How to Relearn Spanish After Taking Time Off

I don’t think I only speak for myself when I say that letting your language skills get rusty causes a unique feeling of guilt and regret. You spent all that time in class mastering the subjunctive and now you couldn’t conjugate verbs if your life depended on it. Sigh.

If and when you decide to get back into the (Spanish) swing of things, the amount of time it takes to build up your language skills again will depend on how long you studied it for, how well you actually learned it, and how long it’s been since you’ve utilized it.

If you took a Spanish class or two in high school and had some preliminary conversation skills, you may feel like you’re starting up again as a complete beginner. But if you studied abroad for several months or were close to fluency, you’ll probably be surprised by how quickly it comes back to you. Anecdotally, I can tell you that I was able to comfortably communicate when I took a trip to Peru after not really using my Spanish for five years. There’s hope for speedy memory recovery!

Photo by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos on Unsplash

Aside from getting on the next post-Covid flight to a Spanish-speaking country, here are some ways you can quickly get back into Spanish.

Refresh your memory of basic vocabulary

If you’ve attempted to hold a conversation with a Spanish speaker at any point during your hiatus, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of being unable to remember key vocabulary. Wallet? Highway? I know those words are similar in Spanish, but at some point they fell out of my brain.  

The first step in your rebound is to start refreshing basic vocabulary. Duolingo is great for this, or you can try another flashcard app like Spanish Flashcards.

If you’re trying to improve your Spanish again for a specific purpose, like for work, make sure to create a separate list of relevant vocabulary. It’s also a good idea to organize your learning by weekly topics, not unlike the way you learned in school. And don’t forget to brush up on the latest slang too.

Surround yourself with Spanish

Swap out your usual daily podcasts, TV shows, and music playlists with Spanish alternatives. Watch Spanish films when you have the time - here’s a list of the best Spanish films on Netflix - even if you need to turn subtitles on for now. I also recommend watching the dubbed version of an English-language movie or TV show that you’ve seen many times. The familiarity will help you follow the plot, giving you more opportunity to focus on listening to word choice and sentence structure.

Check out our Native Spanish Resource Guide and this student story for more practical ways to incorporate Spanish into your daily life, or add some extra practice with these 12 YouTube channels.

Get back into grammar

If you’re a grammar hater, I’m sorry. A strong command on grammar will make it easier to write and converse when you’re unable to rely on your memory of common phrases.

The good news is, since this isn’t your first rodeo, you can probably skip straight to the interactive quizzes instead of burying yourself in books of language rules.

Our resources library has a ton of free resources for learning Spanish, all organized by proficiency level and activity type. We recommend the interactive audio and visual activities for really mastering grammar. You’ll get your brain working more actively than you would if you just read books or Google “the difference between ser and estar.”

Practice writing

Create your own topics to write about, or use this list of suggested topics for journaling in a foreign language. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to write the next Don Quixote; you’ll reap the benefits of this exercise just by practicing verb conjugations. The more you practice in written form, the easier it will be to recall conjugations and vocabulary in conversation.

If you’re interested in writing to a Spanish speaker, consider finding a pen pal to practice with.

Here are some additional tips for improving your Spanish writing skills.

Talk...out loud

It’s the most daunting part, but also the most rewarding. See if a Spanish-speaking friend or family member is able to dedicate regular time to helping you practice, or use a service that will pair you with someone who is trying to learn English. Try to find someone who feels comfortable (gently) correcting you when you make mistakes. Your speaking confidence will come back pretty quickly, and then you won’t want to stop talking.

Incorporate some of these ideas into your routine and let us know how you do. And if you're ready for something a little more serious, check out our monthly private study plans. Buena suerte con tu estudio!