Tools to learn Spanish effectively. For every level.
It's like training a muscle.
Learning Spanish could very well be the best investment you’ll ever make. So stop wondering what the best ways to learn Spanish are! From business Spanish-language courses and learn Spanish software to watching movies and having a language exchange on the phone, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best ways to learn Spanish efficiently. Using a variety of these methods will help you exercise the different language skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) and help you build up your fluency and confidence in Spanish with ease.
Note: For simplicity, we use the terms beginning, intermediate, and advanced. These roughly correspond to the A (1 and 2), B (1 and 2), and C (1 and 2) levels of the European Union’s Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
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Language-learning software: Perfect for people who like to learn Spanish at their own pace in the comfort of their own home or who can’t attend regular classes, language-learning software gives learners the flexibility to set their own pace. And since you’d be using a computer instead of a teacher, you could tell the computer to repeat a phrase or a lesson 10, 20, or however many times you’d like until you get it right. You can use the software when the spirit moves you or religiously set aside some time each day; the choice is up to you. But if you lack self-discipline, this method is not for you.
Language-learning software most commonly falls into two types: immersion and the translation method. Immersion software only uses the target language (Spanish in this case), employing pictures (and previous knowledge of the language in later lessons) to “immerse” the learner and simulate native-language acquisition. One example is Rosetta Stone Level 1 (Spain) (PC/Mac)
. Software that teaches by the translation method gives words or phrases in Spanish, as well as the equivalent or approximation in the student’s native language. One example is Talk Now!’s Learn Spanish: Beginning Level available from Amazon
Games: When learning as a family, using games and fun incentives can help keep children and their parents motivated to learn Spanish. One option is Comprendo, a board game whose aim is to teach you Spanish.
Reading selections from the Instituto Cervantes: To build your reading skills, try your hand at the Centro Virtual Cervantes’s reading selections (provided by the Instituto Cervantes, Spain’s official institution to promote Spanish language and culture). Every selection in the beginners’ section (called inicial in Spanish), like the other levels, has optional pre- and post-reading exercises and information about the book and the chosen selection. Within the reading text itself, many words have links to definitions.
Group classes: For Spanish-language students who need the structure of a class and enjoy a community setting, group classes are a good way to go.
Group classes are usually of the traditional or conversational type. Traditional classes generally follow a textbook, which is supplemented by other activities, such as taped conversations, songs, games, and worksheets. Grammar is an important topic. Conversational classes, on the other hand, shy away from grammar (and often textbooks) and focus on oral expression. Learning with others can be fun, but having different levels within the same class can make it more difficult.
Private classes at a language academy: For Spanish-language students who need the structure of a class but desire the personal attention a private teacher offers, private classes at a language academy are a good, but certainly not a cheap, way to go.
Private classes for free: It may be possible to get private classes for essentially free. Put up an ad on a bulletin board (virtual or not) or approach Spanish-language teachers about a skill swap: Spanish classes for English conversation or piano lessons or babysitting or whatever it is that you’re willing and able to do.
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Listen to the news and podcasts in Spanish: To build up your listening comprehension skills, try listening to the news. Radio Exterior de España (RNE) offers news and radio programs, including interviews, on current events, sports, science, and music. And if you’re in Spain, you could try the local news on TV.
In addition, Notes in Spanish has interesting free podcasts for different levels, and they sell useful optional worksheets to go with them.
Watch TV: How can watching whatever you want on TV (including trashy talk shows) be educational, you might ask. Well, watching TV is learning as long as it’s in Spanish! Watching TV helps build up your listening comprehension skills and introduces contemporary cultural concepts. A telenovela (essentially a soap opera) is a good place to start, as they often repeat words. Try the popular Amar en Tiempos Revueltos. Otherwise, comedies like Stamos Okupa 2 are more challenging for intermediate students, but they can also be more fun.
Self-study books: Now that you have a solid foundation of the Spanish language, go to your local bookstore and get a self-study book. Whether it covers Spanish vocabulary, verb conjugations, grammar, writing exercises, or whatever tickles your fancy, you have the power to direct your Spanish-language learning exactly where you want it to go (if you’re disciplined enough). The only question becomes: What do you want to learn today? Try Instant Recall Spanish Vocabulary
Read the newspaper: Besides helping to make you an informed world citizen, reading the newspaper in Spanish strengthens your Spanish reading skills and can give you a different media perspective. Are some subjects covered more or less than in the newspapers you usually read? Try reading the liberal El País or the conservative ABC. To practice your writing skills, try summarizing articles, expressing your opinions, or analyzing current issues and events.
Get a penpal: For most of us, snail mail has gone the way of the horse and buggy and email is the preferred method of written communication now. That doesn’t mean that the practice of writing to a penpal has disappeared though. Email has just made it easier. To improve your Spanish writing skills, you can exchange emails just in Spanish or part of the time in Spanish and part of the time in English. If you decide to mix two languages in one email, just be sure that you’re not writing all the difficult stuff in English and the easy stuff in Spanish; it’s hard to improve your writing that way. And depending on the arrangement you have with your penpal, he or she may correct your grammar and spelling, helping you to learn from your mistakes. This, in addition to becoming a more practiced and proficient writer.
Round out your knowledge of the Spanish language.
Get a language exchange: Practicing your Spanish in a relaxed social environment like a language exchange can be both helpful and fun. This is usually an arrangement where two people agree to meet and talk in Spanish half the time and then in English half the time so that both people get to practice. You could have a cup of coffee together in a local café or go enjoy a shared activity. To find a language exchange, put up an ad (virtual or otherwise) or answer someone else’s, and you’ll be off and running in no time. Specialized vocabulary books and courses: To round out your knowledge of the Spanish language, try acquiring specialized vocabulary relating to your profession or fields of knowledge. Are you a doctor, an ad exec, or a secretary? Then get a book or sign up for a course and try learning medical, advertising, or administrative vocabulary – all the words you use every day to do your job. In Madrid, the Cámara de Madrid offers courses in business Spanish, and offers competency exams in Spanish for business, tourism and health. In Barcelona, the Cambra de Comerç de Barcelona offers a competency exam for business Spanish. Many private language academies also offer courses in business Spanish or on specialized topics. Watch a movie: Watching movies is a fun way to improve your listening comprehension skills. Try renting a comedy (El otro lado de la cama), a costume drama (Juana la Loca), fantasy (El Laberinto del Fauno), or an epic (Alatriste), or just go on down to your local movie theater if in Spain. Are you looking for some contemporary Spanish culture? Go rent every
Almódovar film ever made. If you watch a movie with someone who speaks Spanish, discuss the movie afterwards and work on your listening and speaking skills. Discuss the plot, characters, setting, acting, etc. You could even consider having a weekly movie night and discussion group. Read a book: Do you like to read? Great! Start reading in Spanish. Do you want to learn a new skill? Great! Read up on it in Spanish. You get the idea. Like training a muscle, you read better in Spanish the more you do it. To get a general idea of the material, read slowly and carefully. If you don’t know a word, take your best guess from the context and move on. Don’t be afraid to read a passage twice. To get a firm grasp on the material, first read it once, jotting down all the words you don’t know. Then look these words up in a dictionary. WordReference.com is a good online choice. Next read the text again and be amazed at what you’ve just learned. Regardless of the methods you use, the most important thing to remember when learning Spanish is to never give up. Even when it may seem like you’re not improving, if you keep working at it you WILL keep improving until one day you’ll be truly amazed at how well you can speak and write Spanish. And that’s one of the most rewarding days a person can have. Learning Spanish is especially important if you live, or plan to live, in Spain. It could also very well be the best investment you’ll ever make!
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