Why am I struggling to learn Spanish?

avatarMille Larsen
8 mins read

So you're learning Spanish.

You've been at it for a while. You're probably working hard, you're not lacking motivation, although you're starting get frustrated.

And maybe you even see other people advancing in Spanish while you feel stuck.

Why does it seem impossible for you to learn Spanish?

If you're struggling with learning Spanish, the reason is most likely one of two things: Your study method in ineffective for you, or you're looking at your progress with a mindset that's too critical.

Problems with common approaches to studying Spanish

There is an almost unlimited number of Spanish learning methods, approaches and resources out there.

While only a few are truly useless, most aren't ideal.

The most popular approaches to learning Spanish is are the following:

  • To enroll in a Spanish class and learn Spanish with a teacher
  • To study Spanish on your own with textbooks and various self-study methods and apps.
  • To try and immerse yourself in a Spanish-language environment and learn Spanish through your everyday life

All of them can work, if they're done right.

Signing up for a Spanish course seems like the most obvious way to efficiently learn Spanish for most people.

There are, however, numerous potential problems with this kind of approach. A very high number of students who enroll in language learning programs, end up failing.

You'll be dependent on a teacher and his or her teaching method.

Perhaps the teacher spends a lot of time explaining concepts in English. Perhaps you all sit around looking at conjugation tables.

The best case scenario for language classes would be to get a lot of one on one conversation with a native Spanish speaker (the teacher).

Yet, this is very rarely the case. There'll be several other students competing for the teacher's attention.

You get to speak Spanish for only a little while with a teacher. Once per week. And you need to pay for that aswell.

Classroom learning, in my opinion, is ineffective even in the best case scenario.

Self-studying Spanish

I'm an advocate of self-studying Spanish.

But you need to use the right material, study the right way and be consistent. This is not obvious for most people.

And many text-books are focused on drills, exercises, grammar explanations and so on. In my opinion, these tasks are vastly inferior to just studying the dialogues and working on listening and reading.

And then there's the idea of immersion. I believe that this can, in fact, take you far.

But if you follow the common suggestions of switching your phone's language to Spanish, putting post-it notes on your furniture with the Spanish word for "fridge" and "chair", you'll just end up creating elaborate ways of ignoring all of these things. (I wrote an article about the problems with popular immersion techniques)

Real immersion is jumping in to a Spanish language environment with the right attitude. You won't learn Spanish simply from surrounding yourself with the language. You need to use it. And you can't take your inhibitions and self-consciousness with you.

True immersion means jumping in with no life-west. You need to open your mouth and speak without thinking about making mistakes.

And whatever you need to do in your daily life, you need to do in Spanish - with no cheating.

True immersion is not for everyone!

Find the right approach for you

Everyone is different. Some people need the structured framework of a language class to make sense of a foreign language.

If this is you, you need to find a way to getting the most out of classroom learning. And you need to to more!

You need to work with Spanish every day, or you'll improve slowly and forget what you've learned before getting to refresh it.

So I encourage you to revise what you learn in the classroom every day.

But what's even better is to add another learning approach to the mix.

Take your learning into your own hands and do some daily lessons with a textbook or language learning apps.

The more approaches you combine in the same time, the more effectively you'll learn. I've written an article about this fact, that I recommend that you go read.

Manage your expectations

You might feel that you're working hard on your Spanish but that you haven't got a lot to show for it.

You're far from satisfied with your pronunciation. You don't understand what is said in the radio. And you can't figure out the plot of the books you're trying to read.

Don't worry. Learning Spanish takes a lot of time.

When learning Spanish, whether on your own or in a class room setting, you need to be in for the long run. Learning Spanish demands daily, consistent work for a long time.

Here's an article I wrote about the time it takes to learn Spanish.

It's normal to wish for quick results.

Many articles online promise you that you can get far in a short time.

While some people can make quick breakthroughs in language learning with focused study, you can't necessarily expect the same results.

Learning Spanish is about delayed gratification.

You need to be patient. The hard work that you do every day to learn Spanish won't show neither today, tomorrow or in three months.

If you keep at it, however, you'll reap the results of your efforts in a year or more. The end results will be you speaking Spanish fluently. But there's no way to get there except to put in the work.

Measure your progress with Spanish

Working hard at learning Spanish for months can be extremely demotivating and frustrating.

Chances are, however, that you're not seeing things clearly.

Most people are very self critical. They judge their own performance pretty hard, and it takes a lot before you're remotely satisfied.

If you study daily in Spanish, you may feel like you're struggling to improve. You make the same mistakes again and again. Your pronunciation is just never right. And your speech is just not fluid.

My advice is to take a couple of steps back and look at your Spanish learning journey so far.

Read your old notes, reread the lessons you did in the beginning. Or ask your conversation partner if you've improved at all.

Chances are that you have improved a lot, but that you're simply not noticing.

Working on a project like learning Spanish daily has the disadvantage of making you almost blind to your own progress.

You're working in a bubble, so you can't see your own progress from an outside view.

All new material you study is difficult to begin with, after all. So it's that same feeling of difficulty that you experience every time. The difference is that the content you study is getting harder!

So a tip that you can use to measure your progress is to make a monthly ritual out of writing a short text and recording yourself speaking Spanish.

The text and the recordings aren't meant as language lessons - they're meant as milestones that you can look back at later in the process. Start doing this today. As you progress, you'll be astounded looking back.

Here's an article I wrote about similar tips to help keep you motivated in language learning.

Stop worrying and start enjoying the process of learning Spanish

It's normal to feel insecure and unsure if you're really progressing when studying a language like Spanish.

While it's important that you keep track of your progress and put your study method under scrutiny, the problem is often non-existent.

When learning foreign languages, it's hard not to worry and to be impatient for the results.

You're putting in a lot of time into your Spanish, after all, and you don't want all of these efforts to be wasted.

But you need to stop worrying too much. Enjoy the process of learning Spanish and stop thinking too much about the end results. It'll only make you frustrated when things are not moving quick enough.

Stop expecting yourself to learn everything the first time around.

Learning Spanish takes tons and tons of trial and error. If you don't make mistakes, you need to move on to more difficult content!

Make and repeat your mistakes as many times as you must. Do so knowing that it's the only way to end up speaking Spanish fluently.

And stop focusing on the amount of things you need to master. In the long run, they'll become intuitive, and you won't realize you've learned them.

Be patient, diligent, consistent. And don't loose hope, for Spanish fluency is within your reach!