Even in the most touristy areas, there are plenty of situations in which Spanish is needed, from getting your phone connected to dealing with government officials. In certain circumstances, such as finding a flat or giving directions to a taxi driver, it is a real help if you try to speak Spanish. Apart from these practical considerations, you will enjoy living in Spain a lot more when you can communicate.
How to learn Spanish
From language books to videocassettes to online courses, literally hundreds of companies dedicate themselves to helping people write and speak Spanish. Unfortunately, despite any of their claims, there are no easy tricks or shortcuts to successful learning. The real key is simply to immerse oneself in the language and practice, practice, practice. Read newspapers and magazines. Watch television and films. Listen to the radio. Chat with the neighbours. Hire an online Spanish tutor at takelessons.com. Constant exposure to Spanish is a necessity. The more you place yourself in situations where your native language cannot be used as a crutch, the quicker you will learn Spanish.
Learning in front of the television
Television is probably the quickest way to increase your level of listening comprehension. It's free and you are guaranteed to hear people speaking naturally (and fast). Don't expect to understand everything, especially things like chat-shows, as this is difficult even for people with a good level of Spanish. The more you listen and watch, the quicker you will find yourself picking up words and phrases. You will be surprised how much and how painless it can be to learn this way.
In order to get started, many people choose to enroll in a Spanish language course. Between local universities offering language programs and specific language schools, there are many different options on offer. Courses are conducted almost exclusively in Spanish, even for beginners, which should help you become accustomed to Spanish sounds and pronunciation.
A list of language schools across Spain can be found here.
If you need to gain a basic knowledge of Spanish in a short timeframe, these schools usually have intensive courses that will give you a "kick-start" in the language. Otherwise it is generally advisable to learn at a more measured pace over a longer period of time.
Like any other language tool, success is purely a function of the amount of effort you put into learning. Making a concerted effort to practice your Spanish both in and outside the classroom will rapidly improve your skills.
If your time is limited or the idea of a language course doesn't appeal to you, we would still suggest having as much personal contact with Spanish people as possible. Memorizing grammar rules is wonderful but nothing beats practical experience. Language exchanges called intercambios are the perfect way to guarantee that you practice your Spanish each week. These work by pairing up with a Spanish person that wants to learn your language. This is also a great way to make new friends. Most universities and language schools either maintain lists of potential Spanish candidates or at least have a bulletin board with postings. Have a look at the language section of our community forum and find an intercambio partner!