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The Best Way to Learn Spanish
Spanish is one of the most commonly spoken (and also one of the easiest for native English speakers) 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, many of which are totally free, 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?
Setting short and/or long-term goals
1. How long it will take you to learn Spanish2. Why you should never want to be “fluent” in Spanish
The official CEFR levels explained
The best resources for each language skill
7. Miscellaneous resources
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 learn how to introduce yourself in Spanish
- To learn about Spanish culture
- To visit or live in a Spanish-speaking country
- To communicate with a friend/family/significant other
- To beef up a resume
- To take the DELE exam
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 Spanish language learner who wants to embrace culture at a Spanish restaurant 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.
I mean, the way that I accomplished learning Spanish for myself won’t work for many language learners!
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, you’ll lose motivation…any number of things will definitely happen and you’ll find yourself maintaining your Spanish more than learning more. So, keep in mind that if you’re in it for the long haul, it will be a long haul, no matter how many hours per day you spend studying.
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!
Your goal should NOT be to get fluent in Spanish
Whatever your Spanish language learning goals are, almost all of them are totally, 100% valid (and don’t let anybody tell you differently!) except for one: to be fluent in Spanish. Setting that goal is a surefire way to fail. Why?
What does in mean to be fluent in Spanish? The problem is, everybody has different opinions on that. There’s no concrete definition for fluency, so there’s no way to know if you’ve accomplished fluency.
Even among the world’s most famous polyglots, the term “fluency” is wildly different. Some think that just basic Spanish works just fine, while others believe a more deeper, advanced understanding is necessary.
All that said, be specific. Be precise. Think of the goal that works for you, such as:
- Read a book in Spanish
- Learn about the differences in Spanish accents
- Watch Spanish Netflix without subtitles
- To reach a certain CEFR level
The Common European Framework of Reference of Languages (CEFR)
If you’re interested in adding proficiency in Spanish to your resume (or if you just want an official acknowledgement for yourself), what you’re looking for is your CEFR level.
Being an officially European language, Spanish follows the CEFR levels of proficiency. There are actual exams that you can study for and take a couple of times a year if you need to, but most Spanish language learners use these levels to just get a general idea.
It’s worth noting that while many many language learning schools and resources might provide you with some sort of certification at the end, if you want a certification for a career in language (be it translating, proofreading, teaching, or any number of things), the CEFR levels are the only ones that matter.
Otherwise, those certificates are nice to stick up on your wall, or maybe add some extra change to a paycheck in an unrelated career.
Like I said, most language learners only go as far as using this framework to get a general idea of their Spanish proficiency.
A1 – Beginner language level
- Understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type
- Can introduce themselves and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where they live, people they know, and things they have
- Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help
In other words, A1 is tourist level. You can ask where the bathroom is, where the bus is, and introduce yourself, but that’s pretty much it.
A2 – Elementary language level
- Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment)
- Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters
- Can describe in simple terms aspects of their background, immediate environment, and matters in area of immediate need
At A2, maybe you’ve been in the country and are starting to stretch your brain, or you’ve taken what Duolingo taught you and can more or less have conversations with it.
At the beginner level, you probably know between 250-500 words in your target language.
B1 – Intermediate language level
- Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
- Can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken
- Can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest
- Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes, and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans
When you hit B1, you’re getting the hang of it. It’s still hard and a lot of work, but you’re starting to be able to have real conversations; you mess up a lot, but you’re getting there!
At this point you’re decently conversational, and know from 1,000-3,000 words.
B2 – Upper intermediate language level
- Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in their field of specialization
- Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party
- Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options
With B2, you’re really starting to get come confidence. It’s at this point that you may start considering yourself fluent, and you might be! I’ve met B2 level speakers who understood B2 material but still had a hard time actually communicated, and other B2 level speakers who could speak like they were in C2, but still only had a B2 level of understanding. It’s all about which language skills you practice more!
C1 – Advanced language level
- Can understand a wide range of demanding, long clauses, and recognize implicit meaning
- Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions
- Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic, and professional purposes
- Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors, and cohesive devices
Most job requirements I’ve come across that include proficiency in another language state that employees need at least a C1 level of proficiency. At this point, you’re not a native, but you’re damn close. You’re pretty comfortable in most any situation you could find yourself in.
C2 – Proficient language level
- Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read
- Can summarize information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation
- Can present themselves spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations
I’ve spoken to people who have to use their second or third language so much more often than their native language that they feel more comfortable using it! This is C2. The difference between your native language and your target language is pretty close, with little to no formalities or brain farts.
At this point, you know around 4,000-10,000 words.
If you get to 10,000 words, you’re considered to be near-fluent.
A native speaker knows 10,000-30,000 words.
With these wild fluctuations in how many words you have to know to be considered different levels of fluency, it’s painfully obvious how hard it can be to pinpoint when exactly you get there.
The best app to learn Spanish
Now that you have a solid understanding of your Spanish language learning goal, it’s time to talk about the resources that you need to accomplish your goal.
The first thing about this that you need to understand is that there is no one perfect app for every Spanish language learner. With different goals and different learners, there’s no one answer.
That’s why I’ve broken up these language learning resources into categories based on the skills they practice: reading, writing, listening, speaking, vocab, and grammar. All are equally important in their own right – it’s up to you and your goals as to which ones you focus on.
DISCLAIMER! As you continue through this list of Spanish language learning resources, you’ll realize that I’m repeating a lot of them in different sections for different language skills. That’s on purpose.
All the language skills feed into each other! So, for example, it only makes sense that the same resources that’ll help practice your reading will also help practice your vocab. I’ve tried my best to separate them into their rightful categories, though.
OTHER DISCLAIMER! For many Spanish language learners, it’s important to choose which accent you’re learning. It may not be necessary to you, but there are some key differences between European and Latin American Spanish for language learners.
Spanish reading for beginners & beyond
Learning to read in Spanish is, in my opinion, the easiest of the language learning skills. There are a ton of resources available even for free! For beginners, though, you’re a bit limited.
If you have little to no experience and need to learn how to read Spanish from square one, I would start out with some of these apps/resources:
- Mondly vs Duolingo
- Memrise vs Duolingo
On the flip side, you don’t even need to use a fancy language learning app to learn to read in Spanish! To start: great (and free) resources to learn Spanish by reading include:
There are pros and cons to sticking to non-fancy resources like those, of course. For one, a brand new Spanish language learner might have a slightly harder time, especially with news articles. So, if you’re brand spankin’ new, I would not recommend starting out with those – stick with the apps you’ve already heard of, at least for now!
However, by exploring Spanish reading texts that haven’t been curated into fancy (albeit helpful!) apps, you open yourself the opportunity to really expand your Spanish reading skills from beginner/intermediate to advanced – so long as that’s your thing.
How to write in Spanish
Reading’s (a passive language skill) active brother is writing. Learning to write in Spanish is so difficult not only because it’s not the most natural thing (how often do we ever write anymore?), but also because it’s hard to create an easy platform for Spanish writing practice.
That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck with learning to write Spanish sentences, though! These forum-esque resources can help you learn how to write in Spanish not only with accountability tools, but also the potential to get your work corrected by native Spanish speakers:
These are all free resources for you to practice your writing in Spanish with one small caveat: Lang-8 has not been open to new accounts for several years now. If you already have an account, Lang-8 still hosts a pretty active community, but otherwise, try out the other 3 sites.
If these options don’t work for you, consider something like:
What’d I tell ya? Not much, I know. Writing can be a tough skill to practice, and it’s generally not really much of a priority for Spanish language learners, either, unless you have an exam to take.
How to understand Spanish
Next up: listening. Listening can be so easy and fun! There are a ton of ways to go about learning to understand spoken Spanish, which means tons of resources created just to help Spanish language learners.
Once again, I’ll start out with some of the more well-known Spanish apps that do a particularly good job at helping us understand spoken Spanish:
- Pimsleur vs Rosetta Stone
- Rocket Languages
- Lyriko & Lirica
Do keep in mind that besides the fancy language learning apps, there is a ton of your normal, run of the mill Spanish audio content out there that isn’t particularly meant for Spanish language learners, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use it!
And that, my friends, is why we have this collection of Spanish language learning resources. These are great tools to help us practice our Spanish listening skills that oftentimes go unnoticed:
How to learn to speak Spanish fluently
Speaking is the Spanish language skill that most if not all of us Spanish language learners want to work on. In fact, most of us want to work on speaking and only speaking (PS. that’s kind of unrealistic!).
With much demand comes much supply, so there are quite a few ways to learn to speak Spanish. First will start with some tools you can use to learn conversational Spanish, as that is an important distinction:
- Italki vs Verbling
- Good ol’ fashioned language exchanges
All of these resources connect you with native Spanish speakers that can correct your mistakes and get in the practice that you need to feel comfortable in a Spanish conversation. Enough practice with any of those, and you’ll be conversationally fluent in Spanish in no time!
What other ways do we need to learn to speak Spanish? Well, plenty! There’s pronunciation, there’s learning how to form the words and get used to making Spanish sounds (they’re different than English sounds and that’s important!), all sorts of stuff!
While these resources don’t connect you in a live conversation with native Spanish speakers, that doesn’t mean the skills they teach you are any less important:
- Rosetta Stone
- 30 Day Speaking Challenge
- Spanish Tongue Twisters
- The Mimic Method
- Language Transfer
How to learn basic Spanish grammar to advanced
Grammar is even more important than most of us realize. For one, it frustrates language learners so much that they don’t even want to learn it! I mean sure, you don’t need to understand grammar to communicate effectively, but if your goals extend deeper than that, so must your grammar.
Fortunately, there are quite a few resources out there designed to help us with our Spanish grammar rules to make grammar a bit more enjoyable to learn. Resources such as:
- Kwiziq vs Babbel
- Babbel vs Rosetta Stone
- Babbel vs Duolingo
- Babbel vs Rosetta Stone vs Duolingo
- Busuu vs Babbel
- Busuu vs Duolingo
- The Cooljugator
How to learn Spanish vocabulary words
Last but not least, we have vocab. Ironically, Spanish vocabulary words are the most important part of learning Spanish – without words, we have no language.
However, I list vocabulary last because I don’t want you to just go get vocab and then do nothing with it. Many Spanish language learners think they’ll reach their goals by just learning some vocab words, and then they’re disappointed when they’ve learned all the basics but can’t do anything with them.
So, now that we’ve been through all the other language skills necessary, let’s dive into ways to learn Spanish vocab words! We have our easy, fun Spanish language learning apps:
- Mondly vs Duolingo
- Memrise vs Duolingo
- Mondly vs Drops vs uTalk
- Rosetta Stone
- Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone
- Mango Languages
- Fluent Forever App
One of the most popular ways to learn new vocab is with flashcards. There are a ton of different ways to make and study flashcards, and the way you do is it up to you and the way that works best for you.
To help you figure out your own best flashcard strategy, here’s some resources that might help you (especially if you use Anki – Anki allows you a lot more flexibility with your flashcards):
- Spanishdict, WordReference, DeepL, Linguee, & other translators
- StudyLib Chrome extension
- Tatoeba for context
- Fluentcards smart flashcards
- Anki deck add-ons
- Sentence finder for Anki
Miscellaneous Spanish language resources
There are a lot of Spanish language learning resources here, I know. And I know that can get overwhelming. Take your time through it, and keep your goals in mind.
These last few resources don’t totally belong in any other category, so instead of forcing them where they don’t belong, I’ll give them their very own category. Take a gander through ’em – you might find a gem!:
- The Fluent in 3 Months Challenge
- Langlandia mobile game
- Language map
- Polylogger (and follow me here!)
- Calculate how long it’ll take you to learn a language
- Great language learning blogs
- Forge app for Android
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.
With that, I’ll leave you with my last little bit of resources: helpful posts for Spanish grammar, categorized by level.
- 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