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How to Learn Spanish fast: Immersion, does it really work?

Updated on October 24, 2017
marieryan profile image

Marie has been living and teaching both Spanish and English in Spain for many years.

So you want to learn fast?

Perhaps you have been starting and stopping your Spanish studies for a while now, making resolutions at the beginning of each school year to find evening classes, or buy a new Spanish course or to read more Spanish newspapers.

Perhaps this is even a recurrent theme in your life and it is probably getting a bit boring for you now.

You need to know how your brain works

In learning any new language, you must try and emulate as closely as possible the way you learnt your first language. As an infant, you didn’t learn to speak your mother tongue - you acquired it.

Young children learn so easily

Now this is complicated, try Spanish instead
Now this is complicated, try Spanish instead | Source

Baby stuff

The infant brain is programmed to acquire efficiently (i.e. correctly and quickly) language, as communication is essential for early survival.

However, the brain’s language acquisition cells start slowing down in early adolescence - that’s why some linguistic researchers believe that it is virtually impossible for older adult learners to become completely bilingual in another language.

However, with effort, adult learners are able to become very fluent in languages other than their own. So you can now understand that the ‘trick’ lies in simulating, as far as possible, the first language learning experience.

Forwards and backwards

Two steps forward, one step back

The best way to describe how the brain works with language is to imagine a climber scaling a rock face (perhaps that is how many of us visualize learning a new language!).

After an hour’s climb the climber stops for a rest, to sleep or to eat but his rope is slack and slowly s/he starts sliding backwards a little. The momentum has been lost and the climber slips backwards!

This same concept occurs in the brain’s language acquisition process in the time period between language classes. When the climber restarts his climb two hours later he may even spend half-an-hour regaining the height lost due to the time-lapse in his climb and loss of momentum.

Similarly, the language student needs to spend valuable time at the beginning of each new language session regaining ‘language ground’ already attained in a previous session, to be able to continue and progress from where s/he left off from the previous session.

Immersion into the centre of Málaga!

The centre of Málaga, buzzing with Spanish opportunities
The centre of Málaga, buzzing with Spanish opportunities | Source

Learning the Spanish language and Immersion!

Of course language can be acquired artificially in a classroom or by listening to audio tapes, etc. but the brain’s effort is greater and so the process is slower.

How can ‘total immersion’ help?

One of the most logical solutions must be to try and achieve complete ‘immersion’ into the Spanish language to be able to learn or acquire the chosen language correctly and AND FAST in order to avoid frustration of missed goals or boredom due to slow progress. ‘Immersion’ in language learning describes the process of ‘immersing’ oneself completely, or as much as possible, among native speakers of the language desired, for a relatively short time.

For your brain this means it has not time to ‘slip back’ into the comfort zone of its usual language, where everything is cosy and completely comprehensible (But where’s the fun in that?)

Plan ahead

This is obviously going to be quite a challenge, so careful planning is necessary. Constant, or near-constant, exposure for a maximum amount of time has to be the key. In my opinion, the most efficient way for adults to acquire a second language is to research into intensive language courses in the country of their chosen language.

The ideal formula is to attend a whole morning or afternoon of structured language input (a lesson of two/three hours) supplemented by real-life language input, interacting and communicating with native speakers of the chosen language in their own culture. It is extremely beneficial to not have any exposure to one’s mother tongue during this period.

This process is best applied on a daily basis for a minimum of three/four weeks.

Why it works

This formula works because it just doesn’t give the brain an opportunity to ‘slide backwards’ and so capitalizes on all the language input received thus minimizing as far as possible the delay that mother-tongue interference would effect.

It may be disappointing for some of us who cannot afford either the time or the money to undergo an immersion course in a Spanish–speaking country, but if at all possible, this is by far the best way to harness the language.

Of course, in the long term, investing in total immersion or an intensive Spanish language course may save you money.

If you calculate how much can be spent on language learning courses, videos and lessons over several years with low return on results, i.e. not being able to speak the language as well as you would have hoped after the time and money invested, then it seems to be almost economically worthwhile to make this type of investment if you can.

Enjoy the real Spain

Sensuous flamenco floraland on photobucket
Sensuous flamenco floraland on photobucket

Where to go

There are hundreds of intensive Spanish courses offered in Spanish-speaking countries and information can be easily found on Internet.

Intensive Spanish courses are to be found in Barcelona or Madrid. Valencia or Alicante, Seville, Granada, Córdoba; if you want the big city lights. However, there are dozens of smaller but magnificent, historic cities with great cultural heritage.

You must shop around for the school that suits your specific requirements and pocket!

If you do decide on one of these types of programmes, you will not be disappointed as they can’t fail!

The experience of being immersed in another language together with its culture will be so rewarding you will never know why it took you so long to try!

Anyone experienced Immersion for learning languages?

Please let me know about your experience learning a language and if you have considered taking an 'Immersion' course.


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    • marieryan profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Ryan 

      6 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      Monis Mas :I'm working on a method to teach Spanish on-line, there are surely many ways to learn a language now using internet. All that is required is time and motivation- and determination. You can do it!

    • Monis Mas profile image


      6 years ago

      I would love to learn Spanish. It is a beautiful language, and it is one of my goals to learn it someday :-)

    • marieryan profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Ryan 

      7 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      Hi Careermommy, yes, time is always a big constraint. Immersion is the fastest, most efficient way to go about language learning... so in the end, this is the best way forward. Keep trying to figure out how you can manage your time for this. I imagine you must be very busy, just by the name you have chosen for your avatar!

    • Careermommy profile image

      Tirralan Watkins 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Very thought-provoking hub! I've been wanting to learn to speak Spanish fluently for years and thought about immersion when I was single. Not sure where I would find the time to do it now, but it' still something to consider.

    • marieryan profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Ryan 

      7 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      Language learning is good for the brain, Pamela, so itcan be a little fun exercise, even just for that reason.

      That's very good of Oklahoma to offer free lessons!

    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      I've wanted to learn Spanish but haven't taken the time. Being around people that speak the language is the best way. We've had free lessons at libraries here in Oklahoma.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great hub. Thanks a lot

    • htodd profile image


      8 years ago from United States

      That's really great ...Thanks a lot

    • Sondra_Roberts profile image


      10 years ago

      Great hub, and very useful,

    • marieryan profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Ryan 

      10 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      Thanks maggs

      Just had a look at the Moros y Cristianos hub !

      Fantastic- the 'Desembarco' is great. What a wonderful culture we have adopted! ¡Hasta luego!

    • maggs224 profile image


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      I think that you would love the Moors and Christians fiesta it is a week long celebration and I think that it is the best of its kind in all of Spain if you would like a taster try my hub

      the Desembarco video is my personal favourite

    • marieryan profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Ryan 

      10 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      Maggs, It sounds like you would LOVE to be able to communicate more in your community, and it sounds like you know quite a bit of Spanish already! You are lucky to be involved with other church-goers though, because they will probably be very sympathetic to you and encourage you to speak more. Take advantage of the golden opportunity you have of at least 3 hours a week.

      I know many ex-pats who wouldn't dream of joining a Spanish church because of the language barrier, even after 20 years in Spain!

      Villajoyosa sounds lovely and I hope to visit one day, especially to see the Christian and Moor festival!

    • maggs224 profile image


      10 years ago from Sunny Spain

      When we first came to Spain we were in a little mountain village called Benitagla where virtually no one spoke any English.

      I am sure that if we had stayed there we would have been speaking Spanish in no time at all. We use to sit out of an evening with the villagers with our dictionary trying our best to follow what they were saying.

      Most of the village consisted of elderly people the younger generation had long since gone to the big cities as there wasn’t anything there for them to do, in fact there wasn’t even a shop or a bar in the village and no public telephone.

      The people of this village were very kind and patient with our poor efforts at speaking their language and we had a lot of fun talking to them in the long summer evenings.

      We live in Orcheta now our nearest town is Villajoyosa and there are a lot of ex-pats around so it is easy to get by with just English and that makes you lazy. We do belong to a Spanish speaking church so for three hours or more on a Sunday and two hours on a Friday we are totally immersed in Spanish, but of course this is not enough and we suffer from the backsliding that you identified in your excellent hub.

    • sensu0s profile image


      10 years ago

      nice hub!

    • marieryan profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Ryan 

      11 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      Gracias, Ben Zoltak! The most important thing about language is 'just give it a go!'. You're obviously ready to make the effort with the language! Buena Suerte!

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 

      11 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Mi gusta su libra, mi espanol es pochita y mal y no es castillian es mexicano, pero mi gusta espanol!

      That was rough, but I still love Spanish! Someday I hope to visit the vineyards in your country with my wife, and maybe the Riviera! Viva Espana! If I ever am able, I will take the advice of your well written article, thank you Marie!

    • marieryan profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Ryan 

      11 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      Thanks Carmen, it really is the best way to do it and have some fun too!!

    • Carmen Borthwick profile image

      Carmen Borthwick 

      11 years ago from Maple Ridge, B.C.

      Well, I guess I'll just have to move to Mexico for awhile and practice with my friends who live there, LOL (:

      Great hub!


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