The No-Fuss Guide to Teaching Yourself Spanish

The No-Fuss Guide to Teaching Yourself Spanish

Teaching yourself Spanish has never been easier.

But isn't it ironic? Getting distracted, feeling overwhelmed, losing track and choosing inefficient methods for learning Spanish has become easier as well, especially if you do not start with the right strategy for becoming fluent!

Teaching yourself anything requires focus, discipline and a strategic eye, but that is even more valuable when the subject is Spanish due to its pronunciation tricks, exceptions to the rule and challenging verb conjugations.

Take a look at our specific, 6-step plan to nailing the Spanish language and seeing progress as quickly as possible!

After all, who is going to care for your learning journey if not yourself?

Step up your language learning game by going off the beaten track with these unusual tips!

How much Spanish do I know

1. Find Out How Much Spanish You Know.

You can only improve what you can measure - so don't be afraid to start by testing your Spanish skills!

It is incredible just how much language learners tend to either underestimate or overestimate their language skills.

Perhaps you believe your Spanish level is below zero, and yet you are actually familiar with some words you didn't even remember! On the other hand, you might believe you already know quite a lot, but end up discovering there are some grammar structures or expressions you need to perfect before ascending to fluency.

Why spend time repeating what you have known for ages, or overwhelming yourself with lists and lists of vocabulary that you are still not prepared for?

Instituto Cervantes, the renowned international Spanish school, provides at least two different Spanish level placement tests: here is a shorter one and a more comprehensive version, itself written in Spanish.

Once again - measure it, and you will be able to improve it!

A good strategy to learn Spanish

2. Decide On Your Kickoff Strategy.

These are three aspects you will want to consider before teaching yourself Spanish:

  • 1: What version of Spanish do you want to learn?

Mexican Spanish? European Spanish? Paraguayan, Puerto Rican, Venezuelan?

Granted, you don't have to decide right away.

However, most people will eventually decide on their favorite Spanish dialect based on the following criteria: ease, usefulness (or probability of usefulness), passion, heritage and originality.

This means that you might want to choose a given Spanish dialect based on:

a) whether it seems easier;
b) whether you will be likely to use it anytime soon (based on the communities that live in your area, for example);
c) whether you love the sound of it;
d) whether your family or country shares some kind of history with a particular Spanish-speaking nation, and
e) whether you just want to try something completely different that nobody else tends to choose.

  • 2: Establish goals - if you need them.

"If you need them"?! Gasp! What does that mean?

Yes. Many resources will tell you that the very best way to become fluent in a language is to set measurable goals and determine a date for achieving those goals. That strategy might be right if you have some kind of commitment to the language. For instance:

a) you will go on a date with somebody who speaks a different language and you want to impress them;
b) your partner already speaks a different language and you want to improve your communication (and impress them too!);
c) you will move to another country;
d) you will be traveling somewhere soon and want to speak the local language, or
e) you will have an exam or apply for a certificate.

If you do not find yourself in these situations, you might want to consider not establishing a finish line at all. Why?

A healthy degree of self-awareness and self-knowledge must come into play here - are you the type of person who tends to love deadlines and follows through no matter what? Are you motivated by deadlines and always stick to your plan until then?

If the answer is yes, then start by defining one or two really specific goals (eg: "I want to be able to have a 10-minute conversation about my job in 3 months").

If, on the other hand, the thought of having to pressure yourself to accomplish something before a given date gives you feelings of anxiety and worry, start by focusing on a more linear strategy of study. That means working by unit/lesson instead of by goal, and simply allowing yourself to find your own pace and study the language for your own pleasure and interest.

  • 3: Pick one: a linear strategy or a goal-centered strategy.

While these are not mutually exclusive, they differ a bit on how your study plan will come to fruition.

Studying with a very specific goal in mind (eg: "I want to be able to survive a job interview in Spanish") is different from studying freely, with the intention of understanding the language inside and out.

So start by choosing one and sticking with it. Perhaps you would like to complete a 3-month course that takes you from a beginner's level to an intermediate level. Maybe you would prefer to start learning Spanish vocabulary and grammar according to the topics that interest you the most, regardless of the level of difficulty - that could be food, music, romance or even workouts and exercise! Your call!

Choose a good Spanish course

3. Choose One Main Spanish Course.

Most people will benefit from having one main course to follow rather than spending their time creating their own course plan from scratch and spending countless hours looking for trustworthy material online.

A main course could take many forms. It could be a typical language manual used in class or an app that outlines the major milestones for you. Since Spanish is such a popular language to learn, there is an infinity of materials to choose from depending on whether you want to learn the language just for fun, or if you have a very specific goal with it.

A useful manual to get started is Aula Internacional - Curso de Español, since it exists for levels 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 - the latter corresponding to B2.2, or upper-intermediate level.

Several language apps offer Spanish courses in a linear fashion, and you might have to do some research and see which style fits you best. Here at Speechling we offer both options - a linear style of learning or a theme-based approach according to your personal interests.

Speechling allows you to follow a core curriculum that helps you learn the foundations of the language, placing vocabulary in context for you to learn it as it is used in reality. For instance, you might start by learning how to use the calendar, use your first nouns, learn a few adjectives and get started with verbs. You might also choose to follow our level-by-level course, from A1 to C2.

On the other hand, if you feel that you prefer studying by topic, you can also visit our phrasebook to know more about Spanish applied to travel, finances, personal issues and relationships, administrative processes and documentation, health and even everyday situations that upset you!

Spanish resources

4. Use Other Spanish Resources as Complements.

It is smart to create a healthy blend of quality books in Spanish, from phrasebooks organized by theme to cookbooks, grammar books and classics.

To avoid overwhelm, stick to graded books (books adapted to your level) and go for topics you tend to be interested in already. The last thing you want is to read about different types of nuts and seeds in Spanish when the very thought of the topic in your native language makes you yawn! It is better to be able to talk about your interests with passion and quality, than knowing how to talk about dozens of different topics with zero confidence.

By the way, books are not the only resources you can use. From the amazing content in Spanish that Netflix has made available lately to the best horror movies, there is no excuse anymore - you could even expose yourself to Spanish while driving! Find between two-three types of media you enjoy, and stick with them.

Another resource that just keeps on giving? Well, Señor YouTube, of course! Do not underestimate the amount of quality content you can get from this platform. Once again, it can get quite overwhelming to try to choose a trustworthy channel. But if you are selective and demanding, you will be able to curate a rich playlist that could help you boost your Spanish skills, especially if you organize channels by country or topic.

Bonus: here is a massive list of 100 YouTube channels in Spanish organized by category and topic. This one is in Spanish. If you're still not satisfied, this shorter list of 11 Spanish YouTube channels from different countries could get you started.

Be careful! Simply listening to music or watching YouTube videos does not guarantee fluency! Which leads us to the next point...

Read and listen in Spanish

5. Consume - But Don't Be a Couch Potato!

*"I watch movies in Spanish and listen to songs in Spanish all the time, so why am I not fluent yet and why don't I see any progress?"*, many language learners ask.

This is a common struggle. It comes from the fact that we are often given the advice that we should just listen to music and watch movies, and somehow (perhaps magically!) our Spanish will improve in an instant. If we want progress as language learners, we must let go of this expectation.

That is because even when we consume language - reading, watching, listening - our brain will not miraculously understand everything and translate that into fluency. Of course, watching movies and listening to music can do wonders for our pronunciation, familiarity with the language and vocabulary, but only if we approach it the smart way.

Here are some useful, practical strategies you can try:

  1. Rather than watching a completely brand new movie that you have never seen before in Spanish, try re-watching a movie you are already completely familiar with (yes, "Titanic" or "Terminator" allowed!), this time in the Spanish language. This will allow you to focus on the language rather than the story, and will avoid that unhealthy degree of boredom and frustration that comes with not understanding what is going on!

  2. Do not be afraid to use subtitles at the beginning - English or Spanish. Language learners often proudly anounce they can already watch content without subtitles as a sign that they are approaching fluency - and that is great! But subtitles in English or Spanish can be extremely useful at an early stage, when you are still trying to build up your vocabulary and learn more expressions. These will not 'just come naturally' as you listen. But for this strategy you also need to...(see point 3!)

  3. ...Keep a notebook close to you. As you watch a movie in Spanish with subtitles, note down any expression or word you find that could be used and studied in the future. You will thank yourself for being so careful and organized!

  4. Read lyrics and study them. Listening to music and even playing music can be educational, but it can also end up becoming entertainment with little learning involved. Rather than just listening and singing along, try to actually print the lyrics and create a portfolio. Highlight any word you do not know, do some research, keep a record of your favorite expressions and useful vocabulary. Revisit these files once in a while!

  5. Watch videos, but listen actively. Sometimes fiction is just not cutting it. Watching YouTube videos about politics, political commentary, culture, history or even gossip can sometimes be more useful. Try listening very, very carefully next time. Think about it as being in a Spanish exam and testing your listening skills to see how much you can understand.

  6. Watch actual Spanish speakers talking about topics of interest - not teaching you Spanish. This could be a deal breaker. In real life you will not find people who are willing to teach you Spanish every five minutes, but you will find people who love talking about music, cinema, makeup, fashion, business, sports and so on. So upgrade your YouTube playlists by adding channels that speak Spanish but are not focused on teaching Spanish only.

Teach yourself Spanish

6. Teach Yourself By Producing!

Here is the true deal-breaker. Many language learners will walk into the Spanish classroom with the same complaint: "I understand everything I hear, I just can't speak!"

This is clearly because they don't practice producing Spanish nearly as much as they consume Spanish. That is a major difference you need to understand from the get-go.

For this reason, whether you are learning Spanish by level or by topic, it is important that you create a study plan (or look at the plan you already have) with a critical, objective eye and devote equal amounts of time to all skills: listening, reading, writing and speaking. As soon as you realize some are missing or completely neglected, it is time to turn things around!

Here are some ways you can practice writing and speaking in Spanish by yourself:

  • Get inspired with writing prompts that provide interesting or useful topics. This way, you will spend less time thinking about what you should write about, and more time actually writing and producing. Take Lessons and Educational Star both provide creative prompts, but you can also access this useful Wordpress list with 365 writing prompts in Spanish for every day of the year!

  • Create an actual portfolio. It is no fun to write when there isn't an audience! Why not create your own portfolio of Spanish compositions? Not only will you keep track of your development and how much better you have become, you can also show it to a native speaker who will be willing to correct them and show you how it is done.

  • Search for Facebook groups and websites where you can get a penpal for free. If the purpose is keeping it cost free, then Facebook groups and websites like Interpals, WeSpeke or Speaky could give you that push you need to actually connect with people from the countries you are interested in. Additionally, you might find others who are learning Spanish just like you. Why not share struggles and tips, or even study together? This is especially valid if you feel way too shy to start talking to natives right away.

  • Practice pronunciation and develop your speaking skills - with the feedback of an actual native speaker! Speechling offers you the opportunity to repeat key expressions and phrases that people actually use, record them, and get personalized feedback from a native speaker who will correct your pronunciation mistakes. You should definitely check that if you are interested in mastering Spanish!


Can't Get Enough? We Have More.

Make sure to visit our Spanish blog to get more tips, useful vocabulary, ideas for planning your strategy and articles on Spanish-speaking countries and their cultures!