So “how do you learn Spanish”? Well, the first question should be what do you mean by “learn”? I’m going to assume you mean speak fluently. So to be able to start and hold a conversation, know more than a sufficient amount of words to communicate practically anything you need to say will require you to retain all lot of information, wouldn’t you say? And that’s where the expression, “You need to think in Spanish,” comes from. Ever heard that expression before? I’m sure you have.
Practicing many different exercises like computer games, vocabulary crosswords, flashcard drills, rehearsing Spanish songs, IMing Spanish-speaking friends and so on are all VERY important, but they aren’t enough. They are what they are- practice for the real thing, real conversation. In a real conversation we rely on our ability to search for the next words in our heads and how to combine them into the correct order to make sentences.
How difficult will that be if we must start in English then translate to Spanish? Not very easy nor efficient that’s how difficult. And in some cases the translations won’t even make sense. So the real trick is to make all the Spanish words and the ordering of the sentences to come naturally, or at least as natural as possible. When you speak the Spanish words must come to your mind and only the Spanish words, no English help. When you look at a “table” you must think “mesa”, when you look up at the sky you think “cielo”, when someone asks you where you want to eat you need to describe that juicy steak you envision cutting into, “Quiero una carne asada y muy jugosa.” When someone asks you a question about what you did on your vacation you need to picture the beautiful beach setting in your mind and describe what is was like, “Daba un paseo en la playa y me bañaba todos los días en el agua.”
So how can you think in Spanish? By following a system to retain the knowledge you learn and practice it enough in real settings to allow the words to come to you with little effort.
And here is that process:
Learn: you are introduced to new information, new knowledge, for example, new vocabulary, verb conjugations, sentence order and the like.
Repeat: repeat what you learned out loud, repeat the vocabulary, repeat the verb conjugations and so on.
Practice: practice new versions of what you learned but still outside of real conversations, Spanish thinking drills if you will. They will prepare you for conversations with people.
Use: use what you have learned, repeated and practiced up to this point in real conversations.
I promise you doing these steps will improve your ability to think and react in Spanish much faster than only doing drills. It’s what allowed me to “learn” Spanish faster, it’s what allowed me to retain what I learned and think in Spanish.