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How I Got a $7,000 Raise by Learning Spanish

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

Within six months of starting your first real job, you get a $7,000 raise. How cool would that be?

I can tell you first hand that it’s an awesome feeling and it only happened because I learned conversational Spanish in one month.

In this post, I’ll share exactly how I did it (and how you can do it too, for Spanish or any other language), and see similar benefits.

My First Job After University: Welcome to Paradise

In 2011 I started my first job out of university. Right away I got relocated to the Dominican Republic (DR) for a project.

Most people will think, “lucky you, you got to live in the Dominican Republic!”

Ok, that’s true, I was in the DR… but I was living on a mine! My home and workplace were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by jungle, three hours from the nearest major city.

In big cities like Miami, or even DR’s capital city Santo Domingo. not knowing Spanish is no big deal because enough people speak English.

However, when you relocate to the middle of nowhere and work with 3,000+ people who hail from villages in the DR, Chile, Peru or other places in Central and South America and don’t speak a word of English it’s much tougher to get by.

I realized early that in order to have any success on this project, I had to learn Spanish quickly. Think about it; what would be easier, teaching 3,000+ people English or asking one engineer to learn Spanish!

In about one month, I was able to go from zero Spanish to being able to have short conversations with locals and native speakers. I surprised even myself with this, so I decided to deconstruct how I was able to learn Spanish so fast, when most people (myself included in the past) struggle for many months or even years to learn languages.

Here is how I did it…and how it led to a $7,000 raise after just six months of starting my first job ever.

How I Got a $7,000 Raise After Just 6 Months

I was a fresh graduate and had spent two months in our head office before I got put on the project and relocated to the DR.

Within six months of this, I had received a $7,000 raise – not because I was amazing at the technical aspects my job, but because of how well I was able to communicate with the workers. As a result I could get my tasks done faster and better than the others on my team.

Interestingly this reminds me of something my grade 12 English teacher told me. She said “languages are the most important subject you can learn because you can be the best anything (engineer, doctor, lawyer, etc.) but if you cannot communicate your ideas, what good are you?”

She was right.

Through good communication, I was able to easily convey my ideas to get work done efficiently but also became well-liked by the workers because of the relationships we were able to build.

It’s a small world we live in. More and more businesses are trading internationally therefore it’s worthwhile to know more than just one language.

In my current job, I get selected for major projects involving travel and working with international vendors because I can understand and speak Spanish at a beginner level. Meaning I get valued more than others because I know some Spanish.

But how do you learn multiple languages fast and how did I learn Spanish in one month? Keep reading to find out.

Learn by Doing (And Doing in Languages Means Speaking)

The best way for me to learn something is to do it, so I decided to learn Spanish by just speaking. Who cares if I sound stupid (which I did) or people make fun of me (which they did)?

Over time, the same people who made fun of me started helping me when they saw that I really wanted to learn about their language and culture.

At first I thought “I’ll speak when I’m ready…when I’ve learned some words” but that was just a delay tactic I was using because I was afraid of failure.

I’ve learned over time that failure leads to success and I’m glad I didn’t let the fear of failure get in the way. This was a huge part of why I was successful at learning Spanish.

In our office I sat in front of a Chilean national; Juan Arancibia. He spoke English reasonably well so I made a deal with him. I would help him with his English and in return he would help me with my Spanish. From that point on, everything I wanted to say to him, I would do it in Spanish.

Beyond talking to Juan, I didn't think about it too much. I didn't try to structure my learning or come up with a fantastic plan on how to attack learning Spanish. I just focused on everyday things that I needed to say, and I said it in Spanish. This ended up being the key to my success.

If I was to choose one thing that makes the biggest difference; the “X factor” as they say, it would have to be speaking right away.

Speaking right away is something Benny talks about a lot. He even has a free course on how anyone can learn to speak right away. I highly recommend signing up for it.

More than learning vocabulary and grammar, it is the act of doing that makes the biggest difference. Learn by doing and doing in languages is speaking…so speak right away!

What If You Don’t Have Access to Someone Who Speaks Your Target Language?

The preference is always to find someone to speak with that you can meet in person because there are other aspects of communication that we don’t often think about which are best experienced in person like facial expressions and body language.

These are quite important when you’re learning a new language.

However, that’s not always possible. For example, what if you’re living in a cave in Mongolia and trying to learn Italian?!!

Luckily, we live in the 21st century and with the help of the internet can video chat with anyone, anywhere.

italki is a great resource for this, as it’s a website where you can find native teachers and learn a language using Skype. Italki is full of teachers and tutors for any language so you know you will find reliable resources.

Here Is How You Can Speak Right Away — Even If You Don’t Know the Language

That’s the $64 million dollar question, right? How exactly do I speak right away if I don’t know the language?

I didn’t know of any apps at the time so I would ask Juan questions – a lot of questions. I would even ask how to say things in Spanish, in Spanish.

“Como se dice en Español?” which means “How do I say it in Spanish?” became one of my most used phrases.

Asking questions is one way to speak right away. Another way is to use apps that you can access on your phone or computer.
My favourite language apps are:

Google Translate

Constantly asking people was hard for me because I was so dependent on others and I felt that they were getting annoyed because I asked how to say things all the time.

It occurred to me that there must be tools out there I could use to help me – an online version of a phrase book perhaps. Something I could search quickly and get an answer.

That’s when I found Google Translate (GT). It made my life 1,000x times simpler because I didn’t have to ask anyone how to say things. I could look them up and just say it.

Back then it was just a website and was harder to use if I didn’t have wi-fi access or a good signal on my phone. Now Google has turned it into the Google Translate app that you can download to your phone, so you can access translations anywhere.


Another great app is Anki (I used AnkiDroid, the Android version of Anki). While Google Translate was the only app I knew about and used when I learned Spanish, AnkiDroid is the second app I use most frequently to learn new languages.

In fact, at the time of this writing, I’m using AnkiDroid to learn Arabic.

It’s great because it uses spaced repetition to help you memorize the words you’re trying to learn. I use my own flashcards but you can access a database that already has thousands of premade flashcards which can be uploaded in the app

My “3 Things” Rule for Language Learning

I like to keep language learning simple, so I follow a “3 things” rule. I use just three things when I’m learning languages – speaking, Google Translate and AnkiDroid.

The point is you should keep it simple. Focus on the 80/20 rule and do the 20% that will get you 80% of the results.

There were others like me who wanted to learn Spanish and they asked the translator we had on site in the DR to hold classes. He was a nice a guy so he agreed and taught Spanish classes every night of the week, but those taking the classes didn’t have nearly as much success as I did.

Why? Because they over-complicated things. They didn’t focus on the two or three things they should do. Instead they tried learning infrequently used grammar rules and never bothered to speak.

When everyone was in those Spanish lessons, I used to go play basketball! I would instead choose to interact and make my language learning functional. I ended up with a sweet raise and a new language I could speak!

author headshot

Ahmed Syed

Founder, Rapidly Fluent

Ahmed Syed is an aspiring polyglot. He’s your host at Rapidly Fluent where he shares his exciting language experiences.

Speaks: English, Urdu, Spanish

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