Join the club.
While opportunities for multilingual people grow by the day, time and lack of money is what stops many of us from learning the language.
Don’t give up just yet, though!
Even with a busy schedule and a tight budget, learning and practicing Spanish on your own is entirely possible. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to enroll in multiple classes or spend hundreds on software to thoroughly learn a new language.
My suggestion? Take learning Spanish into your own hands!
Taking this route can be as leisurely or intensive as you choose, wallet-friendly, and specialized to fit your exact skill level. After all, who knows you better than you?
So why wait?
¡Si se puede! (You can do it!)
1. Get your hands on some Spanish apps
We know you’re busy and always on-the-go. But with Spanish learning apps on your phone, you can make the most of those in-between minutes while you’re sitting on the bus, waiting in line, or bored on your lunch break. There are dozens of apps that were designed to be as user-friendly, simple and efficient and possible. Best of all, they can be yours for free or for cheap!
One app that has already helped thousands around the world is “Duolingo.” Receiving impressively high ratings from users and winning Apple’s 2013 App of the Year, “Duolingo” aims to teach us languages in a way that is fun, easy and addictive. With objectives, thorough lessons and quizzes, this app was designed to keep users interested and motivated while building a base in the language. Best of all, it is currently available for free on iTunes!
So pick up your smart phone, go to the app store and find the Spanish learning app that’s right for you. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a dictionary app while you’re at it. With a good, productive app on your phone, soon you’ll start to look forward to those idle minutes throughout your day.
2. Form a collection of Spanish books
After enrolling in a Spanish class, the first requirement is to fork out a few hundred dollars for the latest edition of the textbook. Unfortunate for students in the course, but good news for you! While the current editions can be quite costly, the price of the previous editions falls drastically every semester, even though the differences can be very minor.
Without a doubt, most Spanish textbooks form an extremely helpful language base, designed to teach the language in the most sensible and orderly fashion you’d expect. While course curriculums may change frequently, the outdated textbooks are still valuable tools to learning the language. By visiting a local bookstore, or even by going online, you’re bound to find an abundance of past-edition textbooks selling for pocket change.
“Puntos en Breve” was once a popular textbook for introductory Spanish courses at many colleges. Published by McGraw-Hill, it also has a workbook that accompanies it. A used copy of this text, which helped many students easily and efficiently learn the language for years, can be yours for a very small cost.
And if you can’t find that specific textbook, don’t sweat it. There are dozens of other textbooks that can be just as helpful and inexpensive.
So why not go all out and “splurge” on a dictionary, phrasebook and a few other cheap texts to begin with? They will take you and your money far on your language-learning journey.
One of the most popular travel book series, Lonely Planet also makes some killer phrasebooks. Their Spanish phrasebook is a must-have for anyone who’d like to know all the key phrases for Spanish conversation, and being made specifically for travelers, it will inspire you to go abroad and exercise your Spanish skills.
3. Watch movies and TV in Spanish
What’s easier than putting on a movie? Right, nothing! By watching movies and television shows in Spanish, you will pick up on the language similarly to how you first developed your native tongue. Exposure to the language is always helpful, so by watching a Spanish dub of your favorite movie or television program with English subtitles, you can make your television time a little more productive.
If you want to go a step further than that, there are quite a few video programs that were made especially for those learning Spanish as a second language. “Destinos” is a soap opera that is used in college beginner-level Spanish courses. While in regular Spanish television, non-native Spanish speakers will have issues keeping up, “Destinos“ maintains the speech at a reasonable speed, provides subtitles, and limits the vocabulary used.
With over fifty-two episodes currently available to stream for free, the language in “Destinos” starts off simply, and steadily progresses as the series reaches the end. Ideal for high-school students and beyond, this series not only teaches the language, but also takes us on a tour through various Spanish-speaking countries and gives us a taste of the Spanish culture and history as well. With recaps, vocabulary shorts, and quizzes at the end, you can’t go wrong with “Destinos.”
Perhaps it’s time to kick back and enjoy a peek at the over-the-top Spanish drama culture while training your ears to the language. Bet you didn’t think learning Spanish could be this fun and easy, huh?
4. Start planning your next vacation!
With countless beautiful Spanish-speaking countries around the globe, one of them is bound to catch your fancy for your next trip.
Barcelona, Puerto Rico, Cancún, and many places in the Caribbean are surely a sight to see on their own, so why not start casually planning a vacation to a place where you’ll not only enjoy the attractions, but also absorb the Spanish language and culture?
If you can manage the airfare, a vacation in South America can be much cheaper than many other popular vacation spots around the world, and will also be a good arena for testing out your mastery of the language.
Ok, so a vacation right now might break the bank…
But what you can do is start researching the countries online, where you can easily find out about their food, history, festivities and more. What better motivation to learn than to have a Spanish-speaking vacation on the horizon?
Browsing through online brochures, menus, maps, and travel blogs in preparation for your trip can be much more helpful than you’d think. Even if your next vacation isn’t any time soon, you’ll surely find some interesting and useful learning material in the process. I noted Lonely Planet before, and I’ll bring them up here again—their travel guides are super affordable, high quality and fun to read. They’ll ensure that you catch the travel bug!
5. Dive into Spanish learning websites
Now this may come as a surprise, but there are countless helpful websites out there that can be accessed through your computer or smart phone without costing you a dime.
BBC Languages offers a wide range of activities designed to help you improve all areas of Spanish learning. With tests, games, vocabulary, audio clips and more, this website is more helpful than many. Another website that covers similar ground is Study Spanish. These websites will surely get you off to a great start. You should probably bookmark Google Translate and Spanish Dictionary while you’re at it.
And you don’t even need to venture far from where you are right now. Give FluentU a shot!
FluentU takes real-world Spanish videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
You can find all kinds of hobbies and topics covered by authentic Spanish videos on the site. There’s a wide variety of video topics like soccer, Disney musicals, TV shows, music videos and even magical realism, as you can see here:
Choose any video that strikes your fancy! You’ll see how many Spanish vocabulary words you can learn from it, and you can even look at the transcript of the dialogue and practice vocabulary before watching the video.
If you start to get lost in the native speech, not to worry. Just hover over the subtitle, which will simultaneously pause the video and provide the English translation for each word or grammar point. If you come across a new word, just click and add it to your flashcard bank for quizzing later on. You can stay afloat no matter what!
To make sure you’re understanding things, try getting on board with FluentU’s “learn mode.” Learn mode takes videos and turns them into Spanish learning lessons. The lessons are fully personalized, so that your learning history is taken into account when presenting interactive quiz questions from the vocabulary and grammar you’ve learned. FluentU’s algorithm sets you up for success by teaching you based on what you already know. Expensive “Intro to Spanish” lessons? No thanks. Tons of free videos tailored directly to your level? Yes please!
And don’t forget that you can use awesome active learning tools like vocabulary lists and multimedia flashcards to study and reinforce the newly-learned language from your videos.
6. Just take a look around your house!
I bet you wouldn’t have thought there’d be valuable Spanish learning materials in your house at this very moment, would you? And they certainly don’t come with a price tag…well, not really.
If you’re reading this in the U.S., try searching out the countless manuals included with various products in your home, as they usually have both English and Spanish versions (as well as many other languages). Once you have a basic understanding of the language, seeing the manuals side by side will help to distinguish the similarities and differences between the two languages. This will help you develop knowledge about syntax, wording and the pragmatic use of the language, as well as give you lots of practice with imperatives!
And these mini-resources are not just inside the house…step outside and you might find that useful input is posted all over public signposts in your neighborhood, ready for you to take in.
Hey, every little bit counts.
7. Find a pen-pal or study buddy
The desire to be multilingual is shared by millions around the world. By finding a pen-pal or study-buddy who shares the desire to learn English or Spanish, you will not only get a boost of motivation, but also get a chance to learn and practice the language in a more natural and casual manner.
A study buddy, ideally somebody who is also learning Spanish as a second language, can be more helpful than you could imagine. Having a study buddy means having someone near your skill level, who can help catch your simple mistakes, quiz you and exchange learning techniques and strategies.
Of course, having a connection with a native Spanish speaker can’t be beat. And you’ll be happy to hear that these native speakers are both easy to find and extremely valuable. By going on MyLanguageExchange.com, you can find a pen-pal or conversation partner to help you with your Spanish in exchange for helping them with their target language. Free, mutually beneficial, and fun, having a native pal handy can teach you parts of the Spanish language and culture that you couldn’t have learned in your studies.
With all of the free and easy resources available, you’ll be speaking Spanish like a champ sooner than you think, and with a full wallet no less!
Armed with these hacks, you’re off to a great start.
¡Buena Suerte! (Good luck!)
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.