8 of the Best Ways to Learn Spanish
You could be a fan of the popular show, Narcos, and want to understand the conversations without subtitles. Perhaps your job could require some Spanish and you want to make yourself more marketable to employers. Or possibly, you just want to learn for fun.
If you see yourself in these examples and may like to try some new methods for learning Spanish, read on.
There are so many reasons why people choose to learn Spanish. We could make a list, but it would be huge and nobody would read the entire list. Many times, when learning another language, there are secondary benefits outside of your original reason. For example, you might learn for fun but this new skill helps your career as a secondary benefit. Learning Spanish will open a world of opportunity that you might never have thought about. So, let’s dive in and find out how you can get started or fast track your skills from where you are right away.
1. Audio Courses
We’re huge fans of audio courses. We recommend the Pimsleur method for learning a language. Repetition is the magical key for learning anything. People often absorb information simply by being exposed to it constantly. It becomes part of your conscious mind. This is how even unmotivated people, who never study, can pick up a language.
Learning through audio has its advantages. You can learn in your car, on the subway, or even a plane. Putting an audio course on your iPhone for a long flight is a great way to pass the time and level up, simultaneously.
A disadvantage of learning from audio courses is there is no way to test your speaking skills as you learn. The ever-important feedback loop which helps you learn quickly is lacking in this method of language instruction.
Pimsleur audio will prompt you to repeat phrases (something that will generate strange looks if you practice on public transport). But, we hear our own words differently to how others hear them. What we consider perfect pronunciation might not be to a native speaker. If you decide to use audio courses, we’d suggest incorporating another form of learning.
How to start with audio courses to learn Spanish:
- Go to LearnOutLoud.com and download the first unit of Spanish I for free! Run through it a few times and see if anything sticks. If you are comfortable with how the course moves, you can then download the rest of the series.
- Download the audio from the Foreign Services Institute website’s Spanish section. The content is a bit dry and dated, but it’s completely free and has been created by educational professionals.
- Download the free Spanish lesson from Michel Thomas’ website. You may find that his courses may or may not be worth the money, but they seem to work really well for some people. The free lesson will give you an idea of how the content is delivered. You can also try the App, which is a recent addition to the products offered by the company.
If you’re more interested about Spanish spoken in Spain, NotesInSpanish.com is a great resource. All the podcasts are completely free and levels go from beginner to advanced. The easy-going delivery of the English and Spanish born presenters helps make the learning process much easier.
2. Language Hacking Ted Talks
If you haven’t watched a TED Talk, you’re missing out. These short videos are a seemingly endless source of interesting content delivered by amazing speakers. Students of any subject will learn a lot simply by watching random Ted Talks at least once a day. To find them, just do a search for “TED Talks” on YouTube and the rest is history. You can also go straight to the source here.
Do you have a favorite Ted talk? If you find that you completely understand a specific talk and won’t need close concentration on the subject, try watching the talk while reading Spanish subtitles. You will hear the English but will read the text in Spanish. As you already understand the general idea, the concepts discussed will not hinder your Spanish practice. The best part is you can stop and rewind at any time.
- Say the Spanish text aloud as if you were the speaker.
- Play each section while listening, then write down the Spanish version. Check your results.
- Read the subtitles with the sound lowered and attempt to say in English what the speaker has said.
3. Talk to Kids
Kids are direct and will tell you when you mess up. Any parent or teacher will be quick to agree. However, this might be too direct for some people but it happens to be very useful. The truth of the matter is most people won’t correct your Spanish mistakes. Sometimes they’re being polite, embarrassed for you, or don’t want to be rude. They also just might not care. But if no one corrects your bad grammar, you may never know you’ve made a mistake. Habits are also formed through repetition, especially over long periods of time. Don’t be afraid to tell people you want them to correct your mistakes.
Better yet, talk to children. Kids will point out your bad use of grammar. They will spot your funny accent and find it amusing. They will tell you exactly what you’re doing wrong. If you can handle this, then you will learn a lot. The language children use is also simpler and less convoluted. You will start to grasp simple sentence structure simply by listening to how children interact with each other.
If you can’t hang out with your Latino neighbors’ kids, the next best thing might be to read children’s books in Spanish. Reading simple nursery rhymes in Spanish will aid in the repetition of simple words to learn.
4. Change Your Tech
Most of us spend all day using computers, tablets, phones, and anything else that bleeps and attracts our attention.
Why not use this to your advantage? If you’re going to be constantly prompted and alerted by your computer and devices, you might as well make it a learning experience.
Make your tech speak and understand Spanish!
- Setup your Pc or Mac in Spanish.
- Turn your phone to Spanish language.
- Change Facebook to the Spanish language. The average Facebook user spends almost one hour per day on the social network. That’s an hour a day you can count towards your Spanish practice.
Imagine the number of times you will read John Smith ‘added a photo’, ‘Like’, ‘comment’, etc. and the other words that appear most often in the Facebook feed. Now, imagine reading them in Spanish for an hour a day. These words and their variations should start to stick in your head quickly.
Here’s how to change your Facebook to Spanish:
- Open Facebook in a web browser. Go to Settings.
- Click Language from the menu sidebar.
- Where it says “What language do you want to use Facebook in?”, choose Spanish.
Get ready to crear publicaciones(create publications), view people’s albumes de fotos(photo albums), and explorer eventos(to explore events).
Worried about not understanding what you’re reading? Facebook allows for translations instantly, so you can try to guess what Spanish speakers are saying and then check the translation to verify your answer. Want to change it back to English? This can be done anytime by following the steps above, but by selecting English instead.
5. Learn Through Learning
Have you ever thought about taking guitar lesson in Spanish? It’s a great way of building vocabulary, learning concepts based on instruction, prompting, and skill practice. What about piano lessons? YouTube has hundreds of videos of Spanish speakers teaching piano. Try it to see if you can follow along.
If you’re a techie, you could try taking a coding course in Spanish. Udemy has a ton of good coding classes entirely in Spanish. You can choose a course based on ratings and level. Try a sample lesson first to make sure that you can understand the presenter well. As in English, some people are going to be difficult to understand simply because of the way they speak. Don’t pick one of those courses!
If your Spanish is at a good level and you’re also interested in learning a third language, you could try a clever method of combining the two.
Let’s say you want to learn German. Try teaching yourself German through Spanish. There are many courses, YouTube videos, apps, and Facebook groups dedicated to learning German for Spanish speakers. The extra difficulty will make you think twice as hard, but your language skills will develop much faster. It’s almost like contextual learning.
6. Get App’d
There’s an App for that. The catchphrase was so popular a few years back, that Apple actually registered a trademark for it. There are apps for just about everything. For Spanish learners, there are so many options to choose from.
Duolingo, an app developed by an ex-Google employee (and interestingly, the inventor of the Captcha), has become one of the most popular apps for learning a language in the last few years. It’s easy to see why. It is intuitive, easy to use, fun, and completely free.
To use DuoLingo properly, you will have to get over your fear of speaking Spanish out loud. The system prompts you to say phrases and words and records your voice. Then it will evaluate and give feedback on your pronunciation. It’s a great way to get instant feedback without needing another person. Don’t worry, you can elect to skip over the speaking part if you are in a public place.
The app gives you the option of evaluating your Spanish skills. This is useful for bypassing lessons that would be too easy for you. You can choose subjects and topics, and pick the level that suits you best. If you need to brush up on a specific area of grammar, there are practice modules for that also. The combination of listening, translating, and speaking helps build your Spanish skills quickly.
7. Go All In
The best way to learn a new language is to go all in and spend some time in a country where Spanish is the native language.
This is not going to be practical for every situation, but if you can take advantage of it, you will see your language skills skyrocket. Also, Spanish schools in Latin American countries are surprisingly affordable as is basically everything. If you’re thinking about taking this next step, check out PLFM located in the beautiful, colonial town of Antigua, Guatemala. Not only is the school fully immersive, but they can even arrange for you to stay with a local family near the school. You will be speaking Spanish 24/7!
If you live with people that speak Spanish (native or non-native) make a rule that only Spanish can be spoken in the house. No English, except for emergencies. All conversation must be in Spanish.
If you’re not quite ready for the examples listed above, here are some variations on the theme.
- If you share an apartment with at least one Spanish speaker or language learner, make it a rule to only communicate in Spanish one day a week. Stick to the plan without falling back into English. It will become easier over time to maintain.
- Talk to a fellow language learner only in Spanish for one hour per day. Maybe you meet at a coffee shop, or chat over Skype. It doesn’t matter, but the idea is to not use English. Don’t greet the other person in English and try to use simple terms to express yourself when talking about complex things. Use sign language, and gestures if you have to. But once you start using English as a crutch, it will affect the flow. Stick to Spanish!
- Chat with a friend for a week on Facebook or another messaging app, but only use Spanish. This is much easier than the previous methods, as you won’t be as self-conscious about expressing yourself. You’ll also have more time to compose the message.
8. Get A Tutor
Hiring a tutor might be one of the most expensive ways to learn Spanish, but it is also one of the most effective. One-to-one tutors provide a quality of instruction that most other learning methods cannot compete with. Even if you spend time in a Spanish speaking country and speak the language every day among friends and colleagues, it is a good idea to still hire a tutor for private lessons at least once a week. Whatever you pick up on the street, you can then practice with the tutor. This will help you learn Spanish more effectively.
When someone says something that you’re wasn’t quite sure about, your Spanish teacher can help. It will be a worthy investment and help get you fluent fast.
Here are some of the reasons for getting a Spanish tutor to help you learn the language:
- Instant Feedback. You’ll know right away if you’re making mistakes as the tutor will make it clear (when necessary)
- Fix bad habits. Sometimes we pick up bad grammar habits simply because nobody told us the correct usage of a term. As we explained earlier, habits form when you repeat something. Your Spanish tutor will notice these errors and plan lessons around helping you correct the mistakes.
- Laser sharp focus. Maybe you’re really good at reading and writing. Your grammar is excellent, but you have difficulty speaking. With a tutor, you can focus only on speaking and put most of your efforts on improving this skill. As a result, your lessons are focused on getting the biggest wins. In this way, you save time and money in the long run.
Don’t get too caught up on the best methods for learning your new language. Pick a couple of methods and test them out. After trying a few, feel free to mix and match after a couple weeks.
Every single person who has learned a language did so by combing different methods. Some people learn better by talking and learning from their mistakes on the fly. Others learn better by having a personal tutor diagnose all aspects of their grammar and designing lessons around the weak areas. Whatever you choose to do, start now. The sooner you start, the more time your brain will have to process this new skill. When you start to think and dream in Spanish, you know you’ve achieved something special. Most of all, don’t forget to have fun!