How to learn Spanish when you're busy
Are you busy? Most of my students are, most people you know probably are, and I think we should talk about it.
If you're someone who is usually busy and struggling to do your homework, chances are you feel frustrated and demotivated, and you might even consider to quit because it feels like you're getting nowhere.
However, if you are doing what you can, and you really want to learn, you already have better cards than those who have the time but are not committed, and you shouldn't feel bad for the circumstances you're in.
If you get homework from a tutor, ask them to send things that can be shorten up or flexible, ask them to send options and things in order or priority, so that if you have some time, you can use it efficiently and maybe even choose an alternative that you enjoy more at the moment than those planned initially.
Sometimes we're tired of a certain topic or tense or grammar point and we struggle to find things that spark joy (Marie Kondo reference?) and in those moments it's better to do something you like than doing nothing from the to do list.
Small things you can do
Apart from the changes in homework that we mentioned, I'm going to suggest some very simple and quick tasks that are great to either fit in some practice when you're busy, or to maintain the language alive daily or frequently.
Also, these tasks focus on the things you would talk about in your first language and keep the language very personal to you. And, additionally, most of them evolve with you and your level so they work for everybody and at every stage.
I'm not talking about writing lists, I'm talking about saying at loud or in your head, the vocab of things you see daily.
Example, you're in the kitchen cooking, you've got a good 5/10 min, you start looking around and trying to remember how to say what you see in Spanish: "fridge", "cucumber", "sink", "tile", "eggs", ... and of course you can extend on existing vocab and look some things up in your phone once you finish, going around labeling things.
You can go a step further and write the vocab on post its and stick them on those things (furniture for example) to memorise or recap, or even write them on the back of the post it so you can guess and then check.
Narrator of the day
Another thing that you can do anywhere is to describe in your head or in paper what you're doing or what's happening. This is specially useful to practice present continuous and near future, but also the verbs and the vocab of the things that you do often, which are the most important ones.
Example: You're in a train or in a taxi, and you narrate "I'm in a train and I'm thinking in Spanish. I'm going to a meeting now. It's sunny but a bit cloudy. The person next to me is wearing a blue jumper and he has a beard. I'm a bit nervous because this client is very important..."
As you can see, it allows for quite a lot of things to come up so it's a great recap. Also, you might be able to look vocab up as you go, and optionally write it down for the future.
If you hear Spanish people on a regular basis, in person or on media, or if you do it punctually (like on holidays or on a language exchange meeting), write down the new vocab you hear and if the situation allows it, ask the person what that meant and if you're spelling it right.
The second part of "the observer" is to find 5 or 10 minutes to look that new vocab up and write a sentence with each word, as putting that word in context and writing it down will help you understand it and remember it in the future.
In this case or any written work, it's ideal to find someone to correct this, like your teacher or even a native speaking buddy from language exchange.
Also, just keeping a notepad with recently learnt words and using it in conversation whenever you have the chance, is something that works for a lot of people. It's all about using it in context.
You can also do this with new vocab from things you read, from lessons, etc.
This is one of the best exercises you can do, once you know past tense and specially if you know preterite and imperfect, because you'll be deciding when to use each all the time and that's practice everybody needs.
Simply write about your day in Spanish, the days you can, even if it's a couple lines.
One approach is to really take your time, check the materials as you go and try to write accurately with the things you know.
The other is to use this to expand your knowledge, being adventurous and using stuff you're not so confident with (but this I'd do only if I have a reliable person correcting and explaining after).
I'd say both ways are useful, they serve different purposes and it's nice to mix them up.
If you are an advanced student, more doors open for you. You can read newspapers, watch the news, watch Netflix... and you can then make your case or give your opinion in Spanish about topics that interest you, either writing a paragraph on it, speaking at loud when you're alone or speaking with someone if that's a possibility.
A great practice can come from a book. The obvious choice here is to read. A paragraph, a page... remember, no guilt allowed here.
The other option is to find examples of things you're working on. That can be sentences with the different meanings of "llevar", or sentences with "ser" and "estar", or pronominal verbs, or an specific tense.
Identifying those and then seeing examples of them, will help you understand them and using them right.
Finally, as we mentioned, finding vocab and writing sentences with it, taking notes in a notepad and use it in conversations, is a nice bonus.
A nice book I keep recommending for beginner and intermediate students is Short Stories in Spanish by Olly Richards.
Finally, listening to the radio, music, podcasts...at home, commuting, in the car, doing exercise, walking...
You don't have to understand a lot, but it will help your brain being exposed and your ears get familiar with the language, and it will probably help your pronunciation too.
`This blog post lists some listening and reading resources to add to your practice and those are things you can do for half an hour or for 5 minutes.
I hope you feel a bit more hopeful about your practice and you can find the joy in it again, which is key!
Remember, you're doing great! Find what works for you, who helps you best, what you enjoy doing and specially, trust the process.
¡Ten un buen día! / Have a nice day!