How I Learned 17,270 Spanish Words in Under Three Years

This is my strategy for learning Spanish as an adult.

Benya Clark
6 min readMay 8


Photo by Daniel Prado on Unsplash

Introduction: My Spanish Progress

Is it possible to learn a foreign language as an adult?

For the past two and a half years, I’ve been proving to myself that the answer is yes.

Near the beginning of 2021, at age 33, I started learning Spanish. Before that, I had only a little exposure to the language: I had played around on Duolingo for a few weeks years earlier, and I had spent half a year living in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood in Chicago. I had never taken a class or studied the language in any formal way, and certainly didn’t know more than a few dozen words.

I think it’s fair to say that in 2021, I was essentially starting from scratch. I didn’t know enough Spanish to even introduce myself or ask for directions to a hotel.

Now, after nearly two and a half years of extremely consistent studying, I’ve made great progress. I’d like to break down my current skill level a bit just to give you an idea of why you should care about my advice. However, if you’d like to get straight into my strategy, you can jump to the next section.

I would rate my overall ability in the language as solidly intermediate. I’m best at reading, and can easily work my way through novels with over 99% comprehension. I’m next best at listening — it depends on the accent, speed, and sound quality, but I can understand the vast majority of TV shows and movies.

My writing skill is the next best. I still make plenty of mistakes, but I can often catch them on my own. I sometimes have to slow down when using more difficult grammatical forms.

And, lastly, my speaking skill is the worst. The biggest problem I have is that I speak very slowly. I’ve worked with tutors and language exchange partners, but overall, I simply don’t practice this as much. With all of that said, even my speaking skill is around a lower-intermediate level.

In an attempt to more objectively assess my level for this article, I also took this Spanish Vocabulary Size Test. [It’s an admittedly imperfect test and I think my strong command of English helped…



Benya Clark

I’m a lawyer turned writer from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, and more. Subscribe to my weekly newsletter at