learn spanish

Learn Spanish: The Guide to Go from Absolute Beginner to Near-native Speaker

There are 572 million Spanish speakers worldwide.

This number is expected to grow to over 750 million by the year 2060.

There are 21 countries around the world where Spanish is the official language (or one of them).

What I am trying to say here is… Spanish is pretty important.

If you have been on the fence about learning Spanish or are just starting out with it, you will be tapping into a tremendously influential language. 

For a complete beginner, though, the idea of learning this rule-heavy language might be daunting. You might not know where to start. Maybe you have already started but do not seem to be getting anywhere.

What you need is a plan to get you from the very start of learning Spanish—even if you have absolutely no prior experience with it—to the ultimate goal of fluency.

You have come to the right place: That is exactly what this post will provide!
 


 
Learn a foreign language with videos

Why Should You Learn Spanish?

Learning languages seems to be a fad at the moment. I, as a language teacher, would not call learning a new language a fad but a necessity.

If you are reading this, that means that you are at least considering the idea of learning Spanish as a second (or third or 10th…) language. You probably already have your own reasons for doing so. Just in case you need more of a push, here are some great reasons to learn Spanish.

For work

Are you tired of working at a nine-to-five boring job with no vision of the future and no chances of getting a raise? Do you dream of seeing palm trees from your office window? Do you imagine yourself moving up the ladder and enjoying a better life?

Knowing Spanish will open a world of possibilities for your career!

For play

Perhaps you have a great job already and all you want is to spend your vacation in some of the best countries in the world. You have a craving for beaches and sand or maybe you are interested in the history of Latin America.

Plan ahead and learn the local language and customs. You will get much more out of your vacation that way!

For pretty much everything else

You might be learning Spanish for school. You may be learning it for love. Maybe are just doing it for fun.

Whatever your reason is, now that you have decided to learn this beautiful language, your journey has already started. So where do you go next?

How to Learn Spanish

No matter what reasons lead you to this post, there are as many different methods to learn as there are learners. We all have our own ways of studying or you might prefer one method over another.

However, many people feel lost right at the start and have no idea how to begin their learning process, what tools are available and which method is the best for them.

The best way to make an informed decision is to get to know all the different resources available. The following list is not comprehensive, but it is at least good enough to help you decide where to start. Each link will take you to a full free post covering the topic in question! 

For beginners

learn-spanish

  • FluentUIt does not matter if you like learning online, with printed sheets, on your phone, by listening to music, by watching videos… FluentU has everything you need to get started at any level. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

FluentU is about so much more than videos: You also get access to interactive flashcards and vocab lists, annotated subtitles and personalized quizzes that evolve as you learn. This all-in-one immersion-style learning method will provide you with thousands of hours of content that can be adapted to suit your needs, whatever they are, at any level.

For intermediate learners

  • A traditional group course. If you need that interactive touch in your language-learning path, this option may just be the one you need to continue your adventure.
  • Online resources. There is a virtually unlimited number of resources for you to practice your Spanish online, just a click away.
  • Podcasts and audiobooks. You can train your ear to grasp new knowledge, which makes audio-based learning tools like podcasts and audiobooks the perfect tools for intermediate learners.
  • Video lessons. YouTube is a gold mine when it comes to Spanish video lessons. Whatever you need, there is probably a YouTube lesson about it!

For advanced learners

  • A private tutor. One-on-one instruction is best if you are already in the advanced stages of your learning or need to prepare for an exam.
  • Language exchange. Maybe you do not need proper language learning but you still want to improve your Spanish speaking or writing skills. You can do this by finding a language exchange partner (or a few) who will teach you Spanish in return for you teaching them your native language.

Maybe you are in love with that beautiful Spanish girl who is making your heart skip a beat and want to surprise her with a text message in Spanish… Doing a language exchange will help you get there!

  • Study abroadThe ultimate tool for learning real Spanish is immersing yourself in the language by studying or working abroad for at least a few months. You will be seeing and listening to Spanish 24/7. Get ready to get fluent without even realizing it!

If you are just starting to learn Spanish and it is all too overwhelming for you, the rest of this post will guide you step by step so you do not get lost. It will help you go from knowing nothing at all to being the best Spanish speaker you can be.

So sit back, relax and let your adventure begin.

Good luck on your new journey!

Learn Spanish: The Complete Guide to Go from Zero to Hero

Part 1: Starting from the Beginning

So… where should I start? Or even better, where should you start?

You obviously start from the beginning!

The guide below is listed in the suggested order you should tackle each task. You can, of course, decide that I am not the person to give you orders and do the sections in a different order. However, remember that the list has been carefully planned for maximum efficiency so that you progress faster.

There is no specific time frame for finishing all these steps but do not expect to get them all done in one sitting! This process will take a while. How long it takes will depend on many factors, like how much daily study time you are able to dedicate, how much Spanish you know when you begin, your own personal learning speed and much more.

However long it takes, make sure to take your time and perfect each step before you move on to the next.

Find the Similarities (and Differences!) Between English and Spanish

1. The alphabet

It may seem obvious, but the first thing you have to do when starting to learn a new language is to study its alphabet.

learn-spanish

You will realize that there are letters in Spanish that English does not have (like ñ or ll). Likewise, there are letters that English uses like there is no tomorrow but Spanish tends to avoid (k and w are the best examples).

You can use this first step as a starting point to learn the correct pronunciation of single words, which will certainly help you later in your journey.

Try it yourself:

Listen to the alphabet song in Spanish. Note the pronunciation! Check every word you come across in your studies with Forvo to make sure you are reading the letters and words right.

2. Spanish articles, gender rules and plurals

English has three articles (“a,” “an,” “the”), but Spanish has eight!

Spanish articles tend to give learners a headache in later phases if they have not studied them at the beginning. So learn them now!

Try it yourself:

From now on, every new noun you study should have a corresponding article. This is the best way to learn both nouns and articles at the same time! For example, write el coche (the car), not just coche.

Spanish articles go hand-in-hand with gender and number (whether something is singular or plural), two of the easiest but also most important topics you need to cover while warming up.

By learning these two concepts, you will understand that each Spanish noun and adjective has a specific gender and number and you will begin to get a sense of how important these are to constructing sentences.

Try it yourself:

Make a list of masculine adjectives and transform them into feminine ones. For example: rojo → roja (red). Voilà! Now you have doubled the number of words you know just by changing a few letters!

3. Accentuation rules and accent marks

If you have ever seen written Spanish, you probably noticed that some of the letters have little “lines” above them. These are accent marks, and they are crucial if you want to read Spanish words properly.

By learning a couple of accentuation rules, you will know how to read and spell Spanish words correctly!

Try it yourself:

learn-spanish

Take a look at juegos de palabras’ extensive list of Spanish words with accent marks. Do not be alarmed by all the Spanish! Pick out a handful of words from all over the page and write them down. Try to guess what they mean, then look them up and write the definitions.

It might help to group the words by category/rule. Add on to this list as you learn new common words that have accent marks!

Learning Words: Start Building Your Core Spanish Vocabulary

4. Cognates are your best friend!

Did I just say cognate? What on Earth does that mean?

A cognate is a word that sounds and means the same in two languages.

And there are a lot of these between Spanish and English. Let’s just say, you already know much more Spanish vocabulary than you could have ever imagined!

Try it yourself:

Once you know what cognates are, you will start seeing them everywhere! Write down your favorites from the two cognate lists linked above, then add on to this list of “words you did not know you knew” with new cognates as you discover them.

Here is one to get you started: función (function). (And hey, you can add that to your list of accented words, too!)

5. Beginner’s vocabulary

You cannot form sentences without words! Learning the words Spanish native speakers use the most will give you the tools you need to start communicating. Whether you use an app to learn daily new words or you learn them in chunks, it is a good idea to learn new words by themes.

Start with the most common vocabulary so you can jump right into using your new words! Here are a few vocabulary lists to get you started:

Every learner has to go through a beginning phase where there are quite a lot of topics that need to be learned in order to start taking their first steps by themselves. Knowing the basic stuff may sound a bit boring (we want to know it all already, right?), but it is a necessary step in the road to perfection.

Try it yourself:

Think of the types of conversations you are likely to have in Spanish, depending on your goals for learning it. Compile a few themed vocabulary lists of your own.

The words you learn should be useful to you. There is no point in learning Spanish words if you would never use them in your life!

6. Learn key Spanish verbs

You can now start learning the most important Spanish verbs. This is the point at which you are no longer learning isolated words—with the help of a few verbs, you will be able to start forming sentences.

Ser, estar and haber (all meaning “to be”) are the best way to break the ice. By learning these three grammar monsters, you will be able to talk about yourself and what surrounds you.

At this point, you can also start taking a look at how to conjugate regular verbs in the first (-ar), second (-er) and third (-ir) conjugations.

Try it yourself:

Make a list of verbs you use every day—like “to eat”—and translate them into Spanish—comer.

7. Personal pronouns and their friends

If you do not want to sound like a toddler learning to speak (“The car is red. The car is fast. I like the car.”), you will need to learn all about Spanish pronouns and a few useful adjectives.

Personal pronouns (“I,” “you,” “he,” etc.) are a good place to start, but they are not alone. They have a lot of friends!

You are already able to say “a car” in Spanish, but what if you want to talk about “this” or “that” car, or maybe “your” car? Enter demonstrative and possessive adjectives. These little words are a real treasure in any language, and will allow you to talk or write in more detail about anything you want.

Apart from this, direct and indirect object pronouns will also come in handy if you want to start feeling like a real native speaker. Plus, pronouns are always perfect for those occasions when you cannot remember the noun!

Use these four groups of words wisely and your Spanish will flourish in no time!

Try it yourself:

Take 25 of the nouns you already know and swap out the articles with demonstratives or possessives. For example: el coche / un coche / este coche / mi coche (the car / a car / this car / my car).

Spanish Tenses: Start Forming Sentences

At this stage, you still do not have an idea of what Spanish looks like as a whole. This is the best moment to learn about word order and sentence building! Do not be afraid if you find words you do not understand or tenses that may seem like they were taken out of a horror movie. In time, you will know what they are.

Now let’s take all those new words you know and start stringing them together into coherent thoughts!

8. Your first two tenses: present simple and future simple

The first tenses most Spanish students learn are the simple present and future tenses, in that order. It will probably take you some time to master the endings of the present tense but once you do, the future simple tense will feel like a balm for your soul.

Try it yourself:

Practice the present and future tenses by writing very simple sentences with the nouns and verbs you already know. Here are some examples of what that might look like:

Yo como. (I eat.)

Ella bebe. (She drinks.)

Nosotros viajaremos. (We will travel.)

Ellos se ducharán. (They will take a shower.)

9. Your third tense: the present continuous

Your new favorite word is going to be the gerundio (gerund). Once you learn how to form it in Spanish and pair it with one of the verbs you already know (estar), you will be ready to talk about what you are doing in the present continuous!

Try it yourself:

Take some of the sentences you have written so far and change them into the present continuous. For example:

Yo como. (I eat.) → Yo estoy comiendo. (I am eating.)

Ellos se ducharán. (They will take a shower.) → Ellos se están duchando. (They are taking a shower.)

10. Asking questions and making connections: interrogatives and relatives

You have already taken some baby steps towards toward actual Spanish conversations and now you want more. Great!

Relatives and interrogatives are two groups of words that help us make longer, more specific sentences just by adding a few things here and there. You still do not know how to build complex sentences, but you will very soon!

You use interrogatives to turn your sentences into questions.

Try it yourself:

Take some of the sentences you have written so far and rephrase them as questions:

Ella está bebiendo. (She is drinking.) → ¿Qué está bebiendo? (What is she drinking?)

And you use relatives to connect thoughts and sentences.

Try it yourself:

Write some very simple sentences and try to join them with the help of relatives. For example:

Esta es la casa de María. María vive en la casa. (This is María’s house. María lives in the house.) → Esta es la casa donde vive María. (This is the house where María lives.)

11. The art of saying “no”

Learning how to say “no” and how to negate verbs is one of the most useful things you can learn in a new language. Every single sentence containing a verb can be converted into a negative! You can literally double the number of sentences you can say just by adding a few words.

Try it yourself:

Go back to the sentences you have already written and convert some of them into negative ones. For instance:

Yo como. (I eat.) → Yo no como. (I do not eat.)

Ella está bebiendo. (She is drinking.) → Ella no está bebiendo (She is not drinking.)

12. Time for the present perfect

At this point in your learning journey, you are approaching the one-third mark. Congratulations! We will add one more grammar topic before considering the beginner section done: the present perfect, which is used to talk about things that you have done.

After learning this tense, your beginner’s grammar lessons will be finished. Well done!

Try it yourself:

Write some new sentences by using the present perfect tense or rewrite some of your old sentences. Here are some examples:

He comido pizza en el almuerzo. (I have eaten pizza for lunch.)

Ella ha bebido agua. (She has drunk water.)

Beginner Recap

By now you should know how to:

  • Form simple sentences in the present, future, present continuous and present perfect tenses
  • Ask questions and begin to form complex sentences
  • Use negatives, pronouns, demonstratives and possessives
  • Have a very basic conversation on different beginner topics

Pat yourself on the back!

I Want to Know More!

Now is a good time to learn a bit more about the culture of the language you are studying.

If you want to know more about dialects, music or other interesting topics just to spice up your Spanish, feel free to have a look at the last three links or search for the topics you are interested in.

You will be starting the intermediate section after this little nice break, so try to enjoy it as much as you can!

Part 2. Getting the Hang of It: Intermediate Learners

You made it! You are here, which means you are ready to become an intermediate learner.

Part two covers all the intermediate topics that will get you in front of the Advanced Club’s door. Get ready to sweat a little bit, but if you have been consistent so far, you should be ready!

Gain a Better Understanding of Beginner Topics

13. Revisiting pronouns and adding “sum” more

Pronouns are everywhere. Literally. Even numbers can be pronouns!

Knowing the different kinds of pronouns and how they work is essential for improving your Spanish skills and being able to produce even more of the language.

It is time to learn about relative pronounsinterrogative pronouns and demonstrative pronouns

Try it yourself:

Write some sentences, then modify and transform them with the use of the different pronouns you have learned. For example:

Quiero el libro. (I want the book.) Lo quiero. (I want it.)

Este libro es muy interesante. Este es muy interesante también. (This book is very interesting. This one is very interesting, too.)

14. Irregular verbs for days!

The verb gustar (to like) is a bit special. Get to know it and its siblings and discover a new dimension of the Spanish language!

But gustar is not the only verb that can behave in a weird way. Spanish has tons of irregular verbs that can make anyone go crazy.

Did you think you were done with verbs? Honey, the party has just gotten started! Irregular verbs are here to stay, so get used to them.

Try it yourself:

Write some sentences with gustar and other irregular verbs in the tenses you already know. Here are a few to get you started:

Me gusta estudiar idiomas. (I like studying languages.)

Lo tendré mañana. (I will have it tomorrow.)

Ella está durmiendo. (She is sleeping.)

15. Things are getting “tensed”: The imperfect and the preterite

OK, I should stop making language jokes. Sorry. (Or am I?)

This step is a doozy, so hang in there!

The next couple of grammar monsters that will make you tremble are the imperfect and the preterite. They are so lovely when left alone but so dangerous when living together!

These two tenses let us talk about the past, adding a new layer to the topics we can now discuss.

Try it yourself:

Pick some of the sentences from point 14 and transform them into the imperfect and the preterite. Or you can just write your own new sentence. For instance:

Me gusta estudiar idiomas. (I like studying languages.) → Me gustaba estudiar idiomas. (I used to like studying languages.)

Ella estuvo durmiendo ocho horas. (She was sleeping for eight hours.)

After surviving the imperfect vs. preterite war, the conditional tense and conditional sentences will seem like a true piece of cake for you. The conditional is used for a lot of purposes, from being polite to expressing things that you “would” do or like to do.

Try it yourself:

Write some polite sentences with the use of the conditional tense, such as:

Querría un bolígrafo, por favor. (I would like a pen, please.)

¿Podría cerrar la puerta, por favor? (Could you close the door, please?)

Our next tense is the past progressive. We use it to describe actions that were happening in the past.

Try it yourself:

Write some sentences in the past progressive tense. You should be able to write longer sentences by now, like this one:

Estaba comiendo en casa de abuela ayer a las dos de la tarde. (Yesterday at two p.m. I was eating at grandma’s house.)

Close up this progressive journey with a full review of all the progressive tenses. You will also find a new tense in the post I just linked: the future progressive. Take your time to digest all the new information. The real fun is about to start!

Try it yourself:

Write some sentences in the future progressive tense. You can use some of the sentences you have already written and modify them:

Mañana a las seis ya estaré desayunando. (I will already be having breakfast tomorrow at six a.m.)

Finally, learn how to give commands with the imperative. Do not forget about the negative commands! (See what I did there?). You can even practice the imperative with your puppy. Isn’t it lovely?

Try it yourself:

Write 10 commands and transform them into negative commands. For example:

¡Juega! (Play!) → ¡No juegues! (Do not play!)

¡Corre! (Run!) → ¡No corras! (Do not run!)

Adding Details to Your Sentences

16. The world of prepositions

Prepositions! A lot of people fear them but learn to love them as they get to know them.

The most difficult part of learning Spanish prepositions is probably the por vs. para battle. They might be tricky but they are important to master—they even form many expressions that we use every day!

Prepositions are so important that we have verbs that are always followed by specific ones, and sometimes there are verbs that even change their meaning depending on the preposition that follows them! Crazy stuff…

Try it yourself:

Now that you are a Prepositional Master, try to find more verbs that are normally followed by a preposition in Spanish, like these:

pensar en (to think about)

soñar con alguien (to dream about someone)

17. Conjunctions

Conjunctions join thoughts and ideas together and they are one of the main tools that we use to organize our speech and writing. Learning to use them will help you form longer and more complex sentences!

Try it yourself:

Choose 10 conjunctions and write sentences with them. For example:

Juan y María están enamorados. (Juan and María are in love.)

Voy a comprarlo aunque no me gusta. (I am going to buy it even though I do not like it.)

18. Adverbs and more adjectives

Adverbs let us answer questions such as “where” “when” and “how,” and they have many other important uses. They will definitely enrich your vocabulary and allow you to build even more complex sentences.

Best of all, you can turn the adjectives you learned earlier into adverbs thanks to a simple trick.

Try it yourself:

Choose 10 adjectives and convert them into -mente adverbs:

exacto (exact) → exactamente (exactly)

rápido (quick) → rápidamente (quickly)

As for adjectives, you already got to know many of them in the Beginner’s Vocabulary section. But there are many more! You can use adjectives to describe people, speak about the best and the worst of something and so much more!

Try it yourself:

Write more complex sentences by adding adverbs and adjectives to them to make them even more awesome, like this:

El niño se comió la manzana. (The boy ate the apple.) → El niño pequeño se comió la manzana verde rápidamente. (The little boy ate the green apple quickly.)

Putting on the Final Touches

19. Expressing yourself (better)

So now that you are a legit intermediate learner, you might be wondering what exactly that implies.

By now you should be able to have a more-than-basic conversation on many different topics, and your vocabulary has certainly gone through the roof in the last couple of steps.

But what now?

There are some topics that, when added to your conversations or writing, make your Spanish brighter. It would be impossible to mention all of them, but here is a list to get you started:

20. More vocabulary!

I always say you never stop learning new words. There is always something you do not know!

Even as you finish the intermediate stage and enter the advanced one, keep learning new words. Here are a few more topics so you will never be caught off-guard:

Intermediate Roundup

At this point in your learning, you should be able to:

  • Hold a more complex conversation
  • Know how to use more advanced tenses such as the imperfect, the preterite, the conditional, the imperative and the continuous tenses
  • Use common irregular verbs with ease
  • Recognize and use pronouns, prepositions, adverbs, complex adjectives and conjunctions
  • Express yourself properly and correct your own mistakes if necessary
  • Have a vocabulary fit for almost any situation

I Want to Know More!

You have finished part two! Congratulate yourself and enjoy some relaxing time by having a look at these non-compulsory topics. Choose the one(s) that interest you the most!

Part 3. On the Way to Fluency: Advanced Spanish

This is the end of the road!

A few weeks or months ago you were lucky to even say hola in Spanish, and now you are starting the advanced level.

Congrats!

Now let’s go the final mile and get ready for fluency. Here we go!

Taking Your Spanish to the Next Level

21. Advanced tenses

Yep, there are still some more tenses to be learned, and they are not going to be a nice walk in the park…

Let’s start with the pluscuamperfecto. The name may sound as dangerous as a cobra (“pluscauwhatever!”), but it is actually the same as the past perfect in English. That is the tense we use to describe past things that happened before other past things!

Try it yourself:

Write some sentences in the pluscuamperfecto tense. You can help yourself by adding the preterite to the sentences. For example:

Cuando María llegó, Juan ya se había ido. (When María arrived, Juan had already left.)

The next set of tenses is called the subjunctive. If you have heard anything about the subjunctive, it was probably not very nice things… But Spanish uses the subjunctive as much as (if not more than) the indicative, so it is time for you to make that qualitative leap and go from intermediate grayness to advanced awesomeness!

I recommend you study the following three posts about the subjunctive, in this specific order:

Try it yourself:

learn-spanish

The subjunctive is something you cannot just learn in a few days. It takes time and a lot of practice! I recommend the book “Tiempo… Para practicar el Indicativo y el Subjuntivo.” It will teach you everything you need to know about the subjunctive and it has hundreds of exercises!

If the price is too steep for you, there are many other options out there for learning and practicing the subjunctive.

 22. Passive voice

The passive voice moves sentence subjects out of the spotlight and places emphasis on the action and object of the sentence, instead. With the passive voice, you will be able to add another layer of politeness to your conversations. It can be used for much more, though, so try your best to master it ASAP.

Try it yourself:

Now that you are able to build complex sentences, write a few and transform them into the passive voice. For example:

Mi hermano le ha enviado una carta a Manuel. (My brother has sent a letter to Manuel.) → Una carta le ha sido enviada a Manuel por mi hermano. (A letter has been sent to Manuel by my brother.)

23. Reported speech

You may not have realized it yet, but we use the reported speech much more than you think. Every time you repeat what someone else said, you are using it!

This topic may be a bit of a nightmare for some students, but chin up—it is your last major grammar topic! You should be proud of yourself.

Try it yourself:

Listen to Spanish audio (songs, news, dialogues online, etc.) and write down some of the sentences you hear. Then transform them into the reported speech. Here is an example:

…y cuando llegué a casa encendí la TV y me quedé dormida en el sofá… (…and when I arrived home I turned on the TV and fell asleep on the sofa…) Ella dijo que cuando llegó a casa encendió la TV y se quedó dormida en el sofá. (She said that when she arrived home she turned on the TV and fell asleep on the sofa.)

Making Your Vocabulary Excel

You know a whole lot of words by now, but you still want to achieve that ultimate goal of fluency, right?

It is time for one last round of vocabulary topics!

And remember that if there are any other topics you want or need to know about, you can always make your own advanced Spanish vocabulary lists.

Advanced Recap

This is almost the end of your journey with me, and at this point, I would love for you to be able to:

  • Have a complex conversation on almost any topic without (or almost without) a problem
  • Know how to use the pluscuamperfecto like a pro
  • Understand the difference between indicative and subjunctive and how and when to use each of them
  • Use passive voice and reported speech without hesitation when they are needed
  • Be able to express yourself perfectly thanks to all the vocabulary you have acquired

I Want to Know More!

There are very few major topics that have not been covered in this post. However, each of us has different interests and loves to learn about different topics. The following list gathers some advanced resources you should definitely have a look at when you have some free time:

 

The conclusion is simple: You are awesome, you are fluent, you are the best!

If you have followed this post step-by-step, then you are absolutely ready to go out to the world and put your Spanish language skills into practice (if you have not already).

I know from experience that learning by yourself can often be frustrating. But we live in the era of the internet—we are connected with the world 24/7 and we are never alone if we know where to look for help.

As you have seen, FluentU has everything you need and more in order to go from zero to hero in no time. If you do not speak Spanish fluently yet, you have no excuses now. Go back to the beginning of this post and let me guide you on your road to fluency!

I hope you have enjoyed this journey as much as I have enjoyed getting it ready for you.

Remember to stay curious. Happy learning!

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.

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