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How to learn Spanish in Madrid - How and where to learn Spanish outside classes?

Going to Madrid for language immersion? In that case, you’ll probably want to learn as much Spanish as possible during your stay. The best way to maximise your learning is to actively look for opportunities to practice Spanish outside the classroom. Here are some top tips, if you’re wondering where to start.

1. Change your mind-set to “Spanish only”

There are many ways in which you can start to acclimatise yourself to the Spanish-speaking world, even before you arrive in Madrid. You could do simple things like buy yourself a Spanish magazine or a book to read on the plane, or visit some Spanish speaking webpages to find out more about the city. Have you thought about changing your mobile phone settings to Spanish?

Always carry a good pocket dictionary with you, or download a decent dictionary app, so that you can look up any necessary words or phrases that come up. This way, you will be surrounding yourself with the Spanish language from day one.

2. Food

One of the easiest things to learn to do in Spanish is to talk about food, because the culture revolves around eating! In Madrid, there is great cuisine everywhere, so this gives you a fantastic opportunity to practice saying new words and phrases every day.

Restaurant menus and supermarket food shelves are a great place to start learning Spanish words. You can read food labels in shops, or the items on restaurant menus. If you don’t know what something is, this is a great chance to interact with your waiter or the shop assistant and ask, ¿Esto qué es? (What is this?). Then listen carefully to the explanation. Now, you’re on your way to becoming a fluent communicator in Spanish.

3. Go to the cinema

Going to the cinema with your Spanish classmates is great fun in Madrid. Madrid has many excellent cinemas, from large multiplexes and 3D IMAX theatres to small, independent cinemas only showing art films. Get your tickets and your popcorn, sit back, and let the Spanish language wash over you while you enjoy the entertainment. Don’t worry if you don’t understand all of the dialogue - you can still associate words with the film’s context and this will take you another step closer to fluency.

International films in Spain are dubbed over into Spanish, so you’re always better off choosing original Spanish language films, so that you can watch the actors’ mouth movements and gestures. This will help you understand what is said and learn Spanish quicker.

Spanish cinema is really thriving these days and there are constant new releases, from thrillers and police action films to drama, romance and comedy. Spain has some great film actors too. You’ll undoubtedly have heard of Joan Antonio Bardem, Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, but also look out for films with hot new acting talent like Roberto Manrique, Diego Boneta, Rodrigo Santoro, Marta Torne and of course, Elsa Pataky.

4. “La tele”

Spanish people refer to TV simply as “la tele”, short for television. If you have a shared television in your student flat, or maybe even one of your own in your room, turn it on every day. Whether you watch the news, cartoons or soaps, you’ll be guaranteed to hear some Spanish that you will remember later. Often programmes with repetitive phrases and words, like game shows, are great for picking up new vocabulary and ways of saying things.

5. Join a local dance or cooking class

There’s no reason why you cannot join another course while you are studying Spanish in Madrid. Spain’s capital has an abundance of academies and private schools that offer cheap short courses in cooking, photography, salsa dancing, painting and many other subjects. Dance classes are a particularly great place for Spanish language beginners to learn new vocabulary because most of the teaching can be easily understood through gestures and movements. As long as the tuition is in Spanish, you will benefit from learning the language as well as having fun, socialising and picking up a new skill.

6. Listen to Spanish music

Do your musical research before you set off to Madrid, and find some Spanish tunes that you like. Put the songs onto your iPod, or translate the lyrics with the help of a dictionary or the internet - then get into the groove. Knowing which Spanish hits you like, will ensure you a great time in Madrid. There, you can tune into Spanish radio stations, go to concerts, do karaoke with your friends or camp out in El Retiro Park on a sunny day, and enjoy your own Spanish music selection through your headphones. Listening to song lyrics will get you used to listening to the rhythm of the language, and to distinguish words.

7. Hook up with a language exchange buddy

At a large learning institution like Madrid University, there are many native Spanish students who want to learn other languages, for instance English, French, German, Chinese or Swedish. Simply ask a native Spanish student who wants to learn your language to do some language exchange sessions with you. This will consist of you chatting with them for 30 minutes in your own language, and then swapping to Spanish conversation. Both of you will benefit and make new friends - plus it’s free.

8. Use it or lose it!

When you get back home after your immersion stay in Madrid, keep up with at least some of the above methods. If you integrate things like watching Spanish films or staying in touch with your language exchange buddy via Skype, you’ll be able to retain much of what you learnt during your immersion stay in Spain.

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