How to improve your Spanish in Madrid (and why you should…)

April 6, 2018

Are you looking to improve your Spanish while you’re in Spain?

Great idea…

I’m all for learning languages – if you’re an expat it’s very important to understand the language if you’re truly going to feel at home in your adoptive country.

So today, I have a guest post from Mariana, who’s Portuguese and has some tips about how to improve your Spanish.


Here’s Mariana…


Being Portuguese makes it not acceptable at all not to speak Spanish, even though they are completely different languages.

(Yes! For those who are not so keen on geography, different country and different language!)

So, when people compliment me on my good Spanish, I am not entirely proud of it, I assume it’s a basic even though it took me years to get here.

Yep, years!

My boyfriend – he is Spanish and used to joke with me calling me “Yoda” because I would mess up my sentences (and the funny part is: he doesn’t even speak Portuguese).

So, here are 6 tips on how to improve your Spanish or any other language for that matter:

Think in the language you’re trying to speak

I understand that this is very difficult to do, especially at the beginning, when you know less than 50 words.

(By the way, a 1-year-old should say around 50 words – nope I am not a mum, but this is the stuff parents brag about when they believe their kids are super special and know how to say 52 words already.)

But give it a try anyway. Don’t translate if you don’t have to.

Learn useful sentences in Spanish

Obviously knowing vocabulary is important, but what if you don’t know how to form a single sentence with those words?

Even simple sentences like asking someone how to go to the supermarket or saying  your day is going super well! So, make a list of sentences you use the most such as: 1) how are you? 2) What do you do for a living? 3) How can I get to the supermarket?, etc… with answers, so you can practice every day.

For example:

Hola, ¿qué tal? / ¿Cómo estás? Muy bien gracias,  ¿y tú?

Regular, el día me ha ido muy mal.

La verdad es que muy bien.

La verdad es que muy mal, estoy enfermo/a.

¿Cómo te llamas? ¿Cuál es tu nombre? Mi nombre es Mariana. ¿Y tú cómo te llamas?
¿Cuántos años tienes? Tengo 34 años. ¿Y tú cuántos años tienes?
¿De dónde eres? ¿De dónde son tus padres? Yo soy de Italia. ¿Y tú de dónde eres?

Mi madre es Americana y mi padre es Irlandés.

Increase your “vocabulary” of useful sentences and soon you’ll be speaking much better.

Here’s another tip…

Make a friend (or several) who speaks Spanish.

For more on this, check Mr. Chorizo’s post on Making friends in Spain – 5 tips to build your social circle abroad.

I believe that you can have many friends and each one can fill their purpose. I would never dare for example to travel with one of my best and funniest friends. We would probably not even agree on the destination, never mind what to do when getting there.

how to improve your spanish
Learn Spanish while you’re in Spain… it’ll make your stay so much better!

So, you may have friends that keep you motivated to do sports, to bitch about your boss, to travel with and you should definitely find a friend to practice the language you are learning.

Book 1 hour coffee / lunch every couple of days or once a week, this will help both of you to practice the language. I remember when I was sent to summer school in the UK with my sister, the two of us agreed to speak only English with each other – many Portuguese people would come back speaking much better Spanish (as there were so many Spanish people).

How to improve your Spanish – Adventure out (of the house)

Go out alone!

It is much easier to avoid speaking when you are with other people, so get out there and start small conversations with the waitress at your local coffee place, at the supermarket, at the museum or wherever you go.

These are the little daily conversations that will help you practice and learn. It is better 20 minutes a day that 4 hours twice a week.

Force people to speak with you in Spanish

Yes, I know it is frustrating to try and say something and people will answer back to you in English and force you to continue the conversation in english.

Well… You decide on how you want to continue the conversation and if you make it clear to people you want to talk in Spanish and say you want to improve they will understand and help you.

Even today when people ask me to do a presentation for my job and say it can be in Spanish or English I chose Spanish as it is another opportunity to improve my skills – even though I feel much more comfortable in english (yep, still!).

Join a course like SPEAK

Ok, I know this may sound a bit boring, but I promise you it’s not!

There are options where you can have fun and learn at the same time, go for options that can reinforce the conversation instead of grammar, as what you need is to get about and not write the perfect essay… I guess!

A great option is SPEAK – a language and culture exchange program where you can sign up to learn / practice a new language and if you want also teach your own, there are cultural events happening all the time, where you can meet more people and improve your language skills. Check it out here.

Have fun!


P.S. Note from Mr Chorizo… Not much to add to that. You should definitely work as hard as you can to improve your Spanish while you’re here. If you want more, check out these fun Spanish proverbs.

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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