7 Lessons I Learned from Learning a Second Language Fluently

After moving to Spain in 2013 without knowing a single word of Spanish, I quickly learned a tough lesson: If I was going to survive in Spain, I would have to first learn how to lose my pride, allow myself to make many, many mistakes and not take myself so seriously in the process to learning a second language.

I moved with all the confidence in the world of my ability to learn Spanish quickly. I figured all it would take would be a good month and I would start catching on, however, after a short time, I realized that it was not going to be as easy as I thought. I studied day in and day out, but could not get my mind around the irregular verbs and the accent and slang that everyone used. Every time I tried to speak I would make an instant mistake, to the point where I was nervous to even speak.

I was the laughter and joke of every conversation, although these jokes were done in a loving way.

I would hear whispers from others saying, “Aww, poor girl. I don’t think she will ever speak good enough where people will actually understand her.” Growing impatient, I watched my English speaking friends around me improve on their Spanish, but no matter how many hours I practiced, I still could not get it. I tried everything: movies, music, memorizing, reading and language exchanges, but every time I would I spoke I would get tongue tied or mess up the pronunciation so bad that it had everyone rolling on the floor laughing.

Learning a foreign language is something that is not learned over night, and in my case, not even something I could get down after a few months of practicing each and every day. It’s not so difficult to learn words and basic phrases to just “get by,” however, working towards fluency in order to speak on a more professional level (which was my plan), can seem like an uphill battle.

Like all things in life, learning a foreign language fluently requires hard work, patience, time and determination.

I felt like giving up in many moments in my first year of learning, however my determination and love for the language dominated in those moments of frustration. I finally reached a point after one year that I started feeling comfortable and confident, although even until this day I get my words twisted.

I was able to go from not even knowing how to say hello, to speaking in Spanish on a professional level, within just a few short years. In November 2016, I was invited to speak in Spanish at the largest TEDx conference in all of Spain, followed by being one of four influential bloggers invited to speak at the largest travel fair in Spain, FITUR to over 2000 people.

Check out my TEDx talk by clicking here 🙂 

After my own experience of highs and lows, I made a list below of 8 lessons that I have learned through my own personal journey towards fluency (although its a never ending journey).

1. Learn to laugh at yourself.

Learning to laugh at myself was probably the single best thing I had to learn from the beginning. Getting frustrated and upset does not solve anything, so learning to laugh is the best solution. Mistakes are inevitable, so embrace them and make a funny story out of it to share with others. Learning to laugh at yourself will take pressure off of you and help you to enjoy your experience more.

2. Learn that it’s not a sprint, its a marathon.

We live in a society that wants immediate results, but in some cases, like learning a second language, its not going to happen like that unless you have some sort of incredible talent with languages. Becoming fluent takes time, dedication and lots and lots of practice. It is possible to get a conversational level within three months or less, however, working towards fluency in order to speak professionally in front of thousands of people takes a bit more time and patience.


Pyrenees Mountains, Spain


3. Learn to have fun in learning.

Having a love for the language is a key factor in enjoying the learning process. If you choose to learn because of a passion you will have a higher chance of succeeding, compared to someone that is forced into a foreign language class or required to learn for work.

Learning a second language does not mean that you will be sitting in a quiet room studying with books and long hours memorizing words and phrases.

Most of the learning is actually done from interacting with other people, through songs, movies or even audio books. There are countless games and ways to learn available, so don’t allow yourself to become disinterested because of boredom. Find a way of learning that works for you and go after it!

4. Learn that the quickest way to learn is full immersion, but its not the only way.

The quickest proven way to learn a second language is by full immersion, HOWEVER, that should not discourage you if your lifestyle does not allow you the opportunity to become immersed in a new culture. There are classes that are offered at local and state universities, private and group classes in academies, meet up groups, online programs, CouchSurfing gatherings to meet locals interested in leaning a second language, language exchanges and much more. Don’t look for an excuse for not learning if you truly have the desire.

5. Learn that its okay to make mistakes.

It is impossible to escape making mistakes when learning a second language. Even after years of speaking Spanish I continue to make countless errors. This goes back to point number one of learning to laugh at yourself. Learn to laugh and grow from each and every mistake you make because they will happen every single day, especially if you talk as much as I do.

6. Learn that it’s much easier if you have a best friend or boyfriend that is Spanish

Having a best friend, boyfriend or roommate that you spend a lot of time with will help dramatically in learning quicker. It is very common to arrive to the country with all the excitement in the world of your cultural immersion experience, but just as soon as you start to speak, people instantly speak back to you in English, even if you speak to them in Spanish.

Many people don’t understand that your intention of being in the country you are in is to learn the language. Having a best friend, boyfriend or room mate that is a native speaker is a huge benefit to getting more intimate practice.



7. Learn that if you don’t use it, you might lose it

I have met people that were 100% dedicated to learning Spanish for the year that they were abroad, and then as soon as they arrived back home they never made the effort to speak the language in their normal day to day life. This can happen due to a couple of different reasons. One reason is embarrassment of speaking around people back home and the other is not knowing where to seek out opportunities to keep the skills sharp. Once you learn the language, look for ways to keep it fresh. The world is a very diverse place, so chances are you won’t have to look far to find someone that speaks the language you have learned.

Learning a second language is a unique experience that not only opens the door to communication to a whole new world of people, but it literally changes your brain and allows you to tap into a whole new way of thinking and analyzing information.


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