SPANISH….Study Hard, Go Abroad, Socialize Even Harder.
Here are the Cliff notes so that hopefully some readers will take away a more realistic idea of the transition from beginner to conversational Spanish. It should not be a mysterious, gradual process.
1) Mere exposure to is not the same thing as immersion. Intensive social immersion is the only way to achieve conversational proficiency,
2) Which is impossible without socializing intensively with native speakers,
3) Which sadly many people don’t have the courage or drive to do.
4) You need a certain knowledge background before attempting this, and learning grammar is a huge time saver. It takes only a couple months to learn all the essential grammar of Spanish, if you are dedicated to using a good workbook such as Madrigal’s Advanced Spanish Grammar. There are equivalent tools for vocab, but most importantly, use a great guide to conversational idioms such as Spanish Conversation by Jean Yates or Joseph J. Keenan’s Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish.
5) The transition from beginner to conversational Spanish will be swift, recognizable, and unmistakable. During this period, natives will start to describe your speech as “suelto” and you will be unable to quit thinking in Spanish in relevant social situations.
6) Don’t expect this breakthrough to arrive on Day 416 of your hulking 10,000 hour program of listening to Spanish radio and TV. It can happen much, much quicker if you study hard and take bold social risks among native speakers!
There are two types of immersion: going to the country where the language is spoken, and surrounding yourself with your target language. I know for a fact the second form of immersion is the most effective, even if you’re not in the country where the language is spoken.
So no, I wasn’t saying immersion is a no-no, but only the way some people immerse themselves.