How People Learn English in Spain

The other day I came across Kaplan International’s infographic about “How to Learn English”. Take a look below:

how to learn english

How to learn English via Kaplan Blog

Considering this was an international survey, I wanted to compare their data to what I’ve actually observed while teaching English in Spain over the past three years. Most Spaniards use grammar heavy techniques to learn English, but, unfortunately, many of them are quite ineffective.

What is the best way to learn English?

airplane takes off

Sometimes you have to take off to really learn English.

The infographic shows that the large majority of survey takers agree that the best way to learn English is to “travel to an English speaking country and have English classes with other foreigners”. I don’t agree– I think that the best way to learn English would be to travel to an English speaking country and immerse yourself 100% in the language by living in a home-stay, attending a local school, and getting involved in group activities or working. But, this wasn’t an option, so I suppose people chose the best choice listed.

Spaniards would definitely agree with the theory that the best way to learn English is by studying abroad, but they don’t put this knowledge to use. Although many Spanish students are granted Erasmus study abroad scholarships (covering all study abroad expenses!) few truly take advantage of this wonderful opportunity and instead waste it by spending time with other Spanish speaking or foreign friends.

 Where would you go to learn English?

planet Earth

Where in the world would you go?

I’m surprised that the map shows an even split between interest in studying in the US and interest in the UK. Most Spanish TEFL students I’ve had have been much more interested in exploring the US, with the majority listing New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Miami as the cities that they want to explore (too many CSI repeats over here!). Because there are a lot of things to do in Los Angeles, that is another city that ranks high among TEFL students. It is true that some of my students would prefer the UK for its proximity, but overall my students dream of an American experience.

What do you use to learn English?

Dvd collection

Movies can be helpful when learning English.

The aids for learning English that the infographic mentions are TV shows, films, music, computer games and comics. Of these materials I’d say that my Spanish students use only the first three, and sparingly. The problem here in Spain is that television shows and movies are dubbed and rarely presented in original version. After growing up with this dubbed system, it is difficult for students to make the switch. That said, many adult TEFL students do download TV series and films in English and enjoy trying to understand them. Music, especially when listened to with the lyrics, can also be helpful and this method is used often by my teenage students who love knowing what the lyrics mean. Songs can be great for learning expressions, but sometimes the vocabulary used isn’t very relevant to conversation.

What the infographic doesn’t emphasize (and what I believe is the most important tool for learning English) is conversation with a native speaker. Whether it is through a language exchange, immersion in another country, or Skype calls, there is no substitution for speaking to a native English speaker and trying to communicate. Spanish people often don’t realize this, and prefer highly structured grammar classes to real life conversation opportunities or classes.

In my opinion, besides going abroad and immersing yourself in the target language, the best way to learn English would be a mix of grammar classes and conversation with natives. Hopefully Spanish students will realize this quickly and be able to catch up to other European countries with their English skills.

What do you think of the learning English infographic?

Photo Credits: cristiano_bettadonkeyhoteyandresrueda


  1. I would love to see this same post but from the perspective of a native english speaker who is learning Spanish! I am moving to madrid in a month, and already speak spanish quite fluently. I have used books, music, constantly looking up a new word on my iPhone, and some video games that I put in Spanish. I think people who are learning English definitely have a huge advantage. There simply isn’t nearly the amount of quality content in music, movies, or books that is available in Spanish (from Latino or Spanish countries, not dubbed from Anglophone countries), so Spanish speakers get to see and hear loads of great stuff in English. For people learning spanish it definitely requires some significant searching!

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