Can you REALLY learn Spanish as an Adult?
One word answer: ¡Absolutamente!
It’s true. You can learn a new language as an adult. Sure, it’s not as easy as when you are young and your mind is wide open, with your thinking process less rigid, but in the words of the beloved Belgian actor and humanitarian, Audrey Hepburn,
“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says I’m possible!”
People often ask how long I’ve been speaking Spanish. When I tell them “about 10 years,” some accept this as a reasonable answer. When they find out my age, they seem surprised! The truth is, I didn’t learn Spanish until after my 40th birthday.
I know, I know, it’s hard to believe I am a day over 32, but Spanish – like several things in my life – didn’t happen for me until later. Since I’m not in a race with anyone (last time I checked) and I often believe you are exactly where you need to be in life right now, I was happy learning Spanish when I did. Besides, the only thing that really matters is that I made it happen!
Admittedly, I didn’t become fluent in Spanish in a year or two, like people often believe I did. In fact, it took me several years to feel comfortable speaking with others and I am still learning new palabras cada día (new words each day). It’s all part of the process that helped me enamoré del español.
When I began learning Spanish, something magical happened. I was drawn to español como una mariposa nocturna a una flama. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I basically did what any curious student who really wants to master a subject did: Me enamoré del español
How to Learn Spanish After 40 (and Love it Forever)
1. Fall in Love (with Spanish!)
Me enamoré del español simplly means “I fell in love with Spanish.” This is the first step among many, and for some learners, it’s also the easiest. One piece of advice is, if you’re going to fall in love with it, go all in. Just like a real partnership, let it make you happy, even when it frustrates you. Vow to understand it, even when it makes no sense. Commit to having a healthy relationship with your new idioma, and hopefully, you’ll see results sooner than later.
2. Surround Yourself (with Spanish!)
This suggestion should come as a no-brainer for anyone who has ever tried to learn a language before: immerse yourself! Dig deep! Sink down and surround yourself, dive into the depths of accents, colloquialisms, catchphrases, and even the cursed rules of grammar, until you feel surrounded by it like a cozy blanket… or quicksand, depending on the difficulty of what you’re learning. Either way, go down! Get in it to win it.
3. Meet Some Native Spanish speakers
Not only is this tip great for making new friends, but it is an extremely fun and challenging way to practice speaking and listening in your new language. Whether you find Spanish speakers in your neighborhood, in the workplace, at social events, or online as part of a meetup or group chat, don’t be shy. Ask about and seek out su gente (your people). Explain to them you are learning, and ask them questions you wouldn’t normally find answers to in textbooks or educational programs. Let the native speakers be your new teachers! Remember, too, if they are learning English, you can probably arrange an exchange with them and help each other.
4. Jump in and TRY
Language teachers will be the first to tell you how difficult is it when a student is too self-conscious to speak the language they’re learning, even when it’s just the teacher and the student in the class. Let go of your inhibitions as you did with your new Spanish-speaking friends on the dance floor, and just jump in! Make mistakes, laugh at your accent, and admit it’s obvious to everyone (especially native speakers) that this is not your first language. The best part of all this embarrassment? You’ll get better over time. Almost everyone eventually does, if they stick with it.
5. Travel to Spanish-speaking Countries
This is undoubtedly the bravest and most exciting way to learn a new language. Fortunately, Spanish is spoken in some of the most amazing and beautiful countries in the world! Twenty-one countries, to be exact. Can you name them all? Take a few minutes and research this fun fact.
Before you dive into travel language learning, figure out where you want to go and why. Maybe you want to see Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, in Bolivia, or trek the elusive heights of Machu Picchu in Perú. Perhaps you want to drink fresh jugo de maracuyá in Colombia or toss back tequila in a town named after the drink (or is the other way round?) Wherever you choose, start researching the location, make plans, and move towards your goal. If you’re too nervous to go alone, ask one of your Spanish-speaking friends from tip #3 to go with you. Or, if you feel brave enough, go alone. Spanish will find its way to you as you travel!
I traveled alone for years to several Spanish-speaking countries before finally moving to not one, but two countries where Spanish was the official language. With each year I spent living in them, my Spanish improved, my heart opened wider, and my appreciation for new cultures and languages multiplied tenfold.
Look for ideas on well-known websites like TripAdvisor or Expedia, or visit more country-specific experts offering tours and holidays like Uncover Colombia.