How to Effectively Learn Spanish on Your Own
Learning a language is an incredible process and thanks to the internet, it has never been as easy as today. However, there is more to learning Spanish than just finding the right app or Youtube channel. This article provides advice on how to learn Spanish on your own and how to set yourself up for success.
What Makes Spanish Special
Compared to many other languages, Spanish has several advantages if you want to learn it on your own.
Spanish Is Closely Related to English
Given that you made it this far, you are likely either a native English speaker or sufficiently comfortable with English. That is a huge advantage for studying Spanish.
Spanish is a Romance language, like Latin or French, while English is a Germanic language, like German. However, English is sometimes called the bastard tongue, and this is for good reasons.
Historically, English was subject to a lot of French and Latin influences. This makes it easier to learn or even guess the meaning of many Spanish words like revolución, ambicioso, and recomendar.
In addition, there are several Spanish words that made their way into the English language.
A lot of Media Is Available in Spanish
The secret to learning Spanish is to learn in Spanish. The more you can expose yourself to the language, the more you will be able to understand. In the absence of a language teacher, this is more important than ever.
Spanish has the second highest number of native Speakers and 20 countries list Spanish as their official language. Thanks to this, there is an incredible richness in TV shows, newspapers, podcasts, and music available for you from home. Netflix alone, released 15 new series in Spanish this year dwarfing any other language apart from English.
There Are Large Spanish Speaking Diasporas Around the World
Not only is there a huge number of Spanish native speakers, the Spanish speaking diaspora, native speakers who live outside of Spanish speaking countries, is widely spread around the world.
In the United States alone, the Latin American diaspora is estimated to exceed 50 million people. But it is not only America. In France, for example, there are an estimated 280 thousand Spanish citizens and over 1.3 million Latin Americans.
This means that you do not have to live in or visit a Spanish speaking country to talk to native speakers. By having an open mind and being ready to use what you have learned, you can find open ears everywhere.
Whether in Germany, the UK, or the United States, I was fortunate enough to find opportunities to improve my Spanish with colleagues, friends, or baristas.
How to Learn Spanish on Your Own
To be clear, learning Spanish, or any language for that matter, is a challenge and doing so without a teacher is not making it easier. Nevertheless, there are good reasons you may want to study on your own. Language courses can be expensive and do not provide the flexibility many of us require.
Whether you are starting to learn Spanish or looking to improve your Spanish skills, these are some tips on how to learn Spanish on your own.
Create a Study Plan
The best way to learn Spanish on your own is to think of yourself as both the teacher and the student. This means that rather than opening a book when you feel like it, you want to create a study plan.
Your study plan should reflect what you want to learn, how much time you plan to spend on it, and when you will do it. So, if you want to improve your listening, do not wait for a moment when you are inspired to listen to Spanish audio. Dedicate a time to listening practice, say 20 minutes Mondays and Thursdays before work.
The more details you put into your study plan, the easier it will be for you to use the time effectively. Instead of thinking about what to study when you start your session, your study plan will tell you what to do. This helps prevent you from doing things that are easy but less effective.
Stick to Your Schedule or Revise It
It is important to keep the study plan realistic and to design it for your life—after all, this is the greatest advantage of studying on your own.
The key is to be ambitious but honest. Planning to study fifteen minutes every Sunday is unlikely to help you to fluency within a year. But you also do not want to pretend that you can study multiple hours each day if your life does not allow for it.
If you realize that your plan of studying one hour every day does not work for you anymore, adjust your study plan and commit yourself to shorter periods. Reviewing your study plan regularly, be it weekly or monthly, is an important part of staying on top of it.
Consistency Is Key
When designing your study plan, the power lies in consistency. It is better to study fifteen minutes every day than two hours once a week. If you manage to fit two study sessions into your day, that is even better.
However, always keep in mind that your study plan needs to be sustainable. Language learning is a marathon and not a sprint. Studying consistently for half a year will bring better long-term results than studying intensely for one month.
Remind Yourself of Your Motivation
Every language learner, sooner or later, will be frustrated about their progress. This is normal because progress in language learning is not steady but an ebb and flow.
One day you are frustrated that you cannot remember a simple conjugation and the next you are amazed that you are able to understand most of a conversation.
The important part is to not give up when progress is slow but to remind yourself of why you are studying Spanish and enjoy the progress you have made already.
Set Yourself Intermediate Goals
Many of us start learning Spanish with the goal to become fluent. While this is a great long-term goal, it is not the best for staying motivated.
Consider setting smaller intermediate goals. And why not include some reward while you are at it: You have stuck to your study plan for one month? How about a nice dinner? You finished your A2 Spanish book? How about a massage as a reward? You get the idea.
The same way that a teacher may test you at the end of a course, you can also take a standardized Spanish proficiency exam to track your progress. This is a great way to have a concrete goal to work towards and gives you something to show for afterwards.
Use a Variety of Materials
Most language teacher do not just rely on a single textbook but will include a collection of materials. As your own Spanish teacher, you should do the same.
Your textbook may be great for grammar lessons, but the audio may be unnatural or boring. Similarly, your language learning app may be great to introduce new vocabulary and have smaller sessions throughout the day, but it does not help as much with grammar, speaking, or writing.
The best way to learn Spanish on your own is to try out different materials, use what works, and use it in the way that works best for you. In the same way that it is helpful to regularly review your study plan, it is helpful to review whether the materials you use cover everything you want to learn.
How to Teach Yourself Spanish
I think of learning Spanish as three distinct areas of study. While all these areas are connected, you will want to make sure that your study plan covers all three of them.
The most fundamental part of learning Spanish is to consume the language. This includes listening to Spanish, reading, and studying vocabulary.
It is important that the input you get is natural and close to your Spanish level. Language learning apps like Duolingo, are a great way of learning vocabulary and phrases in small lessons throughout the day.
For natural reading and listening, news articles on Newsdle are a great resource. Articles are available at all Spanish levels and the app allows you to save and review vocabulary.
Reading is often more comfortable than listening as it allows you to go through the content in your own pace. However, make sure to spend time on listening practice as well.
The second pillar of learning Spanish is grammar. While not the favorite part of most students, grammar is the key that unlocks both your understanding and your ability to sound more natural.
Textbooks are a great way to study grammar and to learn in a sensible order.
Online forums are also a great resource if you need help on specific parts of Spanish grammar.
Output is probably the hardest pillar to improve if you learn Spanish on your own. This encompasses both writing and speaking, and deserves a bit more details on the best way to learn Spanish on your own.
Teaching Yourself How to Write in Spanish
Writing a diary in Spanish is a great way of practicing and to improve over time. The downside of being your own teacher is that it is on you to find your own mistakes. However, the secret is to not obsess about mistakes too much and to keep practicing.
As you read more and write more, your writing will improve, and you will start avoiding mistakes naturally.
If you are unsure about how to write something or if a sentence you wrote makes sense, google translate can be a helpful, though imperfect, resource.
Learning How to Speak When Noone Is Listening
Speaking in a foreign language is without a doubt the greatest challenge and this is even more so when you are learning Spanish on your own.
Of course, the best way to learn how to speak Spanish is to find native Speakers you can practice with. Language exchanges, in person or online, are a cheap option to start using Spanish in real situations. This can be uncomfortable at first but is the best way to make progress and you may make friends on the way.
However, even on days when talking to others is not an option, you can always talk to yourself. It may feel strange at first but telling yourself about your day in Spanish or listing the ingredients as you cook dinner is a great way to get used to the pronunciation and to get a feel for the language.
The key to speaking Spanish is to do it as much as possible. The more you do it, the more natural the language will feel to you and the more comfortable you will become.
Learning Spanish is an exciting project and thanks to a variety of resources online, it is easier than ever to study Spanish by yourself. The truth is that there is no single answer to the question how to best learn Spanish on your own. However, the tips above will help you find what works best for you. Ultimately, the best way to learn Spanish on your own is to find out what methods work best for you.
After limited success learning languages in the German school system, Kolja discovered his passion for languages as a teenager during an exchange in Argentina. Since then, language learning has been a constant in his life including minors in Spanish and Portuguese when studying international economics at the University of Tübingen in Germany. Over the years, Kolja has experimented with countless language learning methods, from high school, university, and language school classes to in-person and online tutors, exchanges, apps, and textbooks. Beyond his passion for languages, Kolja has a deep interest in history and cultures having lived in Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Sweden, the UK, USA, and Belgium. Following a PhD in Finance in the UK, he currently lives in the United States working in Data Science and studying Mandarin Chinese.