The 18 Best Ways to Learn Spanish by Yourself

I learned Spanish on my own, it took a long time and a lot of personal dedication. 

The key is to throw yourself into the deep end, and in my case this was deciding to live abroad in Venezuela. 

It was a stressful time but I knew it was the only way to really become fluent in Spanish.

So, my seven-year do-it-yourself Spanish program really did work, and these 18 learning methods were what allowed me to succeed.

Contents

1. Watch Movies and TV

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Spanish films and TV are a great way to build your vocabulary while improving your comprehension.

If you’re a beginner, try watching Spanish movies with English subtitles. And once you’re beyond the beginner level, try watching Spanish movies with Spanish subtitles.

It might seem odd to watch in Spanish and read in Spanish at the same time, but it really does work wonders. Reading skills develop a lot faster than listening skills. By reading and listening at the same time, I was really able to improve my pronunciation.

Watching films in Spanish is also a great way to improve your knowledge of regional accents while sampling different Spanish-speaking cultures. Thankfully, two of the countries with the clearest Spanish accents, Mexico and Spain, are also the most prolific producers of Spanish language features.

One of my all-time favorite Argentine movies from the ’80s is “Made in Argentina.” I love listening to the Argentine accents in this movie and watching them drink mate from their PH patios.

Fortunately, there’s a wealth of Spanish language movies on Netflix and videos from native speakers on YouTube. These options will become even more helpful as your Spanish improves.

But for beginners, video content can be a challenge without reliable subtitles and a dictionary close at hand. Luckily, there are programs like FluentU that help you learn with authentic Spanish videos by giving you the language learning tools needed to comprehend them and practice what you learn.

2. Learn from Authentic Videos with FluentU

FluentU is a program that uses authentic videos like TV clips and movie trailers to immerse you in Spanish by showing you how native speakers use it in their own media.

FluentU’s videos all have interactive captions, which let you look up words while you’re watching, so you can understand what you’re hearing and learn new words as you go.

The program’s built-in video dictionary lets you look up words to find a definition, example sentences, a pronunciation guide and a list of videos that use the word. You can also add words to custom flashcard decks to review later.

For me, FluentU has been a very convenient way to increase my confidence with Spanish comprehension during the times that I’m not in a Spanish speaking country and have little opportunity to talk with native speakers.

It’s also been great for studying aspects of the language I need to review, since the videos can be searched by subject. And the videos are from authentic native sources, including clips from TV shows like the ones I saw in Argentina.

FluentU reinforces what you learn with personalized review quizzes that use spaced repetition to adapt to your answers and optimize your learning. And on the iOS and Android apps, there are speaking questions that let you use your device’s microphone to practice pronunciation.

3. Learn Grammar with Textbooks

Fortunately, Spanish generally has very simple grammar, and the basic tenses (present simple, future simple, preterite and imperfect) can be grasped in a day or two.

Unfortunately, unless you’re an infant or toddler, you’re unlikely to pick up Spanish grammar with the natural ease with which you learned your first language.

Grammar is a technical and detailed topic, so it’s a subject that a textbook can handle more thoroughly than most resources. And doing the exercises in a textbook will help you get the rules solid in your brain.

I found a really simple grammar book and CD for beginners cSpanish in Three Months Book and CD (Hugo)alled “Hugo Spanish in 3 Months.” It was an excellent source for picking up the basic tenses, prepositions and popular phrasal constructs. It also has explanations related to plurals and gender.

It’s full of short explanations and exercises and all the answers are in the back of the book.

I set aside one hour at the end of every day to go through the exercises. Whenever I came across a section that troubled me, I’d keep going back to repeat the exercises until the grammar began to sink in.

It’s also worth noting that I kept going back to this grammar book for reference well into my third year of living in Latin America. By that time I was really quite fluent, but little grammar doubts would pop up here and there when in conversation with friends.

I carried a notebook with me at all times, made notes for myself at the moment and then looked them up in “Hugo” later on that same day. In fact, I still carry a notebook with me!

4. Learn Vocabulary from Novels

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Learning Spanish vocabulary should be a priority right away. There’s not much you can do with grammar if you don’t know words!

Early on, you’ll want to learn words efficiently. That is, you need to study the basic core vocabulary that could come up in almost any conversation or piece of writing.

But once you’re past the basics like colors and days of the week, you’ll start wanting to build your vocabulary up to include words you could encounter in a wide variety of scenarios. And probably the best way to do that is by reading novels.

Reading at home was, without a doubt, the single most useful activity I made time for early in my learning. I read anything I could get my hands on, but I loved reading novels by Paulo Coelho, translated from Portuguese to Spanish.

Why choose a Portuguese writer? Coelho’s writing is just so simple that it’s perfect for beginners. His sentences are short and easy to understand. His vocabulary is pretty basic too.

I’d read a chapter, underlining anything I didn’t understand. Then, I’d look the words up in my paperback dictionary, note down the translations and read the chapter again. I learned so many new words and phrases, and it thoroughly prepared me for stringing sentences together.

5. Immerse Yourself Wherever You Are

Full Spanish immersion is a highly effective learning method, especially if you want to pick up Spanish quickly. The most well-known way of accomplishing is to travel to a Spanish speaking country, since it forces you to start picking up the language to survive everyday interactions. 

If you can’t travel abroad, travel to places in your hometown where Spanish-speaking people hang out. Before leaving London, I used to go to a lot of salsa clubs, and I remember having a really great time.

I’d also eat in Spanish restaurants, drink in Spanish cocktail bars and I even joined a Spanish conversation group at one point.

Another great strategy is to transform your home into a Spanish learning hotspot! In fact, to learn Spanish, one of the ultimate strategies is to change your environment into a place that promotes Spanish learning and education.

One fun way to do this is to label your house. Just get a ton of post-it notes and stick them to as many items as you can with their names written in Spanish.

Once you’re familiar with the vocabulary around the house, you can challenge yourself by creating a simple sentence in your mind when you see a word. Or just remove the post-its altogether and try to mentally name the objects you see.

Keeping Spanish on your mind in your everyday life will help the vocabulary sink in faster, and get you to the point where you start thinking in Spanish (more on this later)!

6. Listen to Radio and Podcasts

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Listening to the radio in Spanish is a challenging but fun way to get some Spanish into your brain during your down time. Understanding what someone says in a foreign language without seeing their lips can be tricky. I found it impossible to comprehend at first, but I recommend sticking with it.

Spanish radio can be a great way to make your commute go faster. And in my case, it got me hooked on some awesome Spanish-speaking musicians like Andrés Calamaro, Vicentico, Joaquín Sabina, Anita Tijoux, Calle 13 and Gustavo Cordera.

Podcasts are also a great way to practice listening to native Spanish speakers. You’ll probably want to start with podcasts targeted at Spanish language learners, because they contain simple vocabulary, spoken slowly and clearly.

Once you get better at it, you can start listening to Spanish podcasts for native speakers. In these podcasts, the vocabulary is harder and the podcast hosts talk at a normal, native speed. Using this type of podcast will boost your listening comprehension skills to the stratosphere.

7. Download Spanish Apps

Language apps fit perfectly into the self-study system, and they have a lot of advantages over other methods, namely:

  • They can be taken with you everywhere.
  • They allow you to have micro-learning sessions, so they’re perfect for breaks and while commuting.

And there are tons of great apps to learn Spanish. When choosing yours, remember to go for one that’s compatible with how you’re learning the language (by yourself) and comprehensive enough to take you through at least two language levels.

For example, you may want to opt for the gamified app Duolingo if you want to go from complete beginner to intermediate, while other apps may be better suited for advancing existing Spanish skills.

Here are few more you can try:

how to learn spanish by yourself

LingQ is a sensational app to try out. It offers so many features, including the ability to track how many words you’ve learned, a playlist to shuffle content, targets so you know what you’re working toward and so much more. There’s a lot of downloadable audio material, so if you’re somewhere without internet access, you can still study Spanish.

Also, they feature vocabulary review using Spaced Repetition System, or SRS, which means that words you’ve learned keep showing up in your lessons. That way, those words stay in your mind, and you don’t forget them. As vocabulary grows, the SRS accommodates that by offering different words for reinforcement.

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Reword is also a neat app to have if you’re a fan of flashcards—which I personally am. There’s something old school about flashcards, but they endure as a solid learning tool because they work.

The Reword app allows users to create word lists, track progress and more. With over 4,500 words and phrases offered, this app will keep most of us busy for quite a while.

8. Travel to Spanish-speaking Countries

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After using multiple self-learning methods for several months to a year, you might find your progress reaches a plateau.

The good news is that this means you’re ready to take the next big step in your study of Spanish: going to a Spanish-speaking country.

I spent around seven years traveling to Spanish-speaking countries before I made the move to Venezuela and it gave me lots of confidence. I got better at sharing with locals and recognizing through context what they were trying to say to me. It was always a real buzz and kept me wanting to improve my language skills.

If you take this leap yourself, you’ll be shocked first at how much vocabulary there’s left to learn, and second at how quickly you improve. Almost every moment is an opportunity to practice comprehension and communication.

The more Spanish you hear, the easier it becomes for you to understand in any context.

9. Keep a Spanish Blog or Journal

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The idea of keeping a Spanish blog is something anyone can do, even as a Spanish-speaking beginner.

The idea is to create a free, basic blog (Blogger and WordPress both have great platforms for this) and begin by adding an editor’s note explaining that you’ve set up this blog to help you improve your Spanish writing skills and to document your progress.

If you prefer writing on paper, or just prefer to build your skills offline before sharing them with the world, you could start keeping a journal in Spanish.

Journaling is also a great way of practicing and improving your Spanish writing skills, and since you normally won’t show what you write to anybody, it’s also the perfect environment to make spelling mistakes, so be careful!

Writing about your day or your week will give practice putting your thoughts into words, forcing you to broaden your Spanish skills to express what you need to say.

10. Take Online Spanish Courses

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A highly effective method for learning Spanish on your own is to take some online Spanish courses. Let’s face it; we pretty much travel with our laptops, tablets and phones at all times—which means that any online course will be at your disposal anytime, anywhere.

Keep in mind that you’re more likely to devote time to a program that holds your interest. For me, I enjoyed from time to time using Coffee Break Spanish and Fluencia. They both incorporate Spanish culture into their lessons, which really helps spice things up—at least it did for me!

how to learn spanish by yourself

Coffee Break Spanish has several options for Spanish courses. Their Coffee Break Academy offers courses ranging from beginner level to intermediate. There’s even a “master” course to help push you to toward total fluency.

The Coffee Break Spanish Reading Club is a fantastic way to build vocabulary skills. The focus of this course is to use weekly texts to introduce cultural insights while building reading skills.

how to learn spanish by yourself

Fluencia is another excellent course for Spanish language learners to consider using. This site is heavy on cultural information, so if you’re looking to learn more than just the mechanics of the Spanish language, this course is for you.

Lessons use native speakers and are broken up into topics that make for an organized, efficient method for learning. Lessons include conversations—perfect for pronunciation practice!—as well as vocabulary and cultural segments.

11. Get a Language Partner

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Many of us do really well partnering up to learn. A language partner will help challenge you and make your language learning journey less solitary and more social!

If you’re not currently living abroad in a Spanish-speaking country, you can find a partner using sites like Conversation Exchange or MyLanguageExchange. Most people with profiles on these sites are seeking to practice a language with someone more fluent, with the hope of both partners gaining language skills.

Having a language exchange partner will help you with pronunciation, grabbing idioms and learning about the Spanish culture. It’s amazing how quickly you’ll progress when you start spending time with your language exchange partner. It’ll hardly feel like work when you’re enjoying the language learning process.

If you’re in an area with a Spanish-speaking population, consider going local for a language partner. Join a local club—maybe dance, cooking or even a book club!—to speak face-to-face in Spanish instead of digitally.

12. Get a Spanish Tutor

Sometimes when you’re learning by yourself, hitting a plateau isn’t entirely uncommon. That’s when you might consider enlisting a little help on the side. Getting a Spanish tutor to help you is the perfect way to power up your language learning progress again, especially if you’re not being exposed to Spanish regularly as I was when I was learning.

Depending on where you live, access to a native Spanish tutor, even just a short-term one, might be limited. Fortunately, there are plenty of digital tutors.

how to learn spanish by yourself

Spanish via Skype offers Spanish tutoring with fully qualified language teachers. Their lessons come with training materials, and their scheduling is intended to be flexible so that you can book a session to suit your needs. I love that feature—who wants to be stuck to someone else’s schedule? Language learning on your time will fit into your schedule!

13. Read the News in Spanish

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Newspapers and news websites are a great place to start reading Spanish, because they tend to use simple language and a fairly restricted vocabulary.

Starting the day by reading the news in Spanish is also a great way to fit in the 20-30 minutes of Spanish practice that’ll be your bread and butter as a self-taught student.

Some good Spanish news websites include the major Spanish daily El PaísCNN’s Spanish service and Madrid’s ABC newspaper.

14. Play Spanish Learning Games

Spanish learning games are an ideal addition to any language program. Who doesn’t love to play? It’s loads of fun that translates into stress-free language learning!

how to learn spanish by yourself

Drops will definitely add a level of entertainment to your learning program. It’s a visual method, which means that they use concise illustrations to show word and phrase meanings. You’ll see what words mean, instead of reading the translation.

This is a convenient learning and practicing method that can be done in five-minute increments. It’s a blast to see how far you can get in that time frame! See what I meant about a little friendly competition against yourself?

how to learn spanish by yourself

Digital Dialects is a go-to spot for Spanish learning games. There are many to choose from—and they cover essential topics that learners will need to know. Numbers, colors, nouns, basic phrases, food and so much more are up for grabs here.

The games in Digital Dialects vary by topic and there are options for additional games within each topic. So once you finish the first games that are offered, you then have a chance to play more difficult games. It’s a smooth way to transition from basic Spanish to more intermediate learning materials.

Sometimes one of the best things you can do as you’re learning a language on your own is to give yourself permission to play!

15. Learn with Spanish Language Music

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I love finding ways to study Spanish without feeling like I’m actually studying.

Arguably one of the easiest methods for learning Spanish is by listening to Spanish songs over and over again to the point that the words are stuck in your head.

Through music, you’ll refine your pronunciation and accent, as well as learn new expressions, slang and grammar structures. Song lyrics also tend to be geared towards the masses, making the language accessible and applicable in real life.

Plus, Spanish music is enormously diverse, so there’s something to suit all musical tastes!

Bands like Maná and singers like Juanes were great for me when I started learning. They never sang too fast and were clear in their pronunciation, so it was pretty easy for me to learn the lyrics. Plus their songs are super catchy!

Start by listening to some Spanish songs on YouTube. Once you find one you like, find the lyrics online, print them and try to sing along.

Spanish music will fit well into your exercise routine, when it would otherwise be difficult to get some studying in.

You probably won’t want to listen to podcasts while running, walking your dog or lifting weights, but you might find a reggaetón playlist is just the thing you need to keep you motivated during your weekly workout regimen.

16. Learn Spanish with Recipes

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Food has always been a great entryway into new cultures. By eating the national dishes, you’ll get a taste of history, social customs and the language itself. Besides, you have to appeal to different senses to make Spanish more memorable.

At first, you can try making dishes you’ve made in the past, but in Spanish instead of English. This way, if you trip up on any vocab, you can make an educated guess based on experience.

In my case, once I felt pretty comfortable with the kitchen and cooking lingo, I moved onto completely new recipes in:

These ones were ideal for a me because the recipes require less than 10 ingredients and have very few instructions.

Generally, cookbooks are very accessible for beginners, since instructions are all in the infinitive. So go for whichever book piques your interest.

Learning all these new food vocabulary and names of dishes will also make it miles easier when you’re ordering meals at Spanish or Latin A restaurants.

17. Practice Thinking in Spanish

Thinking in Spanish is a nice way to get a bit of language practice while carrying out your everyday activities.

Whether you’re mentally making a grocery shopping list or thinking about what to wear to work tomorrow, try to use Spanish while doing it.

Try to mentally translate everything you read into Spanish, whether it’s a social media post or a restaurant menu. Once you build this habit, your mind will get better at forming Spanish sentences on the fly.

You can also talk to yourself in Spanish (though perhaps not when others are around). Getting some speaking practice can boost your confidence for future conversations with native speakers.

18. Change the Language on your Phone to Spanish

Okay, I know this one sounds a little scary, especially if you’re a beginner. But if the goal is to include Spanish in your day-to-day life, then wouldn’t it make sense to make that change on your phone?

If you’re a newbie in Spanish, this might be a struggle. Ideally you would wait until you at least have a basic grasp on Spanish. But if you know where everything is on your phone anyway, just give it a shot (you can always switch back if it’s too much for you).

Once you’ve adjusted to the switch, the next step would be changing the language settings on the rest of your devices.

Changing the default settings on your phone, laptop or game console to Spanish is a great way to incorporate a range of common vocabulary into your day.

Meanwhile, the necessity of interacting with a program or, better yet, a video game in Spanish will give you a sense of what it’s like to live in a Spanish-speaking country.

What Is the Best Way to Learn Spanish?

There are tons of ways to learn Spanish, and the reality is there isn’t a singular method that is better than the other. It’s about finding what works for you, what matches your goals and what you need to do to reach those goals.

Knowing your goals and reasons for learning Spanish will give your studies direction and give you the tools for staying motivated throughout the learning process.

Whether you go down the DIY route like I did or opt for something more structured like a course, the two best ways to maintain your Spanish learning journey long term are immersion and consistency.

By learning Spanish, you’re welcoming a change in lifestyle, which means that you have to surround yourself in all things Spanish. It’s like all five of your senses have to be saturated in the language, which can be done by moving to a Spanish-speaking country, or by following the tips I’ve outlined above.

Consistency is also a huge factor. Nothing will stick in the long run if you don’t practice on a regular basis. Doing a little bit every day is way more effective than having an extremely long review session every weekend.

 

So there you have it, my plan for learning Spanish by yourself.

Follow these steps, and there will come a day when someone compliments your Spanish and inquires how you learned the language so well.

And then, you can proudly respond, “I taught myself!”

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