The first few days after I decided to learn Spanish I was as happy as could be. The idea of speaking another language fluently got me excited. I had visions of trips to exotic destinations and experiences with people from other cultures. In my mind I was well on my way to becoming the real life Dos Equis guy.
But the truth was I didn't have any clue how to start actually learning Spanish. I didn't really know anyone who had learned it as a second language. I'd heard of immersion but didn't know what is was, I also thought about Rosetta stone but was skeptical. I started searching in Google to find any information I could about how to learn a language.
My results didn't really help. I found a lot of information spread across all kinds of places. Evidently everyone is world has their own way of learning a language and swears that theirs is the best. Needless to say it was all a bit overwhelming.
Overtime, through trial and error, I was able to learn Spanish, but not without a few hiccups along the way. I wrote this post to give you the introduction to language learning I wish I had back then. This list isn't all inclusive, but I hope it gives enough information to help you choose the learning method that is best for you.
What You Will Learn in This Post
- The 6 main ways to learn Spanish
- Which of these ways is the best (spoiler alert my vote is immersion)
- The pros and cons of each learning method
- Popular examples of each method
Immersion is hands down the best way to learn Spanish. It is the fastest and most effective way to become fluent. If you have the opportunity to learn Spanish while living or traveling to a Spanish speaking country, do it! All the Spanish classes, courses, and learning tips in the world can't replace the experience of learning a language with native speakers in the real world.
What is Spanish immersion?
Spanish immersion is when you learn Spanish using only Spanish and little to none of your native language. You essentially surround yourself with Spanish (Spanish speaking people, Spanish movies & music, Spanish books, etc) and force yourself to communicate and interact with your environment in your new language.
Imagine dipping something into a bucket of water until it's completely immersed. Language immersion is the same idea except you're the thing and the new language is the water.
Immersion programs abroad
The most common way to get the immersion experience is to move another country and learn the language there. You can do this through an immersion program, independent study, or a combination of both. The important thing is that you are surrounded by the language as much as possible.
Immersion programs are often offered through universities, but there are also a lot of private Spanish schools that offer immersion programs as well. Some of these programs will allow you to live with a Spanish speaking host family during your stay.
Check out Gooverseas for listings and reviews of immersion programs
Immersion programs in the USA
You don't necessarily have to move abroad to immerse yourself in Spanish. Some universities have immersion programs right here in the USA. Check out Middlebury's Spanish Language School in Vermont. Their program is famous for its language pledge where students have to sign a paper that says they'll only use their new language for the entirety of the 7 week program or they are sent home (intense right?).
Create your own immersion program at home
Thanks to the internet it is possible to give yourself an immersion experience no matter where you live. Though you will probably have to use English for your job and for talking with friends and family, but you can push yourself to live the rest of your life in Spanish. If you have access to the internet you also have access to Spanish media, movies, music, and literature.
This type of at home immersion isn't easy, but it's definitely possible. Check out AllJapaneseAllTheTime where Khatzumoto shares an immersion based method he used to become fluent Japanese (a language much harder than Spanish) without ever having been to Japan.
Is Immersion Effective?
Yes! In most cases it's what all other forms of Spanish learning try to copy. Spanish classes try to incorporate it. Spanish courses try to simulate it. Spanish tutors (online and off) are substitute for it, but nothing beats the real thing! Immersion is often the standard of language learning by which other methods are measured.
Advantages of Spanish Immersion
Learning a language through immersion is very efficient. There's no BS or beating around the bush. You use the language right from day one.
The Spanish will stick
When you immerse yourself in Spanish you have to use it. If you don't you won't be able to interact with your environment. This necessity helps you remember, recall, and pay attention to the Spanish around you.
Disadvantages of Spanish Immersion
If you're taking an official immersion program it will probably be quite expensive. Expect to pay in the thousands of dollars, especially if you going through a university. Prices can be cheaper in some Latin American countries, and there are reputable private schools that over more affordable options (I'll make a post on that one of these days).
If you're going aboard to learn a language you also have factor in travel and living expenses.
For an affordable language immersion tool we highly recommend FluentU. No travel required. It's free to try out with absolutely no obligation and there is a free plan as well! Please check out our in-depth review.
Spanish Immersion requires A LOT of time and energy. When you immerse yourself in a new language you can expect to spend the majority of each day practicing and using your target language opposed to your native one.
Immersion programs typically last weeks and sometimes months. They are not for the faint of heart, or the casual Spanish learner.
Not everyone can do it
Because of its price and the amount of energy and time you must commit to Spanish immersion, it's not for everyone. The majority of us just don't have the time or the money needed to spend a few months learning Spanish in another country or at a university.
You can create your own bootstrap immersion program at home for free, but it will still require a lot of work and commitment on your part.
Traditional Spanish classes
Typically the first thing we think of when talking about learning any language is a classroom and a teacher. This image carries with it the labor and bordem of school days past. This is a bad notion, especially if you didn't enjoy school. I think of a desk, boring teacher, a clock on the wall, and aching feeling that I should be doing something else....but that's just me. Maybe you liked school.
While Spanish classes aren't completely bad their certainly not my first choice is you want to learn to speak a language. They also have a tendency to be one of the more expensive options for learning Spanish if you're not already in a high school or college course.
What are traditional Spanish classes?
Spanish classes are common in almost all high schools and college campuses (in the US at least). Chances are you've taken a few yourself or probably know someone has. There are also private language schools in or around most major cities who offer similar classroom based courses.
More often than not these classes follow the standard classroom styled curriculum centered around teaching information to a large group of people with in a set time ( a year or semester). The material is very structured and based on a linear progression (basic stuff first, then gradually gets more complicated).
Are Spanish classes effective?
Class can be inefficient
Personally I'm not a huge fan of taking a class to learn a language. We all probably know somebody who has studied a language for a year or two but still doesn't speak it well. There is some research that suggests learning a language in classroom setting is inefficient. It's just not the fastest or best way to learn a second language.
A big problem with traditional language classes is that they usually focus on grammar rules and vocabulary lists. They tend to teach language as a series of facts instead of as a skill. Imagine someone teaching you about the parts of a bicycle, how it works, and describing how you ride it. At the end of the day if you want to learn how to ride a bike you have to actually get on a bike and ride it.
If you want to learn a language, you have to start using it to communicate. There's no way around that. Classrooms environments don't usually give you the type of practice and exposure you need to learn a language.
How well you learn Spanish in a class will depend on a lot of different things. Classes can vary in way they present the language. Some classes will be better than others. There are even some that incorporate immersion (though I've only heard of this offered to children at certain schools). Before you sign up find out how the language will be taught. It could save you a lot of time and money.
Advantages of traditional Spanish classes
Classes do provide the structure for the Spanish learner. When you take a Spanish class you are not responsible for what material the class covers all you have to do is show up and work with what is given to you. In other more independent forms of Spanish learning you are responsible for everything. You have to decide what to study, when to move on, and what and how to review. In a class all that is left to the teacher and the curriculum.
A teacher can make or break a Spanish class. A great teacher can take an otherwise boring and complicated subject and turn it into something interesting and understandable. However it's important to note that great teachers are always easy to come by.
In a classroom setting you get to learn alongside other Spanish learners. If you're taking a class it's almost guaranteed that you'll be able to connect with other students. This is a advantge is isn't always available when you learn independently or go aboard.
Disadvantages of traditional Spanish classes
Limited use of Spanish
A common problem among language teachers it can be hard for students to engage with a new language in a classroom setting. It can be hard for several reasons.
Research has shown that you need more input with a language than just reading, writing, and listening, unfortunately in the classroom setting these are the main ways you'll interact with the Spanish language. Practicing your speaking skills can be very hard in a Spanish class (especially a large one).
A class may not meet your individual needs
Your interaction with Spanish will also be limited by the other students. It's not a uncommon that a Spanish class only moves as fast as its slowest student. If you find yourself learning quicker than the rest of your classmates you may find yourself waiting for the rest of them to catch up.
The opposite can also be true if you're the slowest person in the class. There is a chance that the teacher will advance further through the material, before you are comfortable with it. When this happens you can risk falling behind.
Spanish classes can be expensive. Though the price will vary between schools, expect the price to be in the hundreds.
Where to find Spanish classes
You're liable to find a Spanish class anywhere there's a university or community college. Most educational institutions have them, and many have internet based programs.
You can also find private language schools in and around most major cities. Their program and teaching style will vary, but you're interested taking a Spanish class it's worth checking out.
Another common way of learning Spanish is by hiring a private teacher (often called tutors).
What are private teachers?
Private teachers are essentially individual teachers than you can hire to help you learn Spanish. Teachers are generally paid by the hour and work with students on daily or weekly basis. A teacher may come to your house, or you may travel to theirs for the lesson.
Spanish teachers can range from someone who has teaching credentials to someone who is mere just a native speaker. Some teachers will provide a lot of direction during your lessons and teach you the language, others may act more like tutors and merely assist you.
Is private tutoring effective?
Private teachers provide you with one on one attention and can easily customize their learning materials to meet your needs. This eliminates a lot of the disadvantages you find in a Spanish classroom.
A teacher or tutor's effectives will vary from person to person. If you decide to look for a private teacher in your area ask around to see you can get a recommendation from one of their students.
Price will differ between teachers and the area where you live. A rule of thumb that I hear used a lot is that a private teacher can cost between $20-$30 an hour, depending on their experience. You may be able to find one less. Just remember that a quality teacher more often than not demands a quality price.
Advantages of private teachers
The greatest advantage of a taking private Spanish classes is that you get exclusive practice with someone who is fluent in Spanish and has experience teaching it as a foreign language. Like I said before, a private tutor or teacher can provide the personal attention and focus that you wouldn't otherwise find in a large class.
Disadvantages of private teachers
A common drawback with private teachers is their price. It's not uncommon for them to charge around the $30 per hour range. This isn't a problem if they have experience and are actually great teachers, but it makes it hard to take classes if you're on a tight budget.
Another disadvantage is that your class times are limited to the teacher's schedule. You're not their only student and teacher have to balance their time between their lessons and their personal lives.
How to find a private Spanish Teacher
Take Lessons is a site that offers private lesson for music, arts, and languages. You can search based on you city or zip code. They have might a selection of Spanish teachers in your area. Yelp is also a good place to look. Of course you can always ask around too!
Online Classes & Tutors
An example of an online Spanish class
With the advent of apps like Skype and Google Hangouts it became possible and even more practical to move the language learning experience online. The past few years have seen a surge of websites offering paid one on one language lessons with a teacher through online video chat. The trend is growing in popularity, and it is now easier than ever to find your own language teacher.
What are online classes?
An online class usually consists of an online video chat (via Skype or Google Hangouts) between you and your teacher. The teacher can share learning materials via chat, email, or simply sharing their screen with you. This way you essentially get the same experience you would as if you took lessons in person.
If you're learning Spanish you will have your pick of teachers and classes. Spanish is the most popular second language in the US, and there are many sites and teachers ready to help you learn.
Are online classes effective?
In theory an online class is as effective as having a tutoring session in person. This will vary based each teacher and the learning approach they use. A teacher with a good internet connection can teach you from anywhere in world. As I said before they can share video, text, and audio and even use applications like Google docs to work on and edit materials with you in real time.
Prices for online teachers will vary. A teacher with experience and certification will cost more than one without. Professional teachers usually start at $15-$25 per hour. However it's definitely possible to find a professional teacher for $10 an hour.
One of Italki's Spanish teachers
Some sites like Italki offer the option to take lessons with informal tutors, who don't necessarily have experience or certification but who speak the language fluently. Prices for this type of tutor can be anywhere from $4-$15+ an hour.
Whether you choose a professional or informal teacher chances are that an online teacher will be cheaper than an in-person tutor.
Advantages of online Spanish classes
Take lessons at home on your schedule
Learning Spanish online gives you the option of having a class right in the comfort of your own home. You can literally sit up in your bed and have a Spanish lesson. With a large selection of teachers from around the world and in different time zones, it's also much easier to find classes that fit your schedule
One on one tutoring at a cheaper price
Online teachers also give you all the benefits of individual tutoring, but at a cheaper price. Because there are so many sites offering online Spanish lessons and each one has a numerous teachers there is a lot of competition between teachers trying to attract students. As a student this helps you out. Teachers will usually err on the side charging less for their lessons so they can attract more students.
Disadvantages of online Spanish classes
Quality of teachers can vary
Not at all online Spanish teachers are equal. You will find that the quality of classes can differ from teacher to teacher and sometimes site to site. In general though, you get what you pay for.
If you want a quality and professional experience be prepared to pay for it. Don't assume that every teacher or site out is going to be professional and effective. Also don't expect a world class teacher for $5 an hour.
Real world interaction
As affordable and effective as online classes may be, they still aren't a substitute for having real world interactions in Spanish. I personally love online lessons, and I'm a huge proponent of them, but at the end of the day you should make an effort to go out and practice Spanish in real life when at all possible.
Popular sites for online Spanish classes
Italki is an online marketplace that connects language learners with language teachers from around the world. It's also probably the most popular site for online Spanish classes and is recommended by most language learning blogs. It is also the largest site providing online classes. Check out our in-depth review.
Though it doesn't have anywhere near the selection of teachers and languages that Italki has, Verbling does have a couple strong points. All their teachers are vetted so they only provide professional teachers. They also have an interesting online group class option for a monthly subscription.
Chances are you've probably heard of a few Spanish courses: Pimsleur, Rocket languages, and of course Rosetta Stone. Spanish courses are made up of a series lessons or exercises that are designed to be worked through in a sequential order. They range from only text lessons, to audio, video, and everything in between. These courses are made so that you can learn Spanish on your own instead of taking a class or having a tutor.
Each course is almost always based off of some sort of language learning or cognitive research.
Price will depend on the course but generally Spanish courses run from $100-$300+.
Advantages of Spanish Courses
The main attraction of language learning courses is that they don't require much on the part of the learner. Everything is presented a complete package. All a student has to do is sit back and work on the material. Though this could be an advantage or disadvantage depending on how you look at it.
A lot of courses (but not all) are well researched. There's a great deal of work that goes behind what material you learn and how it's presented to you. Everything is designed to make your learning experience better. You can actually read some of that research for Rosetta Stone and Duolingo, two of the most popular Spanish courses.
Courses work well for beginners
Courses are more effective for beginners then they are for more advanced learners. This is in part because the first levels of language learning are the easiest. If you are new to Spanish pick a reputable course and stick with it you will learn some Spanish.
Disadvantages of Spanish courses
Courses are incomplete
One of the biggest drawback of Spanish courses is that they are incomplete. There isn't a single course that can bring you to fluency in a language. It's almost impossible for any course to replace the experience of communicating with another human being, which is usually the main skill you want to develop for learning a language.
When you can't practice with native speakers one big thing you miss out on is cultural context. Culture is what brings language to life , and you can't find that form a course. In addition to slang, and figures of speech, there's a lot of Spanish you won't be able to understand until you have more or less experienced it.
Courses can be expensive
Two of the most popular Spanish courses Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur can cost upwards of $300 or more depending on how many levels you buy. Not all courses are this pricey, but you can usually expect to pay well over $100 for one. One notable exception is Duolingo, an effective course that is widely popular and completely free.
Popular Spanish courses
Duolingo is an effective course that teaches languages in the format of a game. Research has shown that it to be very effective at teaching grammar and vocabulary, and best off all it's completely free!
Rosetta Stone is often times one of the first courses people think of when learning a new language. The course is a bit pricy. Reviews differ on it's effectiveness. But there is research to suggest that using Rosetta Stone will improve your abilities with a new language.
Pimsleur courses are known to be some of the best audio courses on the market. They use a recall/response technique that focuses on developing conversational skill, and they have a unique emphasis on pronunciation.
What are DIY methods?
The blogosphere is gradually filling up with more an more polyglots and language learners who have developed their own language learning methods without using formal programs or courses. Sometimes these original methods use specific Spanish tools, other times they are developed from personal experience.
Is learning Spanish DIY effective?
These methods are typically unorthodox, but that doesn't mean they aren't effective. Sometimes I think they are more effective because they are more interesting. These methods of learning center around using the language not learning about a language. Going back to the bike analogy these guys will all tell you to get on a bike and start riding right away!
What really sticks out with these methods is the way that they approach a language. Some start with pronunciation, some start with basic phrases and don't focus on pronunciation. Some focus on listening and writing before you speak, others are completely based around speaking. Each method is different.
As a Spanish learner you have the option to follow one of these methods, mix and match them, or even make up your own as you go. This was essentially my approach to learning Spanish. If you go this route know that there will be some trial and error as you discover what does and doesn't work, but as the same time it's a very creative and fun way to learn a new language.
If you value freedom and independence in learning then this may be the route for you.
The price can be whatever you want it to be. You could learn a language using only free tools and resources, or even none at all. Also you could purchase a course you like and supplement it with one of these DIY methods.
If you're following the method of a blogger/polyglot except to pay some money. When you purchase their method it's important to understand that you are not buying a Spanish course. These methods will not teach you Spanish. They will teach you how to learn Spanish, usually in way that's efficient and engaging. These methods differ in price but except anywhere from $30-$100.
Affordable DIY Resources (Free to Try!)
Fluentu provides native Spanish videos with a built in subtitle and vocabulary system. You can watch real Spanish videos (commercials, tv clips, music, etc) and learn words in a real life context. It also has its own flashcard system and other learning resources.
SpanishPod101 teaches Spanish primarily through audio based lessons. Their site also has a lot of extra features like in-site flashcards and vocabulary quizzes. Their lessons are especially good at helping you developing your listening skills and are great you have to learn on the go.
Using the approach and tricks of a seasoned language learner can be a very effective way to learn Spanish. You very easily learn from the mistakes they made so you don't have to make the mistakes yourself. Also because they have spent their time actually learning languages, the method of a polyglot/blogger is usually very practical and not theoretic, unlike a lot of Spanish classes and courses.
These guys have put in the time and know where the rubber meets the road. Their methods will reflect that.
The Mimic Method is a DIY method centered around pronunciation and music
Not all DIY methods are worth your time and money. While there are some out there that are genuinely effective, there also some there a not. You definitely want to do your research to find out which methods you should consider using.
These approaches to language learning don't usually have the structure or accountability of classes or tutors. It tends to be all on you. They will show you the direction to toward fluency, but you have to find your way through their method more or less on your own.
If you like space for flexibility and creativity, then using one of these methods could right for you. If you prefer a more structured and delineated approach then working with a teacher or program is probably better.
Popular DIY methods
Fluent in 3 Months is the brain child of Benny Lewis, the most popular polyglot blogger in the world. In it he shares the approach he used to learn 14+ languages. His approach centers about speaking a new language from day 1.
The Mimic Method focuses on learning pronunciation through music. It breaks down a language into it's smallest parts syllable by syllable so that you can get into "the flow" of your target language.
Spanish fluency is a wonderful destination. There are many roads you can take to get there. While each one may be different know that the journey towards fluency will not be an easy one. But it will be worth it. So don't ever give up!
Have you had any experiences with these learning methods? If so what where they? Let us know in the Comments!