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We have liftoff!
Congratulations—just by making the decision to learn Spanish, you’ve launched an exciting, ambitious new project!
By choosing to learn Spanish, you’ve opened up a whole new universe of possibilities.
Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn. It’s also one of the top-ranked languages to learn. And to make this a trifecta, it’s the third most spoken language on this planet (and it’s probably also the third most spoken form of communication in this galaxy, as far as we know). And if you only go by native speakers, it’s the number two language on Earth!
Hey, that’s a lot of Spanish going on! And honestly, it might seem a bit overwhelming. In fact, for many people, simply getting started is the hardest part of learning a new language.
After the initial thrill wears off, it’s hard to come back down to Earth and deal with the gravity of the situation: learning Spanish will actually take some work!
But don’t worry, my dear space cadet, because this post is all about what you need to do to start learning Spanish. So no spacing out: I need you to focus and stay with me throughout this post.
We’ll start off with a few ideas and concepts that you should keep in mind while you start on your journey. That section will have some organizational tools and suggestions that you can use to help plan your path towards Spanish fluency.
From there, we’ll incorporate the ideas from the first section into four concrete, actionable steps that you should follow to actually start the learning process.
Are you ready?
Then hold on tight and let’s go!
3, 2, 1, Learn! How to Start Learning Spanish Today
Taking Care of Business
This first section is all about getting things organized. Like with any undertaking, if you take a haphazard approach to language learning, you’re just setting yourself up for confusion and potentially even failure.
We’ll start by looking at a few practical matters, including how your personal learning style can affect the way you learn Spanish.
What to Expect in the Beginning
You probably can’t remember it—and I know I certainly can’t!—but when you learned to speak your native language, it didn’t come as naturally as we all assume. If you just observe children learning their native language, you’ll notice all kinds of weird grammar and vocabulary shenanigans going on. And let’s face it: even when we’re adults, we all still stumble in our own language sometimes.
Nevertheless, that’s okay. Mistakes are bound to happen in the beginning. And in the middle. And even when we’re fluent in a language—any language—mistakes happen. So don’t expect Spanish to be any different.
Think about those children again. When they learn to speak, it takes determination, repetition, time and effort—lots and lots of effort—to acquire vocabulary. And the harder parts, like understanding tenses and other nuances of grammar, require still more effort.
It’s perfectly normal to have some problems learning an unfamiliar language. It will likely take more than a few attempts to roll your R’s or to understand when and where to use accent marks, and that’s to say nothing of even more complicated issues, like when to use the subjunctive.
In other words, at the beginning of your Spanish language learning journey, you may feel overwhelmed at times. Guess what? That’s okay, too. Any new skill seems huge at first.
Why Teaching Yourself Is the Best Way to Start Learning Spanish
I’m a huge advocate of solo learning—especially for languages. Why? Because everyone is different and no one-size-fits-all language program truly fits all.
If you’re reading this post, there’s a good chance that you’re also thinking of learning Spanish in your own way. It’s a fact that some people have a tough time learning a language, so if you set the stage for Spanish learning success by devising your own learning plan, you’re more likely to do really well.
Teach yourself and you can set up a schedule that fits your lifestyle. You choose the materials that appeal to you. And, even better, your program is tailored to your learning style.
Make Spanish Easier by Knowing Your Learning Style
Did you know there are different types of learners? It’s true, and once you determine what type of learner you are, planning will become a snap. So before you get too far into things, we need to decide what type of learner you are: auditory, visual or kinesthetic.
Auditory learners learn best when they hear and discuss information. They often talk to themselves to help learn and internalize what’s being taught. Auditory learners benefit from interactive learning techniques that include videos, music and anything else that includes lessons that are spoken aloud.
Visual learners benefit from seeing what’s being taught. They learn through reading and writing exercises, so textbooks are beneficial. Additionally, watching videos and lectures can enhance the learning process, as can charts and flashcards.
Kinesthetic learners are tactile learners. Touch and movement facilitate learning. We’re talking here about music and hands-on activities like cultural events such as plays or cooking lessons conducted in Spanish.
Once you know what type of learner you are, you should map out a plan that works in sync with your learning style.
How to Set SMART Goals Before Starting Spanish
The first step to setting up a successful language learning program is to set SMART goals.
SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Let’s break that acronym down a bit so we can apply it to your Spanish learning adventure.
Specific is exactly that: specific. There’s no gray area. You might think that saying you want to learn Spanish covers this, but it doesn’t. You’ve got to fine-tune that baby a little bit more.
A specific goal is “I want to learn to speak Spanish and be able to hold a decent conversation when I visit Buenos Aires next winter.” That’s specific.
Measurable goals lay out the plan for getting to the end goal, which is that amazing little chat in Argentina, remember? So an example of a measurable goal would be “I will study Spanish for three hours a day, four days a week.” It should be easy to determine if you have accomplished the goal.
Attainable is a part of this goal-setting exercise that’s entirely up to the discretion of the learner. The only one who can decide on your ability to attain something is you.
Personal reality plays a big role in this facet of the process. Saying you’ll speak like you were born in Buenos Aires in three months is a lofty goal, but is it attainable? I’d guess not, especially for a beginner. An attainable goal for a beginning Spanish learner might be something more along the lines of “I’m going to speak Spanish exclusively for two hours a day. No English, just Spanish!” That’s a more realistic goal.
Relevant reveals the reason you’re embarking on this language learning journey. Why? Because you want to chat with the locals in Buenos Aires!
Timely is simply the measurable aspect of the SMART goal setting procedure. Set a time frame for learning, then stick to it.
If you set your learning goals right from the beginning, you’re checking off all the questions related to the venture. You’ll know what you need to do to learn, why you’re doing it, when you’ll be working on language lessons, how you’re progressing and even where you want to end up. The goals couldn’t be clearer—and clear goals often predict a positive outcome.
Putting It All into Action: Follow These 4 Steps!
Now we’re at the fun part! You know your learning type, you’ve set your goals and now you’re ready to assemble the materials for your Spanish language program. This will be your learning toolkit.
Step 1: Start a Course
You need to find a course that best suits your learning style. There are several popular ones that take the scare out of learning for auditory, visual and kinesthetic learners. Additionally, there’s a course for every budget (even if your budget is “Um, I don’t actually have a budget”).
Let’s check out the details on a few:
FluentU uses real-life videos to bring all things Spanish right to you. Think authentic Spanish immersion online—culture, news, popular entertainment using native speakers—and there’s an app so it’s a go-anywhere, use-anytime teaching resource.
Babbel courses are organized by learning levels and targeted towards different interests. From beginner to advanced, it’s an easy, fun method to make quick progress. It also has an app, as well as courses devoted to grammar, pronunciation and other relevant topics.
BBC Languages: Spanish is an archived site, but that doesn’t mean the material there isn’t useful. Especially considering it’s free to access, you should definitely check it out. There are lessons, games and even an interactive learning video drama, “Mi Vida Loca” (“My Crazy Life”), that are great sources for beginning learners. The videos highlight cultural aspects while providing an opportunity to hear native speakers interact. It’s certainly a great starting point for Spanish learners!
Coursera is a company that provides online access to courses taught at colleges and universities across the globe. Video lectures and student discussion forums make learning Spanish an interactive educational experience. The courses are free unless you’re looking for a certificate of completion, in which case the cost varies according to the course.
Step 2: Buy Books!
I don’t know about you, but I never go on an adventure without taking along a book—or two or three! They just feel kind of friendly and it’s almost impossible to be afraid of anything when you’ve got a friend right beside you.
I know, you’re thinking that you’re just beginning to learn, so how can you even think about reading at this stage? I get that, but most of us learned our native languages with some help from books. Think easy-to-understand books and books geared toward beginning Spanish readers. Those are the best ways to get some reading material into your course plan.
First, find the most basic books available—and yes, I do mean children’s books. They’re a fabulous way to learn basic vocabulary and since there are usually pictures in these books, they give a beginning learner a solid foundation of words and phrases to build upon.
Spanish readers are an excellent learning tool. They are graded so progression from one level to the next is a simple process, based on vocabulary acquisition. Begin with one that doesn’t require any prior Spanish knowledge, then work your way up. Their use of parallel English text alongside the Spanish text is also a great idea because, if you want to check the meaning of a word or phrase, you can just glance at the other side of the page, instead of having to search in a dictionary.
When you’re ready for meatier reading material, Amazon is filled with Spanish-language books, from the basics to contemporary bestsellers.
Step 3: Set a Schedule!
It’s natural to be excited about a new learning experience, but that often translates into biting off more than you can comfortably chew. Really, if you overwhelm yourself with an unreasonable study load, you’re going to have a rough time. Refer to your SMART goals and stick to them.
One useful strategy is to make a chart of what you’re doing and when.
A sample schedule might look like this:
Week 1: One hour of coursework and 30 minutes of vocabulary practice; five times per week
Week 2: One hour of coursework, 30 minutes of vocabulary practice, 30 minutes of Spanish videos; five times per week
Week 3: 90 minutes of coursework, 45 minutes of vocabulary practice, 15 minutes of writing practice, 30 minutes of videos or gaming; five times per week
The idea is to build upon the previous week’s plan. And, of course, when it comes to language learning, more is better!
Step 4: Begin Immersive Learning!
Remember how we spoke about how we learned our native languages? To get our heads around a language, we were naturally immersed in the language and its culture. Language learning is facilitated by that type of non-stop exposure. When you’re tackling Spanish, you should also try to set up an immersive environment.
Most of us can’t take off for a Spanish-speaking country tomorrow, but we can certainly bring bits of the culture and loads of the language into our own homes.
So how can you set up an immersive environment without ever leaving home? It’s not as tough as you’d think.
First of all, you can literally surround yourself with Spanish by labeling items around your house or office. This perennially-popular learning technique is as simple as writing words like “la puerta” and “el gato” on sticky notes, and then attaching the notes to the door and the cat, respectively—although shuffling the notes could potentially lead to some funny conversations in the future! And if you’re too busy to make your own notes (or if you’d just prefer that they actually look classy), then you can buy pre-made stickers from Vocabulary Stickers, an aptly-named company that makes stickers with vocabulary words for several languages.
Any language becomes familiar with use, so practice your Spanish at every opportunity. At the gym? Grind in the grammar while you’re deadlifting. No one can see what’s going on in your head so don’t waste those valuable hours—practice Spanish and build mental muscles while you’re working your core. Waiting in a doctor’s office? Practice sentence structure, either in your head or on one of your devices.
Speaking of devices, technology is the game changer that allows us to grab all sorts of Spanish language and culture—it really does put the world at our fingertips.
It’s probably best not to do the math, but most of us have spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos. Music videos, dancing cats, epic feats of athletic prowess…you name it, it’s there. There are so many incredible Spanish YouTube videos to choose from that it’s almost overwhelming. Fortunately, we’ve narrowed it down to a couple that are great YouTube choices for beginners.
And don’t forget music! I can’t imagine trying to learn a language without listening to music in the target language. Music helps with discerning sentence structure (it’s basically an entertaining version of grammar lessons!) and brings the language alive in a way that’s hard to replicate. Music is packed with emotion, and hearing a soulful tango song or an upbeat salsa rhythm beats out a lot of other ways to hear Spanish cadences and idioms!
Finally, how can we not mention apps? Besides using your cell phone to take advantage of excellent apps for learning Spanish, you can also change your phone’s settings to Spanish—and the same goes for other devices like tablets and computers. Instant immersion on all devices! What’s not to love?
A Few Final Thoughts for Those Starting to Learn Spanish
There’s one point I can’t stress enough: Expect mistakes. You’ll make mistakes, and that’s normal. But don’t give up! Instead, learn from those mistakes and use the lessons to your advantage.
Learning Spanish doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you find your focus, figure out how you learn and set yourself up for success, this may be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. More than 400 million people speak Spanish. Won’t it be great when you’re one of them?
¡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.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.