How I Learned Spanish on My Commute and Over Lunch

Last year, I relocated to Madrid to teach English for six months. Even though I was only allowed to speak English with my students, I wanted to learn enough Spanish to easily navigate the city, order from menus, and chat with locals. But could I recall any of the Spanish I learned in high school or college? Unfortunately, the answer was “no.”

Luckily, I didn’t have to study intensely or do boring and abstract grammar and vocabulary exercises to improve my Spanish abilities. Instead of breaking out my old textbooks, I downloaded Babbel, which uses 20-minute daily exercises to teach conversational, practical Spanish. A team of 100 linguists stripped the information overload stuffed into traditional language courses and instead boiled it down to the essentials, so I could stop memorizing and actually begin speaking. After just eight weeks with daily app use, I was back to ordering jamon and paella in the country’s native tongue!

It turns out that it’s easier to retain what you’ve learned when you spend only bite-sized amounts of time per day on exciting language lessons and fun exercises. Psychological research has shown that the brain can absorb roughly seven new concepts at a time, which corresponds to about 20 minutes of learning. This notion goes against the hours of flash cards and repetitive language exercises that defined my college courses, but it makes so much sense. No wonder I forgot most of everything I crammed in those late-night studying sessions!

My first Spanish lesson with Babbel taught me how to introduce myself, tell people where I’m from and how I’m doing, discuss how I got where I am, and order a drink. I didn’t memorize seemingly disconnected words and conjugations – in just moments, I learned practical conversation starters that would provide a strong foundation for my future Spanish fluency.

Babbel made sure that what I learned in one lesson stuck with me the next. As I started my usual daily lessons, Babbel would take five minutes to refresh me on previous lessons, because the more frequently you correctly repeat new information, the more strongly you retain it. In those brief lessons, occasional language about other topics would blend into my crash-course on the main subject matter.

Babbel also used my native language to guide my learning. The app tailored my lessons to reflect my English knowledge: For example, the Spanish infinitive haber (to have) looks pretty similar to “haver,” so I wouldn’t have nearly as much trouble learning this new word. Across the board, Babbel built on my mental knowledge bank to easily guide me toward new Spanish words and phrases.

Perhaps most importantly, Babbel made completing my lessons as easy as could be. Spending only 20 minutes per day learning Spanish was already way more convenient than taking a full-on class and certainly more comfortable than carrying a book around, but I didn’t even need to set aside extra time from my day to use Babbel. I took my daily Spanish lessons on my phone during my lunch break or commute.

Babbel claimed that with its digestible, informative approach, I could learn one college semester’s worth of Spanish in 15 hours spread across two months. This amount may sound hefty, but since the average college course includes 30 hours of classroom time (not including studying!), it’s actually super fast. And it worked for me: After my first two months, I felt confident in my conversational Spanish skills.

Ultimately, between when I first started Babbel and when I relocated to Spain, I became more than fluent enough in Spanish that, at an introductory bar trip where all the teachers met one another, I ordered my dinner and drinks with no issue. When my new group of friends and I visited museums or went to shows, I handled speaking with the staff there and making sure we all properly paid to get in – and that’s all thanks to Babbel.

If you too want to easily learn Spanish (or any of Babbel’s 13 languages) in just 20 minutes per week, Babbel is offering 50% off for new users! Click here to sign up for Babbel and have tons of fun learning a new language quickly and easily.


The Middle Seat team writes about stuff we think you’ll like. The Middle Seat has a relationship with advertisers, and sometimes receives products or a share of revenue from your purchase. All posts are for entertainment purposes.

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