Updated: Aug 11
In 2019, I made the decision to move across the country to Madrid, Spain, with the Auxiliary Language Assistant Program. My new job required me to to work alongside native Spanish speakers, and to navigate Madrid I needed at least a foundation of Spanish. The program was an amazing opportunity to grow and immerse myself in a new city. For personal and professional reasons, I wanted to learn Spanish to make my new city a home.
Here are my tips for learning Spanish in Madrid.
The Spanish word intercambio means exchange, and it became an important word for me in Spain. Intercambios were events held around Madrid in order for people to gather and practice their language skills, interchanging between Spanish and English. These took place in bars, cafes, parks, and cultural centers. I found these to be a great way to meet new people, and to practice Spanish with actual locals.
There were also opportunities to practice Spanish 1 on 1. People from Madrid reach out on Facebook or other networking sites asking for someone to practice their English with. The trade off is that they offer to speak with you in Spanish. You can practice together in person or online.
Salsa nights were pretty popular in Madrid. An instructor would teach some basic salsa steps, and the attendees can intermingle and swap partners. What is cool about these events is that everyone who attends are usually interested in meeting new people. Salsa is a way to break into the social circles of locals or expats alike.
Another way to practice your Spanish is to join a club sports team. This is a way to meet people with a shared interest, and to practice your conversational skills regularly. There are groups for soccer, running, tennis, volleyball, and even running groups. Madrid has a plethora of expats and newcomers, because it is a very international city. Joining and active group can help create a sense of belonging and also connect you to likeminded people.
There are also lots of events around the city dedicated to newcomers. If sports are not your thing, or if you want even more opportunities to meet people, you can attend a craft night. There are many knitting groups, ceramic groups, or sip and paint nights. These require less of a commitment, and provide a more chill environment that is great for starting conversations.
One of the first things I did was find myself a Spanish tutor. Tutoring was great for me because not only did I have access to a local, but I had someone to hold me accountable. She also provided me with many sources to continue my learning outside her sessions, and answered any questions I had about Spanish culture. Something else to consider is taking a Spanish placement test, once you take the test your score is viable for life. A tutor can help you study for this test. These tests take place not only in Madrid, but all over the globe.
I tried to keep up to date with the popular shows in Madrid. I thought that this would help me learn more about the culture, but it ended up being more helpful than I realized. My tutor recommended re-watching episodes so I could track my progress with understanding by removing or switching from English to Spanish subtitles. Between shows I could also learn new colloquialisms, and identify the differences between Spanish accents from different regions.
I recommend using a language app because not only is it easy to incorporate into your routine, but you can take it anywhere. Language apps can also help track your process. Since there are already so many apps available to use on your phone, why not try them out? Pimsleur has the option to learn both Latin American and Castilian Spanish, which not all other apps have. The biggest critique I get with my Spanish is that I switch between the two, so to be able to concentrate on one is awesome.
One of the best things to do in Madrid is to go out for tapas. This is a great way to start speaking with less pressure. Try ordering food for your friends too, because you can practice switching between your conjugations and subject pronouns. It is a simple task, but also necessary when you live in Madrid.
Because I wanted to feel more culturally immersed, I wanted to listen to what my local friends and colleagues were listening to. In return, they were interested in my music preferences. Exchanging music is a way to bond with people, but it can also provide you with translation and transcribing practice. I strongly advise trying to translate your songs of choice, so you understand the context. Impress your friends when you can sing along perfectly!