What is the Best Way to Learn Spanish?

Most people love the idea of learning a new language but struggle to put it into practice. Spanish has become an increasingly popular option for English-speaking people who want to visit a Spanish-speaking country or communicate with Spanish speakers in their community.

The main problem with learning a language in isolation is that there's very little motivation to continue. It's easy enough to enroll in an online course that promises to teach you Spanish in a couple of hours, but either you'll find the course severely lacking in structure and usefulness, or you'll get swamped with chores and drop the course entirely.

However, that doesn't mean that you can't learn a new language at home without formal classroom courses. The key is to approach the task consistently and systematically. That's why we've provided some tips to help you find the best way to learn Spanish.

How to Learn Spanish Effectively

Consistency

Often, the most crucial factor in learning a new language isn't the language’s complexity, but the difficulty in being consistent. Many people will start language learning with long busts of intense sessions and then burn out soon afterward.

Learning a language isn't something that you can do in a week, and it's not something that you can do once a week and expect to see massive amounts of progress. Instead, it needs to be something that you do a little bit of every single day.

It's essential to dedicate a time-slot to learning or speaking Spanish and to stick to it for at least a month to form the habit. After that, your sessions will feel like second nature. If you can stick with your chosen program for the first month, you'll find yourself arranging other chores and tasks around your Spanish-speaking lesson.

Practice Spanish Pronunciation

No matter what learning program you decide to follow, you need to put the theory into practice. Spanish pronunciation is very different from English, and the best way to become fluent is to practice speaking regularly. Try to find native speakers that you can practice with since many won't hesitate to correct your pronunciation whenever you make a mistake.

Another great way to practice pronunciation in the comfort of your home is to try out tongue-twisters. You can find plenty that will teach you the difference between a soft and a double-'r', 's' and 'th,' and many other unique language traits.

Spanish pronunciation won't come quickly to all people equally. The best Spanish learning program is one that will immerse you in the language, ensuring that you start speaking it like a native from day one. Many programs will even have pronunciation checkers that are invaluable when you're learning Spanish pronunciation.

Even if you don't live anywhere near a Spanish-speaking country, you can immerse yourself in Spanish TV, Spanish music, and even Spanish podcasts to help get a good feel of Spanish pronunciation.

Learn to Speak Spanish Conversationally

Ideally, you want to learn Spanish that you can use conversationally. Many Spanish “how to learn” courses will teach you basic phrases that you memorize and repeat (think Rosetta Stone or Babbel). These phrase-book style programs have their place, especially if you just want to know enough Spanish to get by when you're on vacation.

However, if you want to learn how to speak Spanish like a native, you need to move past stock phrases and learn to speak conversational Spanish. Doing so means understanding the subtle intricacies of the language, such as understanding the difference between formal and informal modes of speech, and which one you should use when.

Again, the best way to hone your conversational Spanish skills is to listen and speak to the language regularly and keep up with your dedicated classes. Many TV shows will use conversational Spanish, which will help you develop both the vocabulary and grammar you'll need to progress further and get past any bumps in the learning process.

Conversation is where the rubber meets the road

Balance Grammar and Vocabulary

One of the main aspects of learning Spanish is to divide your time between grammar and vocabulary. Focusing too much on one or the other can stall your progress, leaving you frustrated and ready to give up, especially when you struggle to communicate properly.

Many language learning courses will try to combine the two and spend time on both equally. However, many recent studies have shown that different learners at different skill levels should focus on various aspects of the language. One of the best ways to learn a new language is to focus first on vocabulary and then on grammar as you start to become proficient in the Spanish language.

The best way to view grammar and vocabulary and how they interact is to imagine that grammar is the blueprint for a language, while vocabulary is the building materials. When you first start, you don't need blueprints for a fancy mansion, but you need enough building materials to assemble at least a small house. Once you've collected enough materials, you can focus on building the best quality house you can by using better blueprints.

Vocabulary First

When you first start learning Spanish, it's best to get a wide array of building blocks in place, which means focusing on vocabulary. The main reason for this is that it's easy to provide meaning with the correct words, even if your word order is wrong.

If someone goes up to you and says, 'Where is the.... not-bus station', you may struggle to understand their meaning. However, if they come up to you and ask 'train station?' with a curious look, you'll easily infer they want directions to the nearest train station.

Unfortunately, learning vocabulary can feel tedious, especially when you first start. You'll have to spend some time rote learning basic terms and their variations. Luckily, many apps can help you get your foundation up to speed in no time at all.

An added benefit of grinding through rote memorization is that it prepares you for more effective learning later. Once you have a strong foundation of basic Spanish words, you don't have to sit down and memorize more obscure ones. Instead, you'll pick them up naturally from their context as you listen to Spanish speakers, just as you do in English.

Get Better Meaning with Grammar

While having a strong Spanish vocabulary will get you pretty far in speaking conversationally, you will reach a point when you can't coast on vocabulary alone.

The primary purpose of grammar in any language is to make your meaning as precise as possible. There are plenty of instances where knowing an obscure word won't help you convey meaning, but having a better grasp of grammar can.

The sooner you learn correct sentence structure, the less likely you’ll be to make habit-forming mistakes. If someone said 'I want to learn to Spanish' at their first English session, they'll be less likely to understand their error, and then apply it to other situations and sentences.

So which one of the two should you focus on when starting to learn Spanish? Ultimately, it depends on your skill level. A heavy focus on terminology is essential when you first start out, as it lays a strong foundation for learning later on as well.

However, once you've mastered the most common conversational terms, it's a good idea to focus on grammar. Having excellent syntax will make you sound more educated and fluent, while also laying the groundwork for higher proficiency and fluency when learning Spanish.

Recommended Courses for Learning Spanish

If you've ever looked for the best program to learn Spanish, you'll most likely have found thousands of potential options. It can be challenging to know which courses actually work since many of them make promises, such as teaching people how to speak Spanish in a matter of weeks.

We've taken a close look at many of the best apps to learn Spanish available online and evaluated them in terms of how they help you learn conversational Spanish, with a focus on correct pronunciation. We also check which ones have the best balance of vocabulary to grammar that is suitable for someone just starting in their Spanish learning journey.

Rocket Spanish

Price

$150

Time commitment

20+ minutes a day 

Rocket Spanish is part of the Rocket family of language-learning apps and online courses. It's their most popular offering, especially with people who want to learn conversational Latin American Spanish.

The core philosophy behind Rocket Spanish is to focus on useful terms and phrases first without intimidating you with unnecessary terminology you don't need. Instead of teaching you the word for 'stapler,' you'll learn how to ask 'How do you say this?'

The program itself is a mix of 31 interactive audio lessons and 33 'Language and Culture' lessons. The audio sessions are around 20 minutes long and focus on realistic conversations between two people. They include both vocab and technical lessons that blend in naturally with the rest of the dialogue.

The audio lessons are very educational and offer an excellent baseline for conversational-level Spanish. If you want to dive deeper and learn to speak Spanish fluently, you'll also appreciate the language and culture lessons that focus more on the grammar once you've mastered the vocab section.

A critical aspect of Rocket Spanish is the way they address the issue of pronunciation. Their 'Rocket Record' feature allows you to record your pronunciation of a particular segment, and the program will score you based on how well you did. The program highlights the parts that were off, giving you the feedback you need to perfect your pronunciation.

Rocket Spanish has several features that make it an excellent way to learn Spanish for beginners. It focuses on the essential parts of language learning first, giving you the tools to master necessary conversational language skills. The additional written courses will ensure that you also get a great introduction to Spanish grammar to take your language skills to the next level.

Spanishpod101

Price

From $4+ per month

Time commitment

15+ minutes a day 

SpanishPod 101 uses a range of audio podcasts to teach Spanish. Many learners find this bite-size approach one of the best ways to learn Spanish at various proficiency levels.

SpanishPod 101 allows you to sign up for free and get access to early lessons, though you'll need to pay a subscription to access the good stuff. The service only has annual subscriptions, which may incentivize some people to stick with their lessons for at least a year.

They divide their podcast-like lessons into different seasons, aimed at varying levels of Spanish proficiency. Beginners can choose seasons like 'The Ultimate Guide for Brand New Spanish Learners', which contains 13 lessons and has a runtime of around two hours.

Each lesson has an audio file, along with a review track and dialogue-only track. The full audio file contains several sections, including the dialogue in Spanish, an English translation, discussion of the story, introducing new words and new grammar.

What makes these lessons so valuable is the added interactive component. You can choose to hear a specific line of audio again, or switch between English and Spanish text on the fly. You can also focus on the dialogue only, which is perfect for picking up new words. The program also allows you to export new words onto flashcards to help expand your vocabulary.

We found that the flashcard functionality makes SpanishPod 101 the best way to learn Spanish or supplement the formal lesson plan. We also really liked that early lessons have a strong English component, which gradually gets replaced by Spanish speakers as you advance through the course.

The main drawback of SpanishPod 101 is the lack of pronunciation tools. You can speak along with the dialogue and record yourself, but you can't get objective feedback on how well you're doing.

SpanishPod 101 is an excellent resource if you want to learn conversational Spanish in a structured and easy-to-use format. The program has a vast selection of lessons from which to choose. It has a proper balance of vocab to grammar lessons, but the lack of pronunciation and extra resources limits the program's usefulness in promoting fluency.

Pimsleur Spanish

Price

$150

Time commitment

30 minutes a day 

The Pimsleur Method of language learning claims to be one of the best ways of learning a new language. Despite suspicious marketing claims like suggesting that you'll learn the Spanish language in 30 days, the approach may work for people who prefer learning by listening.

The Pimsleur Method is largely audio-based, which means that it's not ideal for visually-based learners (but it is great for learning Spanish in the car).

One strength of Pimsleur Spanish is their unique approach to vocabulary instruction and grammar education. The program focuses on teaching language as naturally as possible by involving you in the lesson. Since both vocab and syntax are essential foundations for sounding like a native speaker, having these elements goes a long to helping the learner.

Overall, the Pimsleur spaced repetition language learning method is a useful, introduction to Spanish. How much you get out of it depends on the additional investment you put into understanding the structure of the language and how much time you spend learning new words.


The Mimic Method

Price

$150

Time commitment

30 minutes a day 

The Mimic Method offers one of the more intuitive and structured ways to learn Spanish. The theory method works by teaching learners to understand and speak a language by listening. It breaks down the process into several stages, starting with learning to pronounce sounds and sentences before moving onto conversational Spanish.

The main benefit of this method is that it promotes an understanding of a language’s underlying sounds, which makes pronunciation and understanding native speakers much more manageable. It also helps unlock your listening skills and helps you understand Spanish speakers when they talk at full speed. 

The program's focus on learning sounds before speaking the language helps learners sound like native speakers. Even intermmediate and advanced learners have much to gain from this course. 

Like the Pimsleur Method, the Mimic Method offers an excellent way to learn the basics of Spanish and have a great foundational understanding of the language.

Duolingo

Price

Free

Time commitment

5+ minutes a day 

Duolingo makes the bold claim that it will teach you a language in five minutes for free. Unsurprisingly, it fails to meet this claim and fails to meet many of our standards as an excellent way to learn Spanish.

The basic concept of Duolingo is to teach Spanish in five-minute games. You can track your daily progress, which may help some people with their motivation. However, the program is mostly text-based, with a straightforward interface. There's no human interaction, and the speaking exercises just reinforce the text on-screen.

The result is a program that doesn't meet any of our criteria. It doesn't teach you how to pronounce Spanish words or sounds, it doesn't teach you how to hold a conversation, and it doesn't formally focus on either vocab or grammar, which will limit your learning potential.

Overall, Duolingo may be a good companion app to another program, but on its own, you're better off watching the latest Spanish telenovela.

Conclusion

Each person will have their own best way to learn Spanish. Some people will quickly pick up sounds and pronunciation but may struggle to find the right words or word order during conversations. Others may feel comfortable muddling through a discussion but won't have the right balance between sentence structure and vocab.

There are several programs, including Rocket Spanish and SpanishPod 101, that offer comprehensive lesson plans for beginners and advanced Spanish language speakers alike. The design of these programs has learning and speaking Spanish in mind, with a gradual shift from English to Spanish as the lessons progress.

No one program is going to turn you into a native Spanish speaker in several months. Your best bet when it comes to learning a language is to find a program you enjoy that suits your learning style. More than anything, consistency and a comprehensive lesson plan are the truly best ways to learn a language. Don't be afraid to experiment with various programs, especially those offering free trials, to find the one that excites you to learn more about the Spanish language.

About the Author Anthony

Coffee drinker, language learner, habitual traveler, taking life one beautiful day at a time.