombre, claro’ – of course; ‘venga, hombre’ – no way).
  • Sytax/grammar: The Spanish in Spain is the only dialect of Spanish that still frequently uses ‘vosotros’ (informal you plural) verb form. Unlike Latin American Spanish, ‘ustedes’ for mainland Spanish natives is extremely formal and infrequently used in spoken language.
    The Spanish in Spain also differs in the way they speak about the past. When speaking about something that has happened in the same day, Spaniards will use present perfect tense (¿has entendido?/Esta mañana me he caído en el pasillo). If referring to another day that has passed, they will use the past preterite (¿Fuiste a la fiesta el domingo?/Cuando era joven me quemé la piel).
    Long story short, Spanish distinguish between the current day and previous days before it.
  • Difference between the south and the north: The main difference between the regions is the accent and pronunciation. Northerners have their own unique expressions but in general speak very clearly and enunciate each syllable (although they may leave out the ‘d’ in words ending in ‘ado’ – ‘mercado’ becomes ‘merca’o’ and so on). People in the northern and central parts of Spain tend to speak what is close in sound to the idyllic ‘Castilian’ Spanish. The southerners, especially Andalusians, are a different kettle of fish altogether. They are very lazy speakers, and tend to leave out as many consonant sounds as they can get away with. It is a very difficult accent for foreigners to understand (and if you do go there and end up with the accent, it will probably be difficult to get other native Spanish speakers to understand you).

People & Culture in Spain

The Spanish culture is a very open and friendly one, and most people are very happy to meet foreigners. They are also happy to hear you speak Spanish, and are very encouraging with it. Most people are very understanding and helpful when you make mistakes.

One thing I learned about Spanish people is that they are very curious. When it comes to someone from a different country, with a different language and culture, they ask a lot of questions and try to learn a lot and understand your culture and your background much better. They love to talk, love to socialise, love to party and especially love to eat.

How to learn Spanish in Spain

The first step, if you are already in Spain, is obviously to immerse yourself and make sure you are in a position where you can live with Spanish people and have Spanish friends. To know more about this, check out my article about how to make the most of your time travelling to learn a language.

Most towns or cities will have a language school where foreigners can learn Spanish at the level they require, so you can keep studying while you are there. Click here to compare and book language courses in Spain.

If you still need help, read how I learned a language fluently for more tips and ideas.

More tools to help you learn faster

Here are some ideas for learning the Spanish that is spoken in Spain (trust me, you don’t want to turn up to Spain speaking Latin American Spanish). It is best to try and get used to the accent and common expressions before you get there (but still keep going while you’re there!)

  •  Lingogo Application- Read Spanish Books: Do you try to read books in Spanish but find that it’s too difficult to understand, so you give up? This is an awesome app I discovered to aid with reading books and learning words in Spanish – suitable for all levels, from beginner to advanced. Basically, if you don’t understand anything, all you have to do is tap on a sentence or word and you get the translation straight away. They also double-up as audio books – all in that crisp Castilian accent to help improve your pronunciation for Spain! Read my review on Lingogo here.

    >> EXCLUSIVE OFFER: Download the app and use the promo code ‘thewanderinglinguist’ to get a full e-book in Spanish (Leon) totally free!

    App Store | Google Play | Learn more about Lingogo

  •  Intercambio: sites like conversationexchange.com are incredibly helpful – try to find Spanish people who will meet up and practise with you.
  •  Spanish music: musicians such as Malu, David Bisbal, Enrique Iglesias, Estopa, Juanes, Chenoa, Jarabe de Palo and countless others. Spanish music is really great so listening to it actively is a fun, simple way of learning Spanish. What I normally do is listen to the song, then look up the lyrics/translate anything I don’t understand, then listen to it again and usually find I can understand a lot more (and even sing along!)
  •  Spanish TV shows and movies: You’re going to watch TV shows and movies anyway, right? Why not watch in Spanish and learn at the same time?
    Series: See this link for the best TV series from Spain.
    Movies: Some of my recommendations for Spanish-made movies are: Tengo Ganas de Ti, 10 Metros Sobre el Cielo, Eva, La Lengua de las Mariposas, & Biutiful. Alternatively, if you are in Spain you can just turn on the TV and hopefully you can find some organic Spanish material – even new reports and ads are great when you are getting used to a language. Try to avoid the English/American shows and movies that are dubbed into Spanish, because the Spanish in those isn’t entirely natural.
  • Online Spanish Course with Rocket LanguagesThis is a tried and tested online language course which has helped over a million people reach their language goals, and it really works. The thing that I like about it is that it actually teaches you detailed grammar, and ensures you truly understand how the language works, unlike other online language courses out there. To find more online courses, see my post about the best programmes to learn a language.

Learn more about Rocket Languages | Try for free |  Buy now at a limited-time only discounted rate

Are you planning to go to Spain or learn Spanish? Let me know your experiences in the comments!~

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Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link.  I recommend these companies because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links.

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23 Comments

  1. This was such an interesting read! I studied Spanish for years in school and sadly don’t remember much of it and all the places I’ve been living abroad have not been Spanish-speaking countries. However, having traveled to Spain a fair bit I totally agree with a lot of this! This definitely makes me want to go back though and work on my Spanish! I actually had no idea they still commonly used vosotros.

    1. It is really an amazing experience when you are in a foreign country and can communicate in a foreign language, I would recommend it 100%. Let me know if you need any other tips or tricks!

  2. I really would love to learn some Spanish. I’m planning to spend some time in South America, most likely Mexico at first, and learn the language there. Is the South American Spanish really so different from the one spoken in Spain? This is an interesting topic I would love to know more about 🙂

    1. It is quite different actually in my experience, but still mutually intelligible so not too much to worry about! I’m actually working on a post all about all of the differences in language learning so I will definitely hit you up when it’s out so you can have a read (or feel free to subscribe) 🙂

  3. This was really interesting! I’ve never studied Spanish before, but the information on pronounciation, local words and regional differences was still fascinating – I’m always so intrigued by the way a language can change throughout an area. Also, I’m impressed that you became nearly fluent after just six months – that’s a very short timeline!

    1. Either place is really wonderful! Hope you get the chance to learn Spanish one day, it is a wonderful language 🙂

  4. Very interesting. Wonderful photos! Thank you!
    I invite you to join us in St. Petersburg!

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