Spanish Classes Didn't Work

Spanish Classes in School Didn’t Work for Me

Have you taken months or years of Spanish classes but you still can’t really speak Spanish? Spanish classes didn’t work for me, either. I completed five semesters of Spanish classes in high school. Even took the AP Spanish test. I then took two more semesters in college, followed by 6 months of studying abroad in Spain, which consisted of 2 Spanish grammar classes, a history class and a literature class. When I still couldn’t hold a decent conversation in Spanish I got frustrated and gave up!

I still remember my last Spanish class. I walked into the completely full class my junior year of college at Boston University. I sat in the back row and tried to be invisible, because every time someone asked me something, I couldn’t string together the words to respond!

Soon after, I dropped out of Spanish that semester, never to return to another Spanish class again, for the rest of my life.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Today, I am at a C1 level (advanced level). With this level, I can live and work confidently in any Spanish-speaking country.

Basically, dropping out of Spanish classes helped me get fluent. How?

Classroom Learning Vs. Real Life Learning

Studying a second language is part of high school graduation requirements or recommendations in many states. You may have also been required to take classes in a second language as part of your college degree. Formal Spanish classes (as I experienced them!) don’t help people get fluent. Why? 

You’re not actually talking in the classes, you are observing. Instead of getting experience in how the language is used, you’re learning ABOUT the language.  Take learning how to play the piano, for example. You could take hours of classes learning about the piano, but that doesn’t mean you will be able to play it after learning how it was made.

As children learning our first language, we aren’t taught about the language. So why do we learn our second language this way? Especially since it’s a 100% success learning our first language, worldwide. It’s guaranteed to work. There is not one person in the world that was not able to learn their native tongue – no matter what that may be.

When you were a child, your parents were actively encouraging you to speak. From Day 1, they were desperately trying to get you to make sounds and tell them what you wanted, to express yourself, to say your opinion, your desires, when you needed help, how to explain something, and so much more.

In contrast to the Spanish classrooms where I spent time (and where I’m betting you did, too). I was listening most of the time or analyzing how the sentence was put together, or dizzying myself amidst hundreds of vocabulary words – vocabulary words that I would soon forget since I wasn’t getting to actually use them in my experiences.

We never actually USED language in the way it’s supposed to be used: to communicate an idea, a desire, a need, an explanation, to tell a story, to ask a question – these are all the reasons why we speak to someone else.


Woman with hands on temples looking down while a business man to her left and a business woman to her right talk to each other

Immersion Versus Grammar Rules to Learn a New Language

Luca Lampariello, who has learned nine languages (all while living in Italy, might I add), puts in this way:

A teacher, especially now in the Internet era, should be a leader, facilitator, motivator and content provider, showing the students how to “find water” even when the teacher will not be there to lead them to it.

Basically, set them up for success! Show them where to find movies in the target language, songs, chat rooms, free language exchange websites, novels, whatever floats the learner’s boat, essentially.

On that note, language should be acquired, not learned. A language isn’t a set of facts to be memorized. It should be a constant process of discovery through various media: music, TV, podcasts, storybooks, comic books, art, YouTube videos, humor, newspapers, blog posts, Facebook posts, comic strips, letters to the editor, music videos and so much more.

Lampariello goes on to compare two students:

Student A memorizes grammar and lists of words.

Student B learns through context (examples of context below):

  • Practicing with a native speaker and getting corrections.
  • Reading things she is interested in, highlighting phrases and noting in what context they are being used.
  • Listening to music she likes.
  • Memorizing situational sentences and ways of speaking, even copying the tone used in various situations (formal, sad, happy, confused, informal, etc).

Which one of these students do you think will end up sounding more natural and fluent? Who will really be able to hold a conversation?

Immersion through relevant, interesting, fun interactions will always make a greater impact than memorizing rules. The NPR podcast, The Pulse, sheds a lot of light on this subject, through a recent study.

Morgan-Short, a language acquisition researcher, had two groups: a group that learned grammar structures and a group that did not learn grammar structures. Then, she gave them a language test in their second language.

Interestingly enough, those who had no grammar instructions were the ones who developed more native-like brain processing signals. Morgan-Short was not surprised and expected this outcome: this is how we naturally learn language (sans grammar rules).

In the real world, babies don’t go around conjugating verbs before they speak. In the real world, we never speak out of context in real life.

Can We Speak a New Language if We’ve Never Heard it Spoken?

I learned this the hard way. I studied French on my own for two years, but I came out of it with virtually nothing learned, because I was only reading books. My goal was to be fluent in spoken French, not to get a PhD in French literature and writing papers.

Before attending my first private tutoring session, I had told the instructor I had been studying for two years. When she asked me basic questions like “What is your name?” and “How old are you?” I couldn’t understand what she was saying until she typed it in the chatbox. How useful is that? Not very.

The Right Way to Learn How to SPEAK Spanish (Or Any New Language)

Dive into the language, choose material that you’re interested in (especially listening material and not heavy on the books) and always start speaking with a native speaker right off the bat.

We use this method at Fluency Corp, and it gets powerful results for our clients, their companies, the expats that they move internationally and the families that follow them. We also have communication training for the English-speaking monolinguals – how to speak in a way that everyone understands. Language should be inviting, clear, and effective.

Questions about how to get started with learning Spanish for work or taking Spanish classes in Dallas? Reach out! We’ll be in touch.