In our last post on how to learn a new language, we discussed a high level methodology to make language learning easy, fun, and as natural as any other habit.
One of the most popular languages today is – Spanish – the second most natively spoken language in the world, Spanish is witnessing a tremendous rise in its popularity!
A lot of our learners talk to us on live chat and on our forums and ask ‘How can I learn Spanish?‘, ‘How do I learn Spanish for free?‘, ‘How can I learn Spanish online?‘ etc…
Today, we talk about some ways by which one can easily learn Spanish for free and skip making a hole in one’s pocket! We will review various methods to learn Spanish for free, suggest which to choose and why, and also provide some resource references.
Here are some great ways to learn Spanish for free:
1. Free Online Lessons
Gone are the days when you were forced to buy a 500$ CD/software to pick up a new language! There are some great self-study courses available on the web/as mobile apps to help you learn Spanish grammar, conversations, and vocabulary for free. These can help you start right from the beginning and take you to even an advanced level.
Which website/apps to choose for learning Spanish online:
- Depth: Check the list of topics on these websites and then go with a source that has enough material for your learning needs. Switching from one source to another too often may result in a break in continuity.
- Interactivity & practice: Pick a source that provides interactive Spanish practice games and exercises on top of the content. This will ensure a consistent learning experience. Testing yourself on what you learn is extremely important. Choose sources which give you a mix of reading, listening, and writing exercises and give immediate feedback.
Quizlet is a good website for finding practice exercises but they don’t have complementary lessons – so you may feel lost as to which exercises to look at.
- Structure and flow: There are two types of websites:
- Websites that have structured lessons and quizzes with a clear flow – These pretty much act as a book guiding you one lesson after the other. Choose this if you are looking for a one stop shop experience and want to limit the need for searching for topics.
- Reference Websites which cover a lot of different grammar and conversational topics without necessarily having these organized in a flow or as lessons. Choose these only if you are looking at these websites for one-off reference or as supplementary material. About.com for Spanish is a good reference website if you want to search for help on certain topics
- Audio support: We would highly recommend choosing websites which have tutorials and lessons with audio support. Audio-visual lessons just change the way you pick up Spanish. You will develop a better accent and better listening skills.
- Content: Of-course the meat of any learning website is the content it offers. Now, how good or bad the content is would only be discovered once you try out a couple of lessons. But you could look at user comments/ feedback about the website before getting started. Remember that different people may like different styles of teaching. We ideally recommend content that is beyond just a phrasebook and helps you understand why something is said the way it is.
2. The Telenovela method
Another great way to learn Spanish for free is using Spanish media. Traditionally, the telenovela method (TV method) involved watching Spanish soap-operas and learning Spanish with them.
The Telenovela Method uses Spanish-language media, that you would enjoy, to teach you Spanish. In our experience, this method works best once you have some basic knowledge of Spanish grammar and vocabulary - although we have seen people use just this method as well.
Expanding scope from just TV, you could use movies, YouTube videos, songs, comic strips, news, or whatever you enjoy to make the process of learning Spanish fun and engaging. While starting out, it is ideal if you use videos, songs, movies, and comic strips with both Spanish and English subtitles.
Take the above comic strip for example. If you don’t know any Spanish then you’ll find it difficult to understand the first script. But if you know the basics (like pronouns, ser/estar, basic conjugations) then understanding the strip becomes very easy by looking at its English version.
Eg: Una gran mayoría de gente de seis años dice que no satisfaces sus expectativas de la paternidad
Una gran mayoría de gente = A large majority of people
de seis años = of 6 years
dice que = say that
no satisfaces = you don’t satisfy
sus expectativas de la paternidad = their expectations of (the) fatherhood
You should watch/read small sections at a time, then try to look at the meanings of the words you don’t understand. More than just the vocabulary, try to understand the grammar – why a sentence is framed the way it is.
If you don’t understand certain concepts, you can post questions on forums.
The Telenovela method is effective because it introduces real conversations – as a native would talk, and is fun at the same time. However, you will need help with understanding the grammar and vocabulary. So, the Telenovela method would need some basic understanding of the language and supplementary sources which explain the concepts well. We recommend using it as a fun way to practice and learn more vocabulary.
- Just go to YouTube, Grooveshark, or Pandora to tune into Spanish songs. You can find Spanish and English lyrics on sites like metrolyrics.com, lyricstranslate.com, etc..
- We are working on adding a Karaoke tool into your lesson experience to help you practice Spanish. Check out a sample: http://culturealley.com/SpanishKaraoke.jsp
- Comic strips: GoComics: You can find popular strips like Calvin & Hobbes, Garfield, and other in Spanish on this site. It also has the English version of the same strips.
- Movies: You may find some movies (with subtitles) on YouTube. Otherwise you can also get DVDs or go to websites like open subtitles.
3. Language Exchange
This method involved conversing (either face to face or over Skype) with a native who speaks Spanish and knows some English (or whatever your native language is) – the native would teach you Spanish and you in-turn would teach him/her English (or whatever your native language is).
Finding a native:
- Friend circle: If you can find someone you know already or a friend – nothing like it! Because that will make the conversations more natural and comfortable.
- Clubs: A lot of cities have clubs and meetup groups for language learning where you can find a mix of beginners as well as native speakers
- Online: You can also find websites to connect you with natives over chat/Skype
It works well because you are interacting 1on1 with a native – you pick up the right words, learn the accent well, learn about their culture, and most importantly practice speaking.
The only draw-back at times is that a native Spanish speaker may not be necessarily equipped to teach Spanish and both of you may feel lost.
There is a paid version of this option where instead of choosing just any native, you can interact with a native Spanish teacher over Skype who is trained to teach you Spanish. However, experienced teachers would charge a fee.
4. Free English-Spanish Dictionaries
There are several online dictionaries to help you find new words and build your vocabulary. If your aim is to build vocabulary, find a limited word dictionary that has curated the most important words. If your aim is to find meanings of words you read somewhere or hear somewhere then go for a more comprehensive dictionary like the one from Oxford word reference or use Google translate (it works well with individual words, not so much with phrases).
The web provides tremendous scope for learning a new language – so save the 500$ for exploring a new place! There is enough quality material out there – all you need to do is be careful and picky.
Here are some resources and tools that we have built at CultureAlley to help you learn Spanish for free (also available for other languages):
1) Free audio visual lessons on Spanish – More than 60 free lessons with voice and audio support. The lessons are super-intuitive, conversational, and explain each concept in detail
2) Free practice games on Spanish – Our games ‘spellathon’ and ‘scatterathon’ provide action packed practice to develop your reading, writing, and listening skills. They complement what you learn in each lesson and give immediate feedback
3) Free Spanish Dictionary – 1000 most used words in Spanish with English translations. Has an easy search feature and comes with audio support.
4) Live chat - To guide you on your learning plan, answer your questions, hear your feedback, and more!
5) Spanish Forums – Ask questions and get responses from our team within 24 hours
6) Spanish Karaoke Tool – Learn Spanish with music using our karaoke tool. Many more songs coming up soon!
Tell us about more helpful resources that you’d like us to review or include in the list. Happy learning!