Years ago I used to go to weekly Spanish club meetings where we all went to practice our Spanish. The idea was that if we wanted to speak Spanish, we had to actually talk to someone in Spanish, hopefully a native-speaker. We would get better if we did this long enough and frequently enough. Simple.
Nevertheless, I really didn’t notice any of my buddies’ getting better at Spanish, including the ones who had been coming for more than a year. Some of them were even Spanish majors and studying hard. So what was the problem?
There is a big difference from studying Spanish and studying it so as to become fluent in spoken Spanish. For example, we are all encouraged to read broadly to increase vocabulary. These days I can read newspapers and most fiction without a dictionary even though I don’t know all the words. I can usually figure out what’s going on to a respectable degree by context. The more I read, the better I get at reading. But this has almost no impact on my ability to use the vocabulary in a conversation since the skill required to understand the written word is quite different from being able to express myself correctly and spontaneously in a conversation.
Certainly I will pick up some new words here and there from the reading, but I am more interested in the meaning of what I am reading. I am not going to remember much about the words themselves. On the other hand, if I put the unfamiliar words down in a list, look up their precise meanings, write them out ten times, and then test myself, I own them, and they become available for me to use in a conversation. In the first case I am becoming a better reader of Spanish. In the second case I am doing the ground-work necessary to becoming more fluent in spoken Spanish.
I am not saying that you should do this with every word in Spanish that you don’t know. That would quickly become overwhelming, tedious, and boring. I don’t study vocabulary that way, either. What I do is choose up to ten words and idioms a day to know by heart. I can manage that in about 45 minutes.
I think my acquaintances from the Spanish club were doing “Spanishy” stuff all week but not doing focused study on what would really help them to become fluent. They didn’t have anything new to say or to say better by the time the next meeting came around.
Tip: Sure, you need to speak in Spanish to become fluent but first you have to figure out what you want to say and how to say it. Daily memorization work is how it is done. Even if it seems that you are only learning one word at a time, they will add up pretty quickly. Just learn each one by heart and you will be fine.