If someone had asked me to listen to a song in Spanish six months ago, I would have just laughed for the absurdity of it.

At the start of 2019 when everyone promised to stay committed to their New Year’s resolutions, I decided to do something I’ve always wanted to do — to learn Spanish. Six months later, I am now “stanning” Sebastián Yatra and Morat. My fluency of Spanish even improved from “¿cómo estás?” to trash talking someone who cuts in line at a fast food restaurant.

I’ve always considered myself to be a language lover. I already speak three languages — English, Filipino and Pangasinan. But with the limited career prospects of the last two, I decided that it’s time to up the ante. Spanish was the obvious choice since it’s the second-most spoken language in the world. But that’s not all there is to it. Embracing my cultural identity — trying not to be white — gave me the motivation I needed to start this journey.

I love Hispanic and Latin culture, and it’s nice to be able to connect to that culture I have been denied of.

If you’re starting to learn Spanish, it’s really difficult to know where to start. Should you sign up for classes? Should you just study by yourself? And if you do, what resources should you get ahold of? These are the questions that plague a first-time learner of Spanish. With the advent of modern technology, it’s really easy to find a lot of resources. The caveat is, where to start?

Language learning is a personal journey. Every learner responds to different learning styles. As for me, I don’t do well with traditional classroom-based learning. This is why I took this journey alone and selected the best resources that work for me.

Here’s how I learned Spanish in six months:

Grammar and Vocabulary

Duolingo

I’m not a textbook kind of learner. Reading a textbook and doing the exercises bore me. This app is what I use to learn the grammar and other language rules.

Perhaps Duolingo is the most popular language learning app, and it’s not difficult to see why. Its gamified learning process is engaging and rewarding. While it’s the most popular, it’s not also the most effective.

I read a lot of mixed reviews saying that it works for them and it doesn’t work for others. As for me, it works as intended. However, I don’t rely on it alone to learn everything.

Memrise

This is a flashcard app to learn new words. However, it’s not the same as others because the words are recorded by real humans and not robots. There are also a lot of videos of native Spanish speakers for practicing pronunciation and comprehension.

Memrise focuses on European Spanish. Thus, make sure you know at the outset what variety of Spanish you want to study.

Learn Spanish free for beginners

This is actually an app for children. But as what they say, you go back being a child — learning everything from scratch — if you’re studying a new language.

This app teaches everything you need to know at the beginner level. There’s the Spanish “abecedario” as well as educational games on different categories to build your vocabulary.

Reading Comprehension

Beelinguapp

After getting past the elementary level, it’s time to put everything into practice.

In this innovative audiobook and e-book app, you can read and listen to children’s stories, popular stories, short essays, and even news in dual languages. So even if you don’t understand some words when reading a passage, you can look at the English translation below it.

The complexity of the texts can be filtered in three categories: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

CNN Español and BBC Mundo

These popular news outlets have Spanish counterparts of their websites. However, they are only recommended for upper intermediate to advanced learners.

I read them to get used to the real Spanish being written in formal settings. They mostly cover the state of affairs in the United States and in the rest of the world.

Listening Comprehension

Noticias Telemundo

Like CNN Español and BBC Mundo, this one is not for total beginners as the newscasters speak like a “ametralladora” (machine gun).

They focus on the state of affairs in the United States and sometimes in Latin America, too.

Bonus: Euronews en Español and France24 en Español

Alerta Aeropuerto

I got addicted to this show when I first watched the English version on National Geographic. It follows the people who were caught smuggling drugs at major airports in Latin America and Spain. The presenter speaks understandable-enough Spanish.

So far, I’ve only watched the show’s other editions that are filmed in Lima, Peru and Bogotá, Colombia.

[email protected] in Spanish

To see if TV series and/or telenovelas also work as a learning tool, I have been watching some of them as well.

This one’s outdated and cringe-worthy, but still serves its purpose. It’s a “Friends”-like sitcom that revolves around Ana, Lola, Sam, and Pablo who live in an apartment building in Madrid.

Released in 2002, it only lasted for 13 episodes. The level of Spanish progresses from beginner up to intermediate.

Duolingo Spanish Podcast

This one doesn’t really teach grammar rules contrary to its app version. Instead, it focuses on true bilingual stories featuring Latino characters. It’s recommended for intermediate learners.

Coffee Break Spanish series

I think that this is the second-best Spanish podcast available out there. You can already notice it with their professional-sounding intro. They already have 200+ episodes since their humble beginnings in 2008, and I already learned a lot from them.

They teach everything a newbie needs to know. Though as the seasons progress, the level of Spanish also gets harder.

Although the main presenter is based in Scotland, he has native-like command of Spanish.

News in Slow Spanish (Spain)

Per the podcast title, the news coverage is mostly Spain and Europe where the presenters speak in slow Spanish. Not literally slow, but controlled and understandable. No more machine guns! There are two levels of this podcast: intermediate and advanced.

News in Slow Spanish (Latino)

Like its European edition, the presenters speak in slow Spanish. Their news mostly focuses on Latin America and its culture. Unlike the other one, all levels from beginner to advanced are covered.

Spanish Obsessed

This one is a podcast by a couple based in the United Kingdom. It’s a bit slow for my liking and not that comprehensive, but I have to train my ears to the sounds of the language.

The variety of Spanish being used is from Colombia.

Notes in Spanish

This is also a bit dated but still useful.

The presenters speak with an accent from Madrid. They also give tips to learners to sound like native Spanish speakers.

Spanish for Pinoys

Yes, you read it right! There’s a Spanish podcast for Filipinos — the first time ever. I’m not sure where is the presenter based, but he is really a Filipino.

He doesn’t teach grammar rules in this podcast, but he plays useful clips. It’s fine for intermediate learners. However, it can be improved.

Released in 2018, the podcast has 24 episodes only. I wish that the presenter came back to record more.

Update: the podcast is no longer available.

Language Transfer

This is by far the best ever Spanish podcast you have to listen to right now.

Mihalis Eleftheriou, the founder, discusses grammar rules innovatively and refreshingly in 90+ episodes. I found the lessons very enlightening because there are some grammar rules I can’t really understand no matter what I do.

And by the way, it’s all free.

Songs in Spanish

This method is the most difficult but engaging one to learn Spanish. It may not teach you the grammar rules, but it will train your ears to pick up words.

For the last two years, I’ve been listening to a lot of Latin and Spanish bands/musicians. Some of my favorites are Morat, Sebastián Yatra, Alvaro Soler, and Rosalía. Although I hate its vulgar content, I also listen to reggaeton.

This method might be challenging for music lovers as well. Listening to songs in Spanish means not listening to songs in English for a long while.

Practice

HelloTalk

It’s all grammar rules until it’s time to put things in action.

Part of language learning is consistently practicing it. But what if there’s no Spanish speakers in your area? How will you be able to practice what you learned?

Enter HelloTalk, an app that facilitates language conversation exchange with native Spanish speakers. If you’re a native English speaker, there are tons of “hispanohablantes” willing to talk to you.

The lure of the app is the text correction feature. When you make mistakes in your posts, the community will be there to correct you.

I’ve been using this app consistently to practice with Latinos and Spaniards. So far, I’ve already talked to a lot from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Uruguay. Well, I consider myself a shy person, so this app is really golden. When I talk to the “hispanohablantes,” I really get fascinated by their beautiful accents.

Just a caveat for women out there. “Las mujeres” usually receive a lot of messages on this app, and like on other digital spaces, harassment is prevalent. Generally, it’s a safe community, but it doesn’t hurt to be careful as well.


Learning a language is not easy. It requires motivation, perseverance and patience every day especially if you’re doing it alone. One of the things that I learned in this journey is that you must love the culture associated to your target language for you to easily learn it. In my case, I love Hispanic culture, and so I learned conversational Spanish in just six months.

If you’re learning Spanish, what resources do you use?


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Arvyn Cerézo
Arvyn Cerézo is the editor of La Jornada Filipina, an English- and Spanish-language news magazine in the Philippines. His work has appeared in South China Morning Post, Publishers Weekly, AudioFile Magazine, PhilSTAR Life and Book Riot. You can find him on arvyncerezo.com.

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