4 Vote

I've been interested in Spanish Language and culture for many years. I study on my own quite often. I use this site and a few others, I have books and flashcards and I watch Spanish television. I don't often get the opportunity to interact with Spanish speaking people but when I do, I have a difficult time understanding what they are saying therefore I can't always reply appropriately. Is it possible that if I keep at it, things will one day "click". Or will I have to live among Spanish speakers for a time to really get the hang of the language. Is there any one else who is learning by lessons only and not immersion? If so how are you doing?

  • Posted Apr 10, 2010
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8 Answers

3 Vote

I am almost in the same place you are at. The one advantage I have is that my father is a native Puerto Rican, so I occassionally have the opportunity to converse with him (though you did say that you sometimes have converstion opportunities, too). I listen to Spanish radio and am not at the point where I can understand everything they are saying. However, I think that as I expand my Spanish vocabulary, continually listening to the Spanish radio programs will be my part of "immersion" in the Spanish language. So, I think that the Spanish television programs could do the same for you. Continue to study and expose yourself to the spoken language (especially since you will have the visuals to go with it) and things should get easier. Good luck!

3 Vote

I haven't learned Spanish by language lessons only. However, I do have some insight (hopefully) for you from my own experience. I studied Spanish through high school (4 years) and freshman year of college, and was quite accomplished according to my teachers. My accent was good, my grammar great, and my ability to communicate was high. I went to live in Spain and go to college there my Sophomore year. I found I was probably the most "fluent" of the English speakers there. So, it is possible to learn well without immersion if you have an aptitude for language.

With that said, after my time in Spain, I had grown immensely in learning to HEAR and UNDERSTAND Spanish. That critical point that is hard to practice in a classroom. Regarding your question of fluency, even after living there, finishing a degree in Spanish and teaching Spanish several years in high school, I still don't feel comfortable using the word fluent to describe by abilities--i think it is thrown around far to often by Spanish learners. There are so many idioms and random words that are used infrequently that I continue to learn all the time from hispanic friends. There are different phrases used by hispanics in my area that weren't used in Spain. It's an ongoing process of learning, really.

For you, I'd say keep watching television. That will help you get used to hearing the words. Find a language partner online to write to -like a pen pal-(one who is learning English) and help each other learn the idioms, etc. and correct each other in a productive way. Practice talking in Spanish to yourself all the time--tell yourself what you are thinking and doing. Interestingly, you will realize you don't know how to say certain phrases and /or they feel awkward and you can then look them up or ask on here. Get a book of Spanish idioms and memorize a few each week and practice using them (there are some out there for aobut $10) I think if you do these things, in addition to reading Spanish newspapers, magazines, etc--anything that is not created by a textbook writer (no offense to textbooks, but they rarely are chock full of expressions and slang) you will be well on your way to feeling confident in your Spanish.

Hope this helps.

2 Vote

Can one become fluent without immersion?

Some will disagree, but I don't believe so. One can learn to "get by" in a country of the language of chosen study, but without immersion, you miss out on the culture of the language - thereby possibily missunderstanding meanings or feelings of phrases and words being spoken or heard.

This isn't to say one cannot find immersion outside of the country of the language being studied.

  • I agree 100%. I had a lot of English lessons ever since elementary school - but I only became fluent once I started going to college and living in the US, in a place where hardly anyone spoke Spanish. It was a matter of survival, then. - Gekkosan Apr 10, 2010 flag
2 Vote

Hola, Elora...great question!

Probably nobody can become fluent without immersion, but - don't lose heart! - you can become quite good by continuing to do what you are doing. Try to have the TV tuned to the Spanish language station frequently. Even if it's "telenovelas" and 99% of the dialogue floats over your head, you are at least listening to the flow of the language.

Keep laying all the groundwork you can now. Chances are quite high that you will be able to have an immersion experience at some point, and when you do, you will have a solid base.

cool smile ¡Buen trabajo!

2 Vote

I wonder the same thing Elora. I don't know anyone where I live (Colorado, U.S.) who speaks Spanish. So I watch the Spanish news on cable and it's really hard to understand, because they speak so fast. However I am determined to learn it, even though I don't foresee anytime in my future where I will be able to spend a long period of time in another country. I think with perseverance I will get better and better at it over time. I'm not giving up!

2 Vote

Yes, I agree with Dan. I'm pretty much in the same boat as you as well. I've been studying for about a year and a half. Progress was really slow at first. I started to listen to Spanish songs, I downloaded the lyrics and tried my best to translate them. As I learned more, I found that some of my translations were somewhat off, so I tweaked them. I am also listening to Spanish news and Spanish novelas on T.V. and at first, I was shocked that I couldn't understand a thing. But now, I can say that I understand a lot. I often have a piece of paper and a pen with me when watching and I will jot down some words that I don't understand the meaning of and I look them up afterwards. I'm sure it can be done, only it will take longer if you are not immersed in it.

2 Vote

Elora I think that you can become very proficient in Spanish. When most people think of the word fluent, they are thinking of a person who doesn't have any problems at all speaking. You may encounter people who live in the US that though they can communicate with you in English proficiently, they still don't consider themselves "fluent."

I went back to school in my late 20's to learn Spanish. I now have a degree in Spanish. Today, though I don't consider myself to be fluent, most people who do not speak Spanish, consider me as fluent, and native speakers say that I speak Spanish well. However, I still can find myself listening to a conversation of native speakers and be totally lost, but it's rare for someone to be talking directly to me and I not understand. I think this is because context is important when understand what you are hearing.

Im three years late in this response, but this is what helped me learn.

  1. When I went back to college to take Spanish classes, I took it very very serious, even the little things.

  2. I often picked up free local Spanish newspapers. I read them, and looked up words that I didn't know.

  3. I know every learning software, audio lessons and online learning sites. It is very important to use different learning platforms in order to not get bored. Also, because no matter how similar one is to the other, you will notice that certain unique things stick with you.

  4. Repetition is very important. DO NOT worry about not understanding TV programs, but find a show that you can actually follow because of context. I suggest starting with the news. News shows are going to have the most neutral accents. I think one good is a show by a guy named Gorge Ramos. If you watch the same shows with the same people, you will begin to pick on their idiolect.

  5. Do not be scared to speak. It doesn't matter if it is the Subway sandwich shop, grocery store or restaurant, if you are talking to a bilingual person, talk to them in Spanish. They will be glad to do so. This may be one of the main things that set me apart from others who seek to learn Spanish. I forced myself to always speak Spanish to Spanish speakers. In fact, anyone that I come in contact with, whether at work or at the grocery store, I refused to speak in English. They already understand this when they see me. If they forget and speak to me in English, I respond with Que? Mande? or Como? and then they presume speaking in Spanish. In the beginning, I had to tell them do not automatically translate if I seemed not to understand, but instead repeat slower, unless I asked for a translation, which is important.

  6. Use an app to listen to online radio while in your car. Search for talked shows in Spanish speaking countries. I currently use, I think its called, InTune radio. I search by countries, then talk radio.

  7. Different things I have used: youtube.com is the best bang for the buck, because you can not only get free lessons, but you can also what free shows and movies. I have found a show called "Lo que callamos las mujeres" to use actors with one of the most neutral accents, but this has been recently, and I am not sure that this is just because I have had a recent take off in my listening comprehension. Spanishpod.com (very good), Yabla.com, http://users.ipfw.edu/jehle/VERBLIST.HTM (very good free grammar site. get to know it), http://www.laits.utexas.edu/spe/ (another very good site that includes video with subtitles and grammar review), several skype teachers who charge $10 hr, but you have to be careful, some are much better than others, Spanish meet up groups.

  8. I have used all of the software available, and I don't recommend wasting money on any of them. Unless you are a beginner, they are not very helpful. In fact, most software targets beginners with phrases like: "Learn Spanish in 30 days," "Rocket Spanish," "The same software NASA uses," etc. Everything is helpful for beginners, but everything is not for advanced students. I'm not going to mention the name of a specific brand, but I have found one to be way over rated, or I guess over marketed.

  9. I've been only looking at Spanish programming on TV for the past year. I have also only been listening to Spanish talk radio. Something has definitely taken place in the past 3 months. It's kinda spooky. After spending about 8 years of trying to learn, for the first time in the past few months, I actually can tune in to a radio program or look at TV and understand 90% of what is being said, only missing a word or two, but still understanding the context.

  10. Don't get discouraged.

I will assume that you really just want to be at a high level of speaking, only because most people equate being fluent as being perfect in the target language, having little to no accent. Most people who will swear that you can't achieve this, will look at it from the perspective of not knowing anyone who has done it, or from the perspective of not being able to do it themselves without immersion. However, with the technology of today, it is more than possible. What set me apart from anyone else that I have met is desire. I named a few things that I did, but I can't even remember half of the learning tools that I have used, but today at least even many of the naysayers consider me fluent.

  • I'm so glad you resurrected this thread. I just started learning Spanish, and this thread is chock full of information as well as being interesting reading. - AnnRon Aug 29, 2013 flag
  • I was very excited to read this... even two years after it was posted. I am a a bit older than you (in my 30's) and I am majoring in Spanish. What you described is my game plan. Thanks for sharing! - pumpkinseed7 May 13, 2015 flag
2 Vote

To answer your question can you become fluent without immersion. My thoughts are: No you can not. In fact with Immersion it is still highly unlikely that any particular person will become fluent. I believe fluency is a standard that less than 0.1% can ever truly achieve. However, don't let that discourage you. You can become highly conversational. I think Shac covered it very well. I have been living in Mexico for six years and I am far from fluent. There are others here that are more conversational than I with less time and others that after ten years are simple terrible.

I also know Mexicans who have lived in the US for 20+ years who are not fluent in English but yet are highly conversational. Fluency is an unrealistic and unnecessary goal.

One last comment. I did know one American who I considered fluent. In fact I thought he was a Mexican for about a year before he told me his story. He was born and raised in Mexico City. His parents worked in the embassy there.

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