Learn Spanish While Driving: 8 Efficient Ways to Transform Your Car into a Classroom
Language isn’t like riding a bike. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
That’s why it’s important to take advantage of every spare minute and get creative on how to keep practicing your Spanish skills, even during the busiest times in your life.
You’ve already learned about other ways to practice Spanish regularly. Now it’s time to bring another daily dose of learning to your life—in the car!
- 1. Tune In to Spanish Radio Stations
- 2. Order Your Language Course to Go
- 3. Bring Your Favorite Spanish Music with You
- 4. Make It Story Time with Audiobooks and Podcasts
- 5. Play Word Games
- 6. Use Navigation Apps in Spanish
- 7. Observe Your Surroundings
- 8. Have Someone Quiz Your Spanish in the Car
- Why Learn Spanish in Your Car
1. Tune In to Spanish Radio Stations
There are tons of Spanish-language radio stations, including music channels and Spanish talk radio. Choose the one that suits your interests and your Spanish level best!
If you hear a song while driving that you like and is new to you, try remembering a few lines or catching the name of the artist. Later, when you’re at home, you can look up the lyrics to the song (maybe with a dictionary in hand!) to get a better grasp on the meaning of the song.
Spanish talk radio is another good choice for learning Spanish in the car. Talk radio is a bit more of a challenge than music stations because you’ll have to keep up with the majority of what is being said.
Radio hosts are known for talking incredibly fast with really strong vocal personalities—after all, they need to keep the attention of their audience without the luxury of facial expressions or hand gestures. Because of this, talk radio is best for those with a bit more advanced level of Spanish.
Also, many times the commentators will pepper their speech with jokes and idioms, so it’s a great way to learn authentic speech (the opposite of those dull textbook dialogues).
2. Order Your Language Course to Go
You can order a cheeseburger to go while cruising around, and you can do the same with your language learning courses. Simply choose a course with downloadable MP3 files.
For digital downloads, Pimsleur for Spain-Castilian or Latin American Spanish is the option that’s recommended by a lot of language learners who spend solid amounts of time in their car.
Each lesson lasts around 25-30 minutes. You’re constantly prompter to listen, repeat, answer and converse with the audio lessons, so it’s all highly interactive.
You can also think outside the box and use a program like FluentU. This immersion program uses authentic Spanish videos to teach the language, like movie clips, news segments and music videos. And since it has an iOS and Android app, you can take it with you while you’re on the road.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that you watch videos while you drive. Instead, make sure autoplay is on (it’s on by default), turn your phone with its back to you so you don’t get distracted and focus on listening to the videos.
Every video you watch will get stored in your watched videos list, so you can rewatch them later to see how well you understood everything. After the video, take the follow-up comprehension quiz for additional review.
You can also flip this around: Watch a few videos before you leave home for your commute. Use FluentU’s interactive subtitles and transcripts to look up any word and become familiar with the content. Then, listen to the same videos as you drive to reinforce your learning through listening.
FluentU also has some audio recordings you can listen to in the car, with slow-paced vocabulary learning lessons.
3. Bring Your Favorite Spanish Music with You
Here’s an easy one! Chances are, you already listen to your favorite music in the car, so just switch out your English music with Spanish music while driving.
If you’ve never listened to any Spanish artists before, a quick search for already-created iTunes, Spotify or Soundcloud playlists should yield some good results. Pick your favorites and take them along with you for the ride.
Some popular Spanish language artists that you might want to check out include Enrique Iglesias, Romeo Santos, Shakira, Juan Luis Guerra, Alejandro Sanz, Gloria Estefan, David Bisbal, Melendi and Juanes.
They’ve all got their own genres, styles and sounds, so this short list provides a great introduction to essential Spanish tunes. For example, here’s a catchy Spanish song by Enrique Iglesias that you can easily play in your car:
4. Make It Story Time with Audiobooks and Podcasts
Audio language learning materials are a classic way to practice Spanish while in your car or on public transit. Studies have shown that listening to a language—even if you don’t understand every word—can be a huge help in language learning. Some call this passive listening, and it can have fantastic benefits for your comprehension, grammar and vocabulary.
Downloadable talk shows or podcasts make for great listening materials. One of my favorites would be SpanishPod101, which has episodes that range from two to ten minutes. They have audio-only podcasts that are made by professional teachers, and these cover a wide range of topics, from grammar and vocabulary to real-life conversational skills.
A useful podcast for improving your grammar would be Spanish in 180 Seconds. It’s not updated anymore, but you can still download its three-minute episodes online. If you play it throughout your drive, you can listen to more than one a day and quickly advance through the list of lessons.
Looking for more resources? Here’s a list of popular podcasts for Spanish learners, here you can find audiobooks to check out and here are some helpful tips for learning Spanish by listening to the radio.
You can also check out audiobooks in Spanish, which should be available at your local library or on Amazon.
5. Play Word Games
Any kind of word game will work, even one you invent yourself. Ever play a game in the car just to pass the time? That’s the idea here, but you’ll be substituting the usual English words with your Spanish vocabulary.
One simple game is a twist on the Alphabet Game, in which you think of a Spanish word that begins with each letter of the alphabet. Better still, tailor those words to the vocabulary you’re currently learning. As thrilling as Cranium or Taboo? Maybe not, but it’s foolproof for the car!
You can also play a version of the license plate game. Try making Spanish phrases using words that start with each letter of the license plate in front of you. Just don’t focus so hard on the plates that you forget to watch the road.
All of these tips work if you’re alone in the car. If you have a passenger along with you, all the better! You can take your Spanish studies a step further by enlisting their help.
6. Use Navigation Apps in Spanish
When you’re driving, you can’t really use a smartphone app too much on the go. But with some creative tweak, it’s still possible to practice Spanish with your phone!
Try switching your phone’s language settings to Spanish and turning on navigation when you leave the house. Ideally, try this out if you already know how to get to your destination—this way, you can listen along to the navigation in a relaxed way and pay attention to the Spanish directions.
Popular navigation apps like Waze, Google Maps and Apple Maps all have the option to change the language to Spanish. You can even enable these apps to accept voice commands (in Spanish!) so you can just say your destination out loud. For example, with Waze, you can ask it about your estimated arrival time or get it to check for the nearest gas station.
7. Observe Your Surroundings
Ever played “I Spy” on a long car trip?
You can do the same in your car. This trick is simple: just pay attention to your surroundings and try to describe what you’re seeing in Spanish.
If you’re an absolute beginner, maybe start with just trying to identify ten objects on your commute that you can name in Spanish. These can be things as simple as calle (street), coche (car) or sol (sun).
If you’re a little further along in your language learning, try giving yourself a script to target specific vocabulary lists or grammatical structures. Here are a couple of examples:
- Making comparisons: Challenge yourself to make ten comparisons between things you see on your commute, incorporating as many different nouns and adjectives as you want.
El árbol es más grande que el semáforo. (The tree is larger than the stoplight.)
- Practicing haber (there is/there are): Haber is one of the most useful and important Spanish verbs! Describe the world around you using hay (there is/there are) and no hay (there isn’t/there aren’t). For an extra challenge, try using the past tense: había (there was/there were) and no había (there wasn’t/there weren’t).
Hay un libro en su bolsa. (There is a book in her bag.)
Había dos mujeres en ese coche azul. (There were two women in that blue car.)
These are just a few examples of “scripts” that you can use, but to get the most out of this exercise, create your own to match whatever vocabulary or grammar topic you’re covering in your Spanish class or studies.
8. Have Someone Quiz Your Spanish in the Car
With a little planning ahead of time, you can arrange to bring along your class notes and have your passenger quiz you. This can be done with vocabulary lists, flashcards or even sentences out of the textbook. The passenger doesn’t need to know Spanish in order to be of help to you.
Of course, getting quizzed doesn’t sound incredibly appealing on a road trip. But if you’re trying to kill two birds with one stone—simultaneously driving somewhere and learning Spanish—then quizzes are the fastest way to check up on what you know and what you need to work on.
Later, once you’re out of the car, you can really hone in on what you need to improve. Plus, your passenger may appreciate the distraction!
If you have a carpool buddy who’s also interested in learning Spanish, you can even try to have conversations in Spanish. Lastly, if all else fails, pick up a hitchhiker and hope they’re a native Spanish speaker.
Kidding on that last one. Sort of.
Why Learn Spanish in Your Car
Most of us spend a lot of time (probably far too much time!) in the car. Nothing’s more annoying than twiddling your thumbs in bumper-to-bumper traffic or getting caught at all those red lights with nothing interesting to occupy your brain.
Here’s why it pays to squeeze in Spanish study time while you’re in your car:
- It turns Spanish practice into a habit. Even if you only practice Spanish for ten to fifteen minutes while in your car, remember that every little bit counts when it comes to language learning, and frequency is key to getting grammar concepts and vocabulary to stick in your brain.
- It forces you to concentrate. Learning Spanish while in your car can be a great motivational hack—it forces you to get down to business and focus on language learning for a discrete, regular chunk of time.
- It helps you jump-start your brain. In the morning, a little Spanish practice can be just as good as your cup of coffee for waking you up and getting you in the right frame of mind to excel at work. And if you experience a mid-afternoon slump during your ride home, fun Spanish language games can help you re-energize in a relaxing and productive way.
So why not turn that frustrating downtime into your advantage by learning Spanish in the car? Fill in those boring minutes where you just stare at traffic lights and listen to endless radio commercials with the tips above!