My Spanish speaking background is broken down as follows:
Two unfocused years in high school
Four even more unfocused semesters in college (cumulative high school & college Spanish courses GPA = < 2.5 (if I am being generous))
A two-week, solo trip to Spain in December 2018
Many Spanish speaking amigos in Los Angeles
Summary = not awesome and significant preparation required
With that said, below is the breakdown of my prep approach.
TINYCARDS (OR FLASHCARDS)
I LOVE the iPhone app Tinycards. Outside of my dog Summer and Alex at the Los Angeles Spanish Consulate, Tinycards is and will forever by my best friend. It is the same concept as old-school flashcards but for people born after 1985, so on a smart phone. Doulingo has a Spanish Course with an amazing list of themes/categories to learn, and unlike the ancient style of flashcards, the app will pronounce the Spanish words so you can practice pronunciation and word recognition. You can even create your own vocabulary list if what you are looking for does not already exist. For example, I created a list of words that would be commonly used inside a school classroom.
I cannot emphasis how helpful Tinycards is for preparation. GET IT!
SPANISH SPEAKING AMIGOS
I am lucky to have a lot of Spanish speaking friends from a variety of Spanish speaking countries. A couple months before I left for Spain, I asked them to start sending me texts and emails in Spanish which they thankfully obliged. On top of that, whenever we hung out, watched TV or played soccer I would speak Spanish. By doing that they could help me with proper pronunciations or correcting any grammatical nuances. This, coupled with Tinycards, were hands down the two best preparation aids I had. My recommendation is to find some Spanish speaking friends, or possibly a romantic partner.
REPITION IN A NOTEBOOK
When I took my first Spanish course, we learned the present verb conjugations by writing them over and over in those perfect little Spanish grids. For me, it worked super well so when it was time to start preparing, I decided to revisit that approach as a mind refresher. Even now in Spain, I use the same practice but for the other tenses – future and past. This practice requires time and discipline, but it was ultra-helpful.
This was pretty aggressive but whenever I was in the car, I would bump Spanish podcasts. It was typically difficult to follow along and mentally exhausting to give my full focus just to pick out certain words in the flurry of Spanish jib-jab, but it was an amazing preparation for what life is currently like in Spain. My colleagues and friends speak what seems like a mile a minute and I am often straining the cranium to follow along, but I now look back at the podcasts as a method of training the brain muscle before the big game. Like I said, it was aggressive, but it was a fantastic preparation exercise.
My Spanish go-to podcasts on Spotify are: En Clave de Podcast, Radio Ambulante and Entiende Tu Mente.
To be totally honest, I found Duolingo to be the least helpful of all my preparation methods. To an extent it does help but its repetition and slow pace make for extreme boredom and a constant urge to delete the app. For me, this was the least helpful tool.
That is it, folks! Best of luck!