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The Best Way to Learn Spanish
Spanish is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world. Not only is it an official language of 20 countries around the world, but it’s generally the first foreign language that us native English speakers try to learn…mostly because it’s such a common language. That being said, there are plenty of people on the search for the best way to learn Spanish.
And, unfortunately, every paid product out there will tell you that they’re the best way to learn Spanish, and they’ll talk about all of these well-known labels that they’ve been featured on to prove that this is absolutely, 100% true. But for a lot of us, it’s not true. There are tons of options out there, and it can be really overwhelming. Trust me, I know; I’ve been at this thing for years.
So, all that being said, what is the best way to learn Spanish outside of a classroom? Well, it depends entirely on you, so I can’t just tell you. But, because we have so many options, you’re that much more likely to finally learn Spanish, all by yourself!
The best way: how to learn Spanish your way
Okay, so how does one figure all this out? Before we jump right into all the million and a half resources there are out there that seem like they exist just to overwhelm you, let’s talk about what the independent language learner is actually looking for. How do we know where to start?
The very first thing you need to figure out is why it is that you want to learn Spanish. This right here will define how you learn it, and what exactly it is that you spend your time on. There are tons of reasons people commonly learn Spanish, and there are no wrong answers here. For example:
- To visit a Spanish-speaking country
- To live in a Spanish-speaking country
- To communicate with a friend/family/significant other
- To beef up a resume
- To take the DELE exam
- Or any other reason you have to learn Spanish
Just right there alone, it’s easy to see why so many people have such a hard time learning Spanish. It’s not that they can’t do it – it’s that there so many reasons to do it, and therefore so many different ways to accomplish it.
The guy who’s planning a two week trip to Spain does not need to be learning the same things as someone who wants to take the DELE exam and earn a certificate. Different goals require different knowledge, so the only way to know what kind of knowledge you need is to pinpoint your own independent goal.
How long does it take to learn Spanish
Once you’ve figured out why you want to learn Spanish and how much Spanish you want to learn, it’s easy enough to figure out how long to learn Spanish. The Spanish learner who just wants to go on vacation can learn all it is they need to learn, and learn it well, in a week. Learning to communicate with a friend/family member will take a bit longer, and prepping for an exam will take longer still.
The number one thing to understand, though, is that there’s no set timetable. Nothing ever goes according to plan; life gets busy, you’ll get sick or overwhelmed…any number of things will definitely happen. So, keep in mind that if you’re in it for the long haul, it will be a long haul.
To learn Spanish completely and thoroughly, you’ll have to actually enjoy it. If you don’t love it, you won’t do it (outside of the basics, I mean). Learning a new language is super interesting, and being able to communicate in it, no matter how simply, feels awesome, but if you don’t feel that way about it, you won’t last.
However. If you genuinely enjoy the feeling of finally learning a hard word, or mastering a new grammatical concept, you’re in good hands.
Spanish for beginners
Alrighty tighty! Now that you know what it is that you want out of your own Spanish learning journey, let’s talk about how to get there. The best place to start, obviously, is from the beginning! No matter if you just want to get to tourist level Spanish or if you want to be a fluent speaker one day, we all gotta start at Spanish for beginners.
Now, learning Spanish for beginners is the easiest, not only because the words and concepts themselves are the easiest, but also because there are so many resources. Spanish is the most commonly-learned foreign language for native English speakers because it’s commonly spoken around the world and because it’s closely related to English (or at least closer than Mandarin, which is also on that list).
So, every language learning resource that supports Spanish will at least have Spanish lessons for beginners. When you’re starting out, you have plenty of options, both free and paid, and for every one of the language skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) plus grammar and vocab.
The very first thing to learn, whether you want to end up as a beginner speaker or a fluent one, is with Spanish vocabulary. You can’t speak (or read or write or understand) a language without first knowing the words, so that’s your starting point.
For easy Spanish words to start with as a true beginner, most would suggest starting out with Duolingo. It’s a free, fun, gamified app that will take you through the 2,000 most commonly-used words in the Spanish language. It’s generally acknowledged that a beginner can recognize 2,000 words in their foreign language, so this is a really great start for everyone.
Mondly is a fairly new app around town that is similar to Duolingo. The major differences between the two are that Mondly offers you the opportunity to learn Spanish from any one of its 33 languages (in case English isn’t your native language), as well as Mondly’s Augmented Reality and Chatbot opportunities (plus, can’t forget the Crashed Culture discount!).
And, if all you want to do is be a tourist, something like Duolingo or Mondly is all you need. In fact, it’ll be more than enough for you to not only recognize important words, but also recognize the most common patterns in the language, so that you can figure out any other words or statements that you might come across on your trip abroad.
Memrise is another option for you that’s along the same vein of Duolingo. Memrise is just as free, but you get a little bit more if you open the purse strings just a bit. With Memrise, you also have the option of the vocab lists created by other members, which have more advanced content in case you want to expand your knowledge.
Rosetta Stone is also a great resource to start with, and is a much better option for you if you have little or no experience in learning a new language. Rosetta Stone was created for tourists, not for language learners, so if that’s your deal, I’d at least check out the free trial.
And yes, a free trial does mean that Rosetta Stone is a paid service, and it’s probably the most expensive language learning resource on the market. So, if you don’t have the budget for a pretty serious investment, you’re just going to have to stick to Duolingo. However, if you do have the budget, Rosetta Stone is fabulous about hitting all 4 of the language skills you need, so you don’t have to look elsewhere. If you have the budget, I highly recommend Rosetta Stone over Duolingo.
How to speak Spanish for beginners
Now, depending on your goals, you might be satisfied with just a little bit of vocab. I mean, if you’re just taking your family on a quick little tourist trip, you’ll probably be fine with just that. Some of us just need to be able to ask for the bathroom or recognize where the bus station is. And that’s perfectly fine.
Or, if you want to continue on with your Spanish education (or even just want to be a little less of a beginner than that), we continue on with speaking. Not to say that learning to read and write in the language isn’t important, but now that we have the words themselves in our arsenal, we can learn how to use them.
If you want to practice speaking the language before going on your trip (or you’re looking for the next step to fluency), it’s time to head over to Verbling or italki. Both are great, well-known resources for getting your speaking practice in, and both will have a variety of Spanish tutors available to you.
Both are paid services, but they don’t have to be pricey. Because Spanish is spoken in so many different countries, you do have the option of working with native speakers from Latin American countries; with weaker economies come lower wages, which means you have the option to get practice in for just a few bucks an hour.
Of course, if you’re planning a visit to Spain and want to get used to the Castilian accent, you will have to pay a bit more; trust me, the dialect and accent you practice with are important. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to do your research and find a tutor that you like!
Using children’s media for immersion
Most of us can’t hop on a plane and move to Spain to get actual immersion. We can fake it, though! Children’s books and TV shows are a great way to start teaching your brain to recognize Spanish being used.
If you happen to live in an area with a heavy Spanish-speaking population, check out the local library and you might find books in Spanish ranging from a baby’s first words to the Harry Potter series. If not, you’re not completely out of options. This is a great way to get your reading practice in a totally natural way.
Where listening is concerned, thanks to the internet, finding TV shows for kids dubbed in Spanish is a piece of cake – all you need is Netflix! Create a kid’s account and switch the language to Spanish. You’ll find a whole bunch of simple, easy shows completely in Spanish with Spanish subtitles (yes, using English subtitles is cheating)!
That covers listening and reading for you – both of these language skills require content already created by natives. So, if you want to push yourself past tourist-level Spanish, I highly suggest starting from the beginning, and starting with baby-level content. That’s how we all learn our native language anyways!
Practicing active language skills
As for the active language skills, writing and speaking, it may be a bit more difficult for you. We’ve already covered speaking, obviously, but writing is a little more difficult just because it’s more difficult to find good resources. Lang-8 is great for this, besides the fact that it’s been closed to new members for years now.
So, as of now, it’s kind of up to you to get your writing practice in. This could be as simple as writing in a journal in Spanish, doing book reports on the things you read/watch, or you can find a pen-pal! Whatever it is, as long as you’re writing in some way shape or form, it’s always better than not writing.
Once we get past our initial words and phrases and other experiences with Spanish, it’s time to jump right into it. It’s time for intermediate Spanish. This means taking this stuff a bit more seriously. It means coming across more frustrating concepts that take a bit more time to understand, hitting plateaus, and feeling like you’re getting worse at Spanish, not better.
This is all 100% natural. Everybody experiences this. When you feel like you’re not getting any better, you’re hitting intermediate Spanish. This is where it gets hard. Be ready for it! And don’t worry – I’ve got your back. I’ve been there, so I can tell you for sure that all you gotta do is push onward to get there.
Intermediate list of Spanish words
At this point, it’s time to start stuffing as many words into your brain as is feasible. You should have gotten through your Duolingo tree by now, and be hungry for more. My favorite way to take in foreign language vocab is Anki. I use it every day. I love it.
You can use Anki a couple of different ways: you can download vocab lists already created by other users, or you can start looking for your own vocab and create a personalized deck. If you prefer the former, you can start with some of the more popular shared decks, like this one. If anything, shared decks can show you what Anki can really do!
I personally like to find my own vocab by reading Spanish books; all you gotta do is pick up a book written in Spanish (like your favorite bestseller that’s been translated for the Spanish-speaking crowd), start reading, and pick out the words that you don’t already understand. Stick them in Anki, and you end up with a personalized vocab list that’s based off your own content. I tell ya, the best way to learn new vocab is to give it some context!
Learn conversational Spanish
Once you start striving for an intermediate understanding of Spanish, speaking is probably the most important thing for you. It’s arguably the hardest thing to do, so I highly suggest you put in as much time as you can.
Again, this could mean italki or Verbling. Both options can absolutely carry you from ultimate beginner to advanced. If you’re committing to practicing your speaking, though, there are a couple more options you might want to consider.
One option, for example, is seeking out language exchanges. This is perfect for you if you’re on a budget – you find someone who wants to practice the language you speak, and you take turns practicing each language. You can find someone in person, or you can use something like HelloTalk, where your interactions are limited to what you can do with your cell phone.
Or, if you’re a little richer in the money department and poorer in the time department, BaseLang is a fantastic resource. It’s pricey (like a couple hundred bucks a month pricey), but it’s completely unlimited private tutoring – either structured lessons or simple conversations – with native Spanish speakers.
Once you start putting more work into taking in and producing Spanish, it’ll get pretty clear that grammar is important, especially if your goal is to take the DELE. I know, everybody hates grammar. But that’s okay, because there are a few options out there on the internet that make it something other than excruciatingly painful!
Now, these options are paid, but most of them are really reasonably priced and also super efficient at helping you understand and practice even the most difficult of concepts. For example, Babbel. Babbel is very good at explaining these things simply and giving you a couple of drills to really cement the concepts into your brain.
The app itself functions kind of like Duolingo in that it almost feels gamified, and yet also feels like a continuation of Rosetta Stone’s hand-holding through grammar. However, it’s different from those 2 in that Babbel has high-quality grammar lessons from beginner to advanced; neither Duolingo nor Rosetta Stone go past beginner lessons.
If Babbel, Rosetta Stone, and Duolingo all interest you in one way or another, you’re not alone. These are three of the most popular language learning resources on the web, so I’ve gone ahead and compared/contrasted them for you here.
Another great option for you is Kwiziq, which began as a resource for French grammar but as recently expanded (and is still expanding every day) to also include Spanish content. Kwiziq uses artificial intelligence to test you on what you need to practice, and starts you out by testing your CEFR level.
Kwiziq and Babbel are both very similar in how they approach Spanish grammar, so it’s up to you which one will work better for your needs.
But wait, there’s more! Busuu is probably one of my favorite approaches to learning Spanish grammar. Like Babbel, Busuu will take you from A1-C2, but unlike Babbel, Busuu will provide you with more of a structured language learning path. You won’t get Babbel’s detailed grammar lessons or practice drills, though.
The comparison between Busuu and Duolingo is probably my favorite, because it really shows you how important it is for you to understand your own language learning journey, and thus which resources might or might not work for you.
Or, if you have absolutely zero budget for any sort of paid anything, the information is still there, you just gotta drill it yourself, from beginning to end. Don’t worry – I’ve still got your back with all the grammar concepts you need from beginner to advanced:
- Noun genders and articles
- Regular verbs
- Irregular noun genders
- Making nouns plural
- Subject pronouns
- Ser & estar
- Days, months, & seasons
- Hay que & tener que
- Expressions with hacer & tener
- Possessive adjectives & the personal ‘a’
- Contractions & telling time
- Stem-changing verbs
- Ir + a, acabar + de, & volver +a
- Possessive pronouns
- Ordinal numbers & the difference between bien and bueno
- Superlatives & comparisons of equality/inequality
- Por & para
- Time expressions with hacer
- Reflexive verbs
- Pronouns as objectives of prepositions
- Direct object pronouns
- Indirect object pronouns
- Direct & indirect object pronouns together
- Verbs like gustar
- Present progressive
- Verbs with irregular 1st persons
- Saber vs conocer
- Pedir vs preguntar
- Irregular comparatives
- Preterite vs imperfect
- Irregular preterite verbs
- The subjunctive
As you get farther along in your Spanish education, it’s a lot less hand-holding and a lot more just shoving the language into your life as much as you can. Language is a living, breathing thing, so learning out of books and apps will only take you so far.
If you’re using a service or language exchanges to practice your speaking, keep on keepin’ on. The best thing you can do for your speaking is do it as much as possible. Once you’ve gotten this far you’ve already found out that actual conversation doesn’t even require a whole lot of words – it’s more training your brain to produce the language naturally.
The same goes for the listening, reading, and writing – once you get to a more advanced understanding of the Spanish language, it’s up to you to find ways to practice. It’ll come naturally at this point, too; think of the ways you’re taking in English every day, and switch it to Spanish. You’d be surprised how easily immersion comes.
The best way to learn Spanish
In the end, you’ll find that there is no best way to learn Spanish for everybody, because everybody’s different – their goals, how they learn, what they’re interested in, their lives, etc. There is no one-size-fits-all for this.
That’s why all the paid products you see fail us – they don’t acknowledge that everybody is different, and that language learning is so multi-faceted. There’s nothing simple about it, and that’s one thing that makes learning Spanish so amazing.
If you take anything away from this, I hope it’s this: breathe. If you get overwhelmed, take a step back and go back to your basics. Why do you want to learn Spanish? And if it’s to get fluent, you need to satisfy your four language skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The vocab and grammar will come with it.