Looking for the best way to learn Spanish? This guide will help you learn about the primary ways to learn Spanish, and help you choose the one that’s best for you.
In this guide, you’ll also get the resources and Spanish basics to learn Spanish for beginners. Author is English-speaking Canadian who moved to Ecuador with no Spanish (and is now fluent).
Ready to learn Spanish? Congratulations! This is a huge step. Whether you’re planning to move abroad, travel to Latin America (or Spain), or simply as a mental exercise, this guide will help you learn Spanish quickly.
While there are lots of variations, there really are just 3 ways to learn Spanish: immersion, self study, and classes. And these can be combined to match your learning style.
While classes and books are a common method, there is an easier way to learn Spanish.
The Easiest Way to Learn Spanish
The easiest way to learn Spanish is to learn it through immersion as a child. Either grow up in a home that speaks English and Spanish – or live in a community where your daily life is primarily (even exclusively) in Spanish.
When we moved to Ecuador, our daughter was 8 years old. She learned Spanish, almost free of language books and teachers. If you have the option to immerse your kids in Spanish – this is going to be the easiest way for them to learn. They learn and become fluent without them even realizing what’s happening.
Now if only it was that easy for adults…
The Best Way to Learn Spanish
So while immersion as a child is hands-down the easiest way to learn, that just isn’t possible for most of us. If you’re reading this – you’re probably in the same situation as me. I grew up with almost zero exposure to Spanish – with the exception of these few words: salsa, fiesta, siesta, and gracias.
I didn’t know anyone who spoke Spanish – let alone someone who was actually from a Spanish-speaking country. Back in the 80’s and 90’s there weren’t many (any) Spanish songs on the radio. And in Canada, the only other language that most Canadians are exposed to is French (the other official language) and even that is limited. My French is limited to “Parlez–vous français ?” (meaning: Do you speak French?) to which my answer is an unfortunate “No” (this is the same word in French, Spanish and English).
So how did a couple of red-necked Canadians learn Spanish? It actually wasn’t as hard as we had imagined. Here’s how we learned Spanish:
The Best Way to Learn Spanish
For us, the best way to learn Spanish was a combination of immersion in Ecuador and printed books and audio courses. We did take an intensive week of Spanish classes in Cuenca – but this didn’t really make much of a difference.
Dena and I tried to learn Spanish from books before moving to Ecuador – but it didn’t work so well. We found it hard to be motivated while surrounded by native English speakers. And we didn’t really know if our pronunciation was even close to how it was supposed to sound.
Regardless of your background and where you live, you have three different ways to learn Spanish.
3 Primary Ways to Learn Spanish
Here are the three ways to learn Spanish.
- Spanish Immersion: This is most easily done if you move to a Spanish-speaking country where your mother tongue is not commonly spoken. But there are some things you can do even in your hometown. – Jump to the Spanish Immersion section for more.
- Spanish Books and Courses: (Self Study) Purchase a book, audio course, or online course and progress through the chapters/lessons yourself. It is important to include an audio component – otherwise you won’t know how the words are actually supposed to sound. Jump to the books and courses section.
- Spanish Classes: (Online and In-Person) You can take a class in your hometown, take a trip to a Latino country, or study online. There are numerous online schools that give one-on-one tutoring – teaching a progressive curriculum. Jump to the Spanish classes section.
Now, lets cover each of these in more details.
1) Immersion: The Best Way to Learn Spanish?
When we moved to Ecuador in 2009, neither Dena or I could speak Spanish – let alone understand it. We could say “buenos dias” – but not correctly, and we didn’t even know when we were supposed to say it.
While we did receive help from an another expat family (with whom we became close friends) we quickly found that we both needed and wanted to be self sufficient. It doesn’t feel good to need help to do every single step of daily life. Within 6 months, we were able to deal with rental contracts, and after 18 months we moved from Cuenca (population of 300,000) to the rural town of Santa Isabel (population 18,000). At that time, we were the only foreigners living in the region.
Thanks to this total immersion, we saw our Spanish reach fluency level. But this type of a move isn’t possible for everyone.
5 Tips For Spanish Immersion Without Traveling
What if you can’t move to a Spanish-speaking country? You can still benefit from immersion. Here are a few ways be immersed in Spanish at home:
- Watch Spanish videos every day: I don’t mean learn-Spanish videos – I mean just watch videos on any topic, in Spanish. For example, if you’re interested in gardening, you can Google Translate “gardening” and you’ll get “jardinería”. Copy and paste that word into YouTube and you’ll get an endless supply of Spanish videos about a topic that you enjoy. Just setup a playlist and listen away. This will give you the flow of the language and the vocabulary in topics that interest you. More about using Google Translate.
- Write in Spanish every day: Engage your mind by writing in Spanish just a few minutes each day. You could journal about your day or maybe just a sentence containing a word that you just learned. This habit has the power to reinforce the words and phrases that you’re learning and help you to begin to think in Spanish.
- Try to think in Spanish each day: This one will be a little difficult at first, but if you make this a practice you’ll find that your skills will quickly improve. Here’s how to do it: start by asking yourself a question and then try to answer it in Spanish. It could be simple (What is your favorite color?) and gradually more complex (What did you do on the weekend?). This uses a different part of your brain – and helps to connect the grammar and vocabulary that you already know into coherent, meaningful phrases.
- Listen to Spanish audio: This can include radio (TuneIn), audiobooks (like Audible) and podcasts. What you listen to isn’t super important – as long as the topic interests you. As with Spanish videos, listening to Spanish audio will help you get the sound of the language in mind and improve your vocab and grammar.
- Read your favorite book in Spanish: Many top titles have been translated into Spanish. Because you already know the plot and characters, it’ll be easier to understand what you’re reading – even if you are just starting to learn Spanish.
Learn Spanish With Music
I recently found this great channel: Learn Spanish with Music on YouTube. They take popular Spanish songs and translate them into English and display the lyrics in both languages at the same time. Just pick your favorite song and start learning.
Watch on YouTube
With some creativity, you can create an immersive setting for you to learn Spanish – even if you can’t move to a Spanish-speaking country right now.
2) Self Study:The Best Way to Learn Spanish?
Buy a book and learn a language. This seems to be the most popular first step in language learning. Our readers have purchased many thousands of books over the years.
What are the best books for learning Spanish? I can recommend the following 3 books (links to Amazon):
- Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish: A Creative and Proven Approach
- Practice Makes Perfect Complete Spanish All-in-One
- Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish
In addition to printed books, it’s important to have an audio component. Without this, how will you know how to actually say the words? What are the best courses for learning Spanish? Here are two that our readers keep recommending:
- Pimsleurs: Pimsleur’s Spanish is an audio-only course that is done in just 30 minutes per day. Because it is audio-only it can be done during the morning commute, a work-out routine, or afternoon walk with the dog. Here’s more on the methodology behind the program. While you can purchase the program direct from Pimsleur, we bought ours via Audible because it is such a great platform – and the Audible app remembers your place. Read our review.
- Rocket Spanish: This is an audio-based online course. It includes a mobile app, flashcards, members forum, progress tracking, pronunciation practice, language and culture lessons, recall-enhancing testing tools. I haven’t taken this course, but based on the reviews, it is definitely worth a look. Our daughter just purchased this course – but for Chinese. Having learned Spanish – she has developed a love for language. We’ll publish more about the Rocket Language platform in the future.
Here’s what one student had to say about Rocket Spanish:
“I decided to try Rocket Spanish because I wanted to learn some Spanish before a trip to Ecuador. I just returned, and the Spanish I learned with Rocket Spanish was not only extremely helpful, it made my trip so much more fun.
I really liked the full audio transcipts for the lessons that I could listen to anywhere (like when running, driving), then work on the remaining lesson pieces when I had time. It’s great that the lessons are based on useful situations, and not just piles of random phrases. On my trip I was able to talk to people, order food, understand directions, and flight information.
At the airport the attendant asked us about tickets and carry on luggage. She spoke English but I was able to talk with her in Spanish instead. Possibly the best part is that with Rocket Spanish pronunciation practice, people were able to understand me.
Going to continue with Rocket Spanish, and keep working on those “rr’s”! We are already planning another trip to Ecuador, and one to Spain. I tried some other programs, and I believe this is the best one you can buy. Thanks Rocket Spanish!” ~ Erik Corkran, Colorado, United States
Over the years, we’ve written quite a lot about Spanish books and courses. Here are some of our most popular guides to books and courses for learning Spanish:
- The Best Book to Learn Spanish: There are a countless number of books for learning Spanish. To determine the best book, we let our readers choose. The most popular book – for many years – is Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish. Read our review. It breaks the language into components with many logical and memorable shortcuts. This post lists the top 11 books for learning Spanish.
- 11 Books and Courses We Used to Learn Spanish: This is the list of books and courses that we purchased – including books, audio, and software.
- 8 Travelers Share the 12 Best Books to Learn Spanish: To get a broader perspective, we also interviewed 8 expats and travelers. This post shares their favorite books for learning Spanish.
Here’s more on our process of learning Spanish in Ecuador – including the problem with Rosetta Stone.
3) Spanish Classes: The Best Way to Learn Spanish?
So while it’s nice to learn through situational conversation, having a live teacher can be beneficial. They can give you a structured, progressive program. And the teacher will correct your errors – helping you from establishing bad habits.
There are a few ways to take Spanish classes.
3 Ways to Take Spanish Language Classes
- Community Colleges: Community colleges occasionally offer night classes – this might be a good introduction to the language. But don’t expect too much. The other students might just be looking to learn how to order drinks for their upcoming trip south.
- Online Language Classes: This is convenient because you can study from your home or office on your own schedule – no travel necessary. Usually you will pay per session or for a set of sessions. The feedback from your instructor can be super valuable as you progress with the language. Most of these platforms employ native speakers with a rating system – to ensure you get a good teacher.
- Language Classes Abroad: This is the best option if you can arrange the travel. Not only will you study in person with a native Spanish teacher, you will continue to practice during your off-time because you are living in a Spanish-speaking country. The cost is surprisingly low.
Spanish Schools in Ecuador
- Simon Bolivar Spanish School
- Si Centro Spanish School
- Andean Global Studies – AGS: Schools located in Quito, Amazon, Montañita, Cuenca and Manta.
While we did take a class, it was just one week. It was beneficial to get some help fine tuning our fluency and grammar. But to get the full benefit of these classes, I think we should have studied at the school for a few months. Life got too busy, and we didn’t feel that we had enough time for that.
Here are 10 practical steps for learning Spanish.
Spanish for Beginners (Resources & Motivation)
Here are some Spanish Resources (best books and courses) and Spanish Basics (introductory concepts) that are perfect for beginners.
To get started, I recommend that you check out this post: The Best Book to Learn Spanish These are the books that readers just like you are using to learn the language.
Free Spanish Resources
Free Resources: I recommend that you get Audible lessons 1-5 (free when you signup here) and a free trial to Rocket Spanish. You can try them both out for free and see which one works better for your learning style.
Here are some Spanish basics to help your get started.
Spanish Basics: Videos
- How to Say the Letters and Sounds in Spanish: This video will teach you the basic Spanish letters and sounds in less than 12 minutes. This is both a great introduction and review.
- When Do I Use the Spanish Tú or Usted?: Both tú and usted are Spanish for the word: you. Unlike in English, the word “you” in Spanish comes in two varieties: tú (informal) and usted (formal). And while the rules might seem straightforward, it won’t be intuitive for native English speakers.
- How to Pronounce the Letters B and V in Spanish: In Spanish, the letters “b” and “v” can be confusing to us native English-speakers. They sound very similar and can confuse even fluent Spanish speakers.
- How to Order Food in Spanish: Simple Phrases and Questions: Here are the basics of ordering food in Spanish in a video.
- 11 Phrases to Know When at a Restaurant: These phrases are spelled out phonetically to help even the newest Spanish speaker successfully order their meal.
- 9 Phrases to Know When Your Arrive at the Airport: Imagine that you just landed in a Spanish country. These are the phrases you’ll want to know.
Should You Learn Spanish Before Moving Abroad?
Although we didn’t speak Spanish when we arrived in Ecuador – I recommend that you have at least a basic knowledge of the language. Being able to understand basic expressions will not only make your first few weeks and months easier – it will reduce anxiety should you have some type of emergency. If nothing else, being able to tell the taxi where you’re going, understand how much money he wants, and then give directions back to your home is pretty nice.
What will be the best way to learn Spanish for you? What method(s) are you going to use? Will you create an immersive environment at home? Or will you focus on self study using books and audio courses?
Join us in the comments!