How to get started with Spanish

July 15, 2021
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I feel like I'm finally making progress in learning Spanish. I'm now able to converse with others - albeit still with some difficulty. As I work towards conversational fluency, I thought I'd share my learning experience with you. This article is aimed at anyone who's just started learning Spanish or thinking about it. I link to several learning resources, mostly recommended to me by friends. Some methods did not work for me, but you may want to try them anyway.

Table of contents

Why am I learning Spanish

It's good to know what motivates you when going about a new challenge. I want to learn a third language because:

  • Learning a language is fun - this is my no. 1 reason.
  • I want a mental challenge in something not related to my day job (programming).
  • Speaking three languages would be cool.

I felt inspired to start learning Spanish by the Bollywood movie, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.

Three Indian friends go to Spain to celebrate an engagement. I loved the Spanish landscapes and culture portrayed in this movie.
Three Indian friends go to Spain to celebrate an engagement. I loved the Spanish landscapes and culture portrayed in this movie.

Additionally,

  • Spanish is the world's 4th most spoken language. It would be so amazing to visit Spanish speaking countries and converse with people in their language.
  • Pronunciation is easy-peasy in Spanish as every letter is pronounced the same everywhere.

Reading / Vocabulary

Reading is a great way to pick up vocab and get familiar with the patterns of a language. Start with beginner-friendly books such as the one below from Olly Richards.

Short Stories in Spanish for Beginners [Olly Richards]
Short Stories in Spanish for Beginners [Olly Richards]

I learnt English by reading Harry Potter every day. So, I thought I'd try the same technique with Spanish by reading Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal. Although it's a bit difficult, I enjoy it because it takes me back to my childhood days.

Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal
Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal

Discarded

AnkiApp / spaced repetition / flashcard apps help build your vocabulary. The premise is that you need to review words at increasingly spaced out intervals to ensure that it sticks in your brain. I tried this for a while, adding every new word I encountered to my AnkiApp and reviewing words every morning. I did not enjoy the process and decided to focus on other methods. However, it's worth giving it a try.

Listening

I love Spanish learning courses in the form of audiobooks. It's a great way of training your ear whilst also picking up new words or grammar skills. I usually do my listening for half an hour before going to bed or just after I wake up. Listening on the tube/bus works too. Top tip: Say the stuff you hear out loud for better memory retention.

  1. Michel Thomas Beginner Spanish - 7 hours

    This dude is such an awesome instructor. He does have a pretty thick French accent, which takes some getting used to. However, of all the audiobooks I've listened to, this is the most entertaining. His passion for languages and teaching is obvious. I also like how he focuses a lot on pronunciation, especially those damn tildes. Try listening to the sample for Lesson 1. There are seven lessons in all.

  2. Learn Spanish with Paul Noble - 13 hours

    Paul has a very similar setup to Michel. Not quite as entertaining, but much more of a professional feel.

  3. Next Steps in Spanish with Paul Noble for Intermediate Learners – Complete Course - 8 hours

    I was thrilled to discover that there was more Paul Noble!

  4. Pimsleur - 75 hours

    These courses are a tad expensive. Rather than buying the courses, I opted for a monthly subscription hoping that I'd save some money in the long run if I go through them fast enough. You can try it free for 7 days. I only did level 4 and am just finishing with level 5 at the moment.

  5. Language Learning with Netflix

    Finally, an excuse for watching Netflix without feeling guilty. This Chrome extension lets you see both English and Spanish subtitles at the same time. It works well. Although, bear in mind that studying a movie is a little more taxing than just watching it. 😅

Conversation

At some point, you'll become good enough to need conversational practice. I highly recommend online 1:1 classes. I use the app italki. I have an hour-long class with a Mexican every week. In most classes, we talk about random stuff. In others, we revise a particular tense. The regularity of the sessions themselves is something I find very useful. Even if I'm lazy for one week and don't do any self-study, the class helps me stick with the long-term programme.

I tried finding language exchange partners using apps like Tandem. The idea is that you help someone else who wants to learn English whilst they help you with your Spanish. When I tried this a few years ago, it didn't go too well, as I'm not overly fond of texting as a mode of communication. However, I'm now giving Tandem another go to see if I can get more value out of voice calls.

Discarded

I've tried in-person group classes. Whilst I enjoyed being in a classroom environment with other students and have had some outstanding teachers; I didn't think it was good value for money as the teacher has to split their attention between ten or so students. If you'd like to try for yourselves, then you could look for adult learning services or community classes offered by universities.

Grammar

Some find it helpful to practice grammar directly by revising tenses or doing grammar exercises. I find it too dull. However, I do think it's essential. I use Duolingo to get my grammar practice in a slightly less boring way.

Conclusion

Currently, I dedicate about three hours or so to learning Spanish every week. It includes an hour-long class, reading Harry Potter, listening to audiobooks and using Duolingo. This multi-faceted approach feels not only effective but also very enjoyable to me. Of course, the true test and best way of learning is complete immersion. My plan is to go on holiday in Spain, hopefully next year, to give that a go.

That's all, folks. Leave me some feedback if you have any. I'd also appreciate any recommendations that you may have for Spanish learning tools. ¡Buena suerte para ti!

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