Best Way to Learn Spanish, According to 11 People Who Did It
What are some of the best methods for learning Spanish?
Here are some helpful tips from people who already did.
Family Law Attorney | Owner, The Law Office of Russell D. Knight
I am completely bilingual and I have two law offices where I get lots of clients because I speak Spanish. I graduated from law school in 2006 and the economy immediately crashed. I got a job in a small office on the west side of Chicago and everyone walking in the door was speaking Spanish. I figured, “How hard could it be?” It was hard. It took two years.
Here are the instructions I give to everyone who wants to learn:
Get Pimsleur CDs for your car
Listen to each CD twice. Listen to it once and then listen to it again. Get the package with the most CDs. I have a copy of the 1st set. The rest I borrowed from the library.
Buy a frequency dictionary
This way you’re focusing on the most important words. Learn ten new words via flashcards or one-side-of-the-paper is covered. In a year and a half, you’ll know all the words that people actually use.
Buy every Spanish Grammar workbook and work through it
This is horribly unpleasant and will take countless hours. It’s the only way to really learn. Practice makes perfect are the best ones.
Get a private tutor
Preferably, an American who lived in Mexico (there are surprisingly a lot of these). Group classes do not work.
Spanish immersion classes
If you go outside of the country to take Spanish immersion classes, be very particular about your school. The school I went to was intense compared to the school down the road. Their school was a big party and people had been there for months and couldn’t speak Spanish
worth a damn.
Overall, if you are not intensively interacting in Spanish. You are wasting your time.
My adventure in learning Spanish begun when I took a summer off work to visit Sevilla in the south of Spain. The searing sun made it hard to concentrate, but I managed to make some progress. For me, it comes down to a few simple steps:
You have to learn the words
That’s a basic element which you can’t live without. Fortunately, there are loads of ways you can approach this; apps like Duolingo, Memrise, or Mindsnacks can give gamified ways to create those new associations in your mind.
You also need to learn to hear the words
This is harder than it sounds and it’s where you need to find slowly spoken Spanish language learning materials. Stuff from the BBC, Pimsleur, Michel Thomas, or across YouTube can help you here. Slow clear use of the language.
You need to get interested in the language and match it with your existing language. I learned about the Spanish terminology for football (soccer) and software. “El mediocampista tiene una problema con mi sitio web.” Okay, so they don’t pair well… but the vocabulary for things you like is important.
You need to learn your grammar
Honestly – buy a good grammar book, sit at a table, and learn it. Put in the hours and you’ll be fine. But don’t put too much pressure on yourself to learn your grammar perfectly at this early stage. No one is going to quiz you on the subjunctive yet – stick to knowing verb conjugation for the present with a few past and future additions to keep you going.
You need to be able to practice
Talking with native speakers is a great way to be able to make progress in your language learning. In Sevilla, I was surrounded by local Spanish speakers and could attend events to meet Spanish speakers who wanted to practice their English. It was easy. However, that all became harder when I arrived back in the UK.
To remedy that, you have two options:
Watch Spanish films and other media
Keep watching and improving, listening and learning.
Find Spanish speakers near to you to practice with
We started an app called Idyoma to help language learners find other learners nearby. We have users all over, from different countries, and speaking different languages. If a Spanish person is using it to learn English and you Spanish, then just arrange to go for a coffee.
By giving yourself a basic groundwork in the language and then building on that through media and native speakers, you’ll find your Spanish improves in no time!
James Fricker, II
Travel Expert | Spanish Expert, Spanish and Go
I’m a native English speaker and I’ve learned fluent Spanish to a C1 (CEFR) level and am currently working on my C2 Spanish CEFR certification. This is how I did it.
My journey to Spanish fluency truly started when I set out to learn it on my own. It’s easy to discount the years of Spanish classes I took in middle school and high school because it felt forced, I crammed for the tests, and very little actual conversation in Spanish ever took place. But it helped serve as a foundation.
What really worked for me started with a Spanish book written in the 1950’s: Margarita Madrigal’s. The book focuses on establishing a strong vocabulary in Spanish by adopting words that are nearly identical in English. Using this method, I learned hundreds of Spanish words with just a few quick translation tricks.
The author also argues that learning the past and future tenses first instead of the present because that is what is most used in real conversations. I agree. What you did and what you are going to do come up much more often than explaining what you’re currently doing (which is usually obvious to anyone around you).
This book helped me read Spanish, form sentences, and practice speaking Spanish on my own since I always made a point to read everything out loud.
After reading the book, I found a local Spanish tutor
The best part was they were free since I was able to exchange Spanish lessons for giving her daughter guitar lessons. We met once a week for an hour and went around town practicing things like how to order food in Spanish, and talk about the weather. This helped get me practicing speaking Spanish with a real person. This gave me the motivation to find a digital penpal of sorts.
Language apps or websites
A coworker who was also learning Spanish recommended a website called italki. It’s sort of like Facebook but for language learners specifically.
On the site, you are able to specify the languages you speak, and the languages you are learning to help meet others to practice with. I met a few people and practiced exchanging messages in Spanish and English (they wanted to practice their target language too!) until I met someone from Mexico. We messaged each other for months until she eventually invited me to visit her in Mexico over Spring break. I accepted.
It was my first time traveling out of the country alone, but it was the most rewarding and life-changing trip of my life. Having a friend (and later girlfriend… and then-wife) to practice with while immersed in Mexico took my Spanish skills to a whole new level.
I kept notes of all of the new vocabulary I was learning and reviewed them each night before bedtime. I found saying everything out loud three times, both the word in Spanish and the definition in English, helped everything stick to my long-term memory.
Sights, smells and sounds all came together to help make Spanish, not just a language I wanted to learn, but a part of who I was.
I became fluent in Spanish this way, but I always strive to sharpen my skills. I continued studying Spanish on my own, and later used another online program called Lingoda to help improve and certify my Spanish abilities.
Language is a marathon, not a sprint, but if you stay dedicated and work towards having an immersive experience, it’s an extremely achievable and reward skill to strive for.
I ended up marrying my teacher, and now we work together helping people who want to travel learn Spanish. We run a Youtube channel called Spanish and Go, where we strive to help travelers discover about culture through language.
Bruce Josephs MBA(AGSM), AFAIM, FIPA
Chief Travel Officer, Travel Ideology – Sydney Tours
I learned to speak fluent Spanish as an adult and now take people to see kangaroos in both English and Spanish. I believe that the essential parts that helped me to do so are as follows:
- Start with a basic course in Spanish.
- As soon as you can, move to a course that is mainly conducted in Spanish. Ensure that you have multiple teachers from different areas of the Spanish speaking community as accents and slang vary considerably.
- Read newspapers and look up words that you need.
- Watch the news and cartoons. These have the easiest to understand vocabulary.
- Travel around countries that speak Spanish and use only Spanish to buy what you need. Look up words that you need.
- Immersion. Go to a country where they speak it without too much slang or accent. I went to Barcelona (as it is the second language and not so much English is spoken). One could easily have gone to Guatemala or Bolivia.
Jane Stine, JD, M.Ed.
Managing Director, Loop Abroad
One of the best ways to learn Spanish is to immerse yourself in the language
For me, living in Costa Rica for a short time really helped me to learn the language. I had taken some Spanish classes in high school and college, but having the opportunity to speak it every day is what made the difference! I worked in a law firm, but I would say that the day-to-day interactions while shopping, traveling around, or going out with friends had the most impact on my comfort with the language.
While not everyone may be able to move abroad, it’s likely that almost anyone can find native speakers of Spanish (or almost any language!) in their area and find opportunities to speak the language in a real-world setting. Seeking those out can make learning a language more practical, more interesting… and also more fun!
I took Spanish classes in high school and college, but it never clicked. Only when I moved to Costa Rica and took Spanish classes at a full immersion language school did I finally learn Spanish.
That’s because when class was over, I was somehow forced to navigate a world of Spanish speakers. If I wanted to ride the bus, buy something at the store, ask for directions, I had to use Spanish.
Often I would mess up, and sometimes it was painfully embarrassing. But those were the best lessons. Because once you embarrass yourself in the real world, you’ll never make that same mistake again.
Watch or listen to Spanish and Colombian TV and radio shows
I have always felt that language acquisition is the best way to expand one’s horizons and appreciate life more. What better time to learn a new language than when you’re on the road?
I had hit a rut in my Spanish language acquisition until around 2014 when I started listening to Spanish radio whenever I was in my car. I’ve also taken to watching Spanish and Colombian TV shows on streaming platforms such as Netflix. The best trick is actually to turn on Spanish subtitles even when you’re watching stuff in your native language.
This method of learning Spanish works as a way to have some sort of immersion without having the leave the country. I realized that on days where I would be binge-watching shows or in the car for a long time that I had actually heard more Spanish than English in that given day.
Duo lingo allows you to choose to learn your new language on bite-size daily lessons of 5, 10 or 15 minutes
Repetition and consistency are key to learning new languages so I loved that every day my Duo Lingo app reminded me to take my 10-minute lesson. The app has you complete sections like food, verb, sport etc and increases in difficulty as you pass sections. I love that my language lesson traveled with me on my phone so there was no excuse to miss lessons.
Progress in duo lingo is in stages so if you want to jump ahead of you really. You have to follow their logical learning steps. You learn in a fun way through identifying pictures, repeating things on audio, reading multiple choice or writing in answers to test your spelling. So you cover all the angles of really understanding a language.
Personally, I also watched Peppa pig (I know it by heart in English) to check and hear words I was learning from Duo lingo in real life (or pig life). I also enjoyed English films with Spanish subtitles to get extra words to push ahead. I did have Spanish lessons but in a group and we did t learn fast enough for me.
I live in a very Spanish town and I was not afraid to go out and try the language so this helps. With Duo lingo, you are learning a new word or two daily so I would go out and try to use them. One thing duo lingo can’t teach, that only local life and watching soap operas etc can, is colloquial language. The true Spanish…so it is important to use these apps to gain confidence with duo lingo or babble fish and then use it.
Hands down, the easiest way to learn Spanish is with the Duolingo app
Not only is the app free, but since it’s a mobile app, you can literally learn anywhere—in your bed, at the office, or even on the toilet. Daily goals and reminders allow you to consistently practice. Regular practice is probably one of the most important factors when learning a new language.
A study by Duolingo states a semester of college Spanish is equal to 34 hours in their app. On average, I practice 20 minutes per day. At this rate, I complete well over three semesters of Spanish every single year.
Aside from hiring a personal Spanish teacher for yourself, Duolingo is probably the next best and most effective ways to learn Spanish. Over 300 million Doulingo users can’t be wrong.
Travel Blogger, Passport Explored
I was able to learn Spanish while traveling in Guatemala and Mexico. I definitely tried various methods of learning the language over the course of a year or two, which is why I wanted to respond to your query.
I strongly believe that the best way to learn the language is to attempt to converse with native Spanish speakers
There are numerous options out there for Spanish learning apps and online classes and you can spend all day memorizing words and phrases but in reality, nobody talks in simple sentences like these learning platforms commonly teach.
When you attempt to converse with native Spanish speakers, even if you’re not perfect with the language, you’ll gain more experience in what I would describe as a reactionary form of learning.
Instead of planning out everything that you want to say ahead of time, you’ll be forced to think quickly and respond to the best of your ability.
Conversing with native Spanish speakers also allows you to pick up on the nuances of the language and it inevitably helps with your pronunciation as well. For example, I heard the word “Agua” hundreds of times in Spanish class when I was younger but I didn’t realize that the “g” is actually silent until I visited Guatemala recently and conversed with locals there.
Multimedia Storyteller, Kihek Creations
As a beginner, the best way is to learn from someone that has more experience for you
This is important to build foundational skills and get constructive feedback. Learning through resources by yourself creates a possibility of learning the wrong pronunciation and habits.
Secondly, develop a habit of practicing daily
This includes learning new vocabulary and grammar. Repetition allows you to grow your vocabulary.
Lastly, take on the courage to use what you learn
This means practicing with a native speaker – other students that are learning, or taking on challenges that allow you to grow in the language.
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