If you’ve been meaning to learn Spanish for a while, you may have heard and read that immersion is the best road to fluency. It is. But if you’re not able to live in a Spanish-speaking country, there are other super effective methods that you can try if you want to learn Spanish fast. These methods are free or almost free, while others do cost some money, but there are always discounts you can take advantage of.
1. Start with a podcast for beginner Spanish
As someone who has invested quite a bit of time in learning several foreign languages, I can tell you that you need to start with something more immersive than flashcards with individual words or basic grammar lessons. Thankfully these days there are many podcasts for beginners. One of them is Coffee Break Spanish, with Marc and Kara. Teacher Marc does have a bit of an accent in English and learner Kara an accent in Spanish, but it all works out nicely after a while—you won’t be bothered by it anymore. Note that Marc speaks español castellano (Castilian Spanish)—that is, Spanish from Spain.
Start your study of Spanish with two or three such podcast episodes, and then move to videos, where you also see the words spelled out and learn about pronunciation.
2. Spend 4 hours with a great YouTube video posted by SpanishPod101.com
I found a great intro to Spanish basics video on YouTube. It’s fun, informative, and fast-paced, while also providing lots of repetitions for the Spanish words. I did find an inexactitude in the first lesson, where Lia, a native of Chile, seems to have used “Spanish culture” once to refer to all Spanish and Hispanic cultures, but the rest of the video flows smoothly and most engagingly. Okay, so Lia does say [Ehspanish] when pronouncing the English word Spanish, but that’s a nice quirk to notice (and it’s quite common).
The first lesson is an overview of the course and of Spanish as it’s used internationally. The second lesson talks about accents and dialects in Spanish, the pace of spoken Spanish, and how English and Spanish differ in the way sound units are pronounced. The next topic covered is word order in Spanish (in affirmative, negative, and interrogative sentences). By the fourth lesson, things may get a little too fast and too difficult for a beginner learner, but I advise you to stick with it and simply watch the lesson more times if needed. But if things get discouraging, stop after lesson four and try my next tip: some easy but very effective lessons in beginner Spanish on Babbel.
3. Try online lessons for beginners as well as apps and Word of the Day resources
Babbel is such a great resource that after taking some lessons in French and Portuguese I decided to do Spanish lessons too, even though I speak Spanish at an advanced level. Whether you’re a beginner, an intermediate, or an advanced student, Babbel provides great resources for learning a language easily and pleasantly and for reviewing important vocabulary and grammar. A lesson takes about 10–15 minutes, and you can do one for free to get a taste of what Babbel has to offer. I recommend you then wait rather than pay full price, as they will send you emails with reminders and discounts. You can also search online for discounts, if you’d rather get started on a certain day.
As you go through these lessons or any other materials presented here, I recommend that you write down in a notebook not just words, but also various sentences. (And that you certainly don’t rely only on flashcards with individual words!) I cannot emphasize enough how important this is for your retention of learned vocabulary and grammar and of the general flow of the language. Once you jot things down, you’re already helping yourself memorize better what you’ve read and listened to, and then if you review those sentences out loud every few days and then every week and later every other week, you’re bound to make great progress.
If you want to try apps, there are plenty of well-known players on the market: Rosetta Stone, Memrise, Babbel, Busuu, HiNative, etc., as well as Word of the Day apps.
I also recommend the free resources on spanishdict.com. Then there’s Pimsleur Level 1 Premium, which is good, but very costly.
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4. Read through conversation guidebooks/phrase books
Once you have mastered pronunciation, basic words and phrases, and some basic grammar via the first three resources I listed, you can parse a conversation guidebook. This may seem difficult, but you don’t have to do it all at once. Choose to do one theme (for instance ordering at a restaurant or interacting with hotel staff) every week, and repeat those sentences out loud every day that week. Easy Spanish Phrase Book NEW EDITION: Over 700 Phrases for Everyday Use (Dover Language Guides Spanish) by Dr. Pablo García Loaeza (affiliate link) is a great choice.
5. Try comprehensive audio phrase books for beginners
Learn Spanish with Paul Noble for Beginners – Part 1: Spanish Made Easy with Your Personal Language Coach (affiliate link) has 13 hours and 21 minutes of language instruction. Unfortunately, there’s no accompanying phrase book to this audio course, because the author wants you to gain confidence in learning the language from listening only. Rather than memorizing all the words and phrases you don’t know, Paul Noble encourages you to just go with it and trust listening and repeating. You can do it that way, or you can use this audiobook (available from Audible) as a complement to the other learning materials presented in this article. The audiobook covers both español castellano and español latinoamericano.
Another good Spanish audiobook for beginners is Patrick Jackson’s Learning Spanish Like Crazy Level I, New & Improved Version: Learn Beginner Spanish Bundle: Lessons 1 to 30. Here’s the ebook: Learn Beginner Spanish Bundle: The Ultimate Spanish for Beginners Bundle: Lessons 1 to 30: From the Original Learning Spanish like Crazy Level 1 (Spanish Edition) (affiliate link). The accompanying audiobook is available from Audible. It includes over 20 hours of Latin American Spanish.
6. Read textbooks for beginners and buy a grammar book for reference
Textbooks and grammar books, such as Easy Spanish Step-By-Step (affiliate link) by Barbara Bregstein and Spanish Grammar for Beginners: The Extensive and Easy Step-by-Step Approach to Learning Spanish Grammar (Textbook and Workbook) by Isabel Navarro Torres, Dani Rangel Nieto, et al. (affiliate link), do have their value, even in this digital age, when podcasts and online lessons are increasingly common. In fact, I recommend you get a textbook (or textbooks) and a grammar book on paper. Writing translations next to new words and highlighting these new words along with certain verb forms is quite a useful exercise (still!).
7. Get a small dictionary
These days it’s easy to search for everything online, but sometimes it’s—still!—easier to look up words in a paperback dictionary. I myself do it, for instance, late at night, when I may find myself talking to a friend from Spain and wondering about some of the words she uses. If my laptop is turned off and I’m focused on chatting with her on the phone, I just open the dictionary and learn what plant or tree exactly she may be talking about—as an example. I have several dictionaries, but the one I use most readily is a small paperback Merriam-Webster’s bidirectional (Spanish-English and English-Spanish) dictionary, very similar to this one: Merriam-Webster’s Word-for-Word Spanish-English Dictionary, Newest Edition, Mass-Market Paperback (Spanish and English Edition) (affiliate link). It’s a great companion for beginners and advanced students alike.
8. Get a book with conjugated Spanish verbs for reference
Unless you get to a really advanced level, you’ll need to refer often to conjugated verbs when you learn a language, especially one like Spanish with so many verb endings. Learning the grammar helps with knowing the rules on how to use various verbs, of course, but you’re bound to get stumped nonetheless—and it’s wonderful to be able to refer to a list, even as you may also find resources online, such as the dictionaries at wordreference.com, which are helpful with this. I recommend 501 Spanish Verbs (Barron’s 501 Verbs) (Spanish Edition) (affiliate link).
9. Watch a Spanish-language soap opera with subtitles on
If you were an intermediate or advanced learner, I would have recommended you watch some of your favorite movies or TV series with audio or subtitles, or both, set to español, but as a beginner you would benefit greatly from the easy dialogues in a soap opera, even if you may dislike the general sappy tone of telenovelas.
10. Listen to music with Spanish lyrics
Listening to music is one of the most facile and pleasant ways to learn better English—or Spanish, or any other language. In fact, connecting the process of learning something with that of experiencing emotions is one of the great ways to remember what you’ve learned for the long term. Of course, the way songs get stuck in our heads has something to do with it too 🙂
Look up some music you may like and then, once you find some songs you enjoy, look up their lyrics and their translations into English. You may not be able to follow all the verb forms or the structure of all the sentences, but don’t be daunted by that. Just listening to the pronunciations of all those words again and again, and listening to them in sequence, will do wonders for your Spanish skills, especially if you also sing those lyrics out loud. Your body needs the muscle memory of your tongue and mouth making those new sounds in order to learn these new pronunciations and become comfortable with them.
And a bonus tip:
Read short stories for beginners—or kids!
Learning a language without reading literature in that language is not enough fun. The best way would be to read abridged and simplified versions of literature texts written in Spanish originally, but such books are hard to find (do ask at various libraries, though).
There are, however, many bilingual Spanish-English readers available offering short stories for beginners. Do not jump at the first ones you see, however. Many of these books are actually for intermediate speakers. And then some of them are not copyedited properly. Which is why I actually recommend you start with some bilingual short stories for kids, such as Rabbit and Turtle Go To School/Conejo y tortuga van a la escuela (Green Light Readers Level 1) (Spanish and English Edition) (affiliate link), or those of the Keepsake Stories series, which include classic stories, many of them folk tales and fairy tales, such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears | Ricitos de Oro y los tres ojos (Keepsake Stories, Bilingual): Ricitos de Oro y los tres osos (affiliate link), Jack and the Beanstalk | Juan y los frijoles mágicos (Keepsake Stories, Bilingual): Juan y los frijoles magicos (affiliate link), Cinderella | Cenicienta (Keepsake Stories, Bilingual) (affiliate link), and others. I find that the classic tales that fired our imagination as kids are a pleasure at any age. In fact, I often reread some of them for inspiration with my own writing.
I hope I’ve given you some ideas where to start your journey learning Spanish. Perhaps too many, if you’re just getting started—sorry! 🙂
You’ll see that if you combine the various learning methods I’ve presented above, you have a chance to go from beginner to intermediate in only a few months! All you have to do is make sure you study Spanish at least three times a week and look over old notes daily, if you can (at least in the beginning). Also, remember to focus on learning not just various words, but also phrases and short sentences.
Enjoy the ride! Learning a new language is bound both to help you in practical ways and to help you delight in the sheer beauty of learning something that can seduce the mind in so many ways, whether you’re enjoying a scrumptious meal accompanied by a menu in Spanish, or the love poetry of a certain poet you’ve just discovered, who speaks not only with the power of one’s soul but also with that of a culture.
Learning a language also engages the body, as pronouncing words in a foreign language can be a joy once you get the hang of it.
And in the end, learning a new language is about making friends: with new sounds and words and ways of translating life experiences, with people you meet or read about and their new ways of seeing the world and themselves, and with cultures that will nourish your soul with both novel and familiar answers to burning questions you may have had or questions you may not have known to ask.
To a happier, healthier life,
P.S. I’d appreciate a pin/share if you found my post helpful. Thank you! 🙂