Want to get a supersized order of Spanish language learning?
Are you already taking online Spanish lessons, or are you planning to?
Then you’re already well on your way.
The internet is awash with resources ready to teach the Spanish language.
But which one should you choose? And how do you make the most of your Spanish learning experience?
Well, you’re in the exact right place.
This post is for anyone who wishes to learn the beautiful and passionate Spanish language–without wasting any time, energy or resources.
I’m going to (1) help you make sense of the cornucopia of lessons out there and (2) give you insights into how to maximize your learning–no matter which method you choose.
Let’s get started.
The Quick Rundown of Online Spanish Lesson Options
Before going into the ways you can make the most of your online Spanish lessons, let me provide you with a brief introduction to the different ways in which these lessons are formatted online.
Online Spanish Lessons can generally be divided into 5 categories:
Books have been the go-to material for language learning for many, many years—long before the advent of the digital age. Online bookstores like Amazon have become powerful aggregators of the multitude of titles that teach Spanish. The powerhouse retailer has been briskly selling and shipping both printed and electronic books the world over.
You can search on Amazon for all the major language learning textbooks like Barron’s and the “for Dummies” & “Idiot’s Guide” series. There are plenty of bestsellers to choose from. And because Amazon allows previews and encourages reviews, you can gauge how the book will suit your personal learning style before you commit.
If that’s not enough motivation to start looking toward books for learning, maybe the word “free”—which describes the price of many Spanish language learning e-books—will get you started.
2. Audio Lessons
Audiobooks are the recorded readings of books. Compared to books and eBooks, an audiobook will better allow multitasking because your hands and eyes are free to be busy with other stuff. For example, you can play the audiobook and learn Spanish inside your car as you’re driving to work.
Audiobooks can be found on Amazon as well.
Podcasts are media files that can be downloaded from places like iTunes for free or for a minimal fee. Instead of the usual book pages, learners are taught the language via the audio route. So, instead of seeing the Spanish words and sentences on a page, you’ll hear Spanish as spoken and explained by native speakers.
Because they’re digital files, podcasts and audiobooks escape the wear and tear over time that real, printed books often suffer. They’re portable and carrying a whole library of them won’t add a single ounce to your phone or tablet.
YouTube serves as the leading source of free Spanish language lessons on the internet.
The videos may vary on what they show. Some will feature a teacher in a classroom or one-on-one setting teaching you Spanish. A healthy number of teachers, in fact, have their personal Spanish teaching channel and have hours of material posted on YouTube.
Other videos feature a short dialogue with accompanying subtitles/translations which are very effective in imparting the nuances of language.
Others go the “Sesame Street” route by presenting cartoons or graphics of the lessons accompanied by catchy tunes.
Videos have the advantage of engaging both the sense of sight and hearing, which results in a more involved level of learning, eventually leading to a more effectively embedded Spanish.
There’s just something about watching a video that makes you “get it” more quickly.
Want all of the above?
FluentU is perfect for this. With a truly excellent collection of Spanish language videos—taken from authentic sources like music videos, cartoons, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks, FluentU allows learners to hear exactly how natives speak their language in the real world.
It’s not just about watching videos either—FluentU is a language program based on active learning. You can download transcripts to practice reading, create running lists of newly-encountered vocabulary, study personalized flashcards and read along with interactive subtitles, pausing at will to view on-screen definitions, translations and pronunciations.
Duolingo, for example, is an award-winning app which has exercises asking students to match photos with words, rearrange words to form correct sentences and even read Spanish sentences out loud. The app listens carefully to your responses and your voice, and provides you with corrections and discussions of key language concepts along the way.
Apps have largely solved the problem of dull and drab solo learning with features like colorful graphics, catchy tones, fun games and perfectly paced lessons.
The apps available online all have merits in their own right. For the best Spanish learning apps, click here.
5. Native Speakers As Tutors or Learning Partners
Skype is playing a crucial role in language learning. The video calling service creates a bridge between native speakers and Spanish language learners. With Skype, a student interested in Spanish won’t need to buy a ticket to Spain or Latin America in order to interact with a native speaker. Now, they can do that in the comfort of their home and at any time of the day.
So, those are the 5 general categories of Spanish lesson formats online. There are some other unique formats, but these are the major ones. And now that we’ve classified them, how do we make sure that, regardless of the learning approach we use, we still maximize language learning?
I thought you’d never ask! Welcome to the 2nd part of this piece: 6 ways to maximize your online Spanish lessons.
6 Powerful Ways to Supersize Your Online Spanish Lessons
1. Choose Your Teacher Wisely.
Choosing the right program is crucial. It’ll save you both time and money.
Not all books are created equal. And just as some native speakers are better language partners than others, there are apps, audiobooks, textbooks and so on that rise above the others in their fields.
The examples I’ve mentioned in the previous section are some of the most highly regarded ones in their respective categories.
So, after you’ve made a choice as to the format that you’d like to use, invest time in going through other peoples’ reviews of the products. Amazon, for example, lets you check out product reviews. To avoid falling for fake ones, exclude those that give the highest and the lowest ratings. You’ll get more honesty and nuance when you read the ones in the middle range. Look for the pros and cons, and make your decision accordingly.
In addition, if there are previews offered, take advantage of those!
There are plenty of forums as well that cater to language learners’ questions on a certain product.
2. Don’t Just Watch It. Write it.
This here has something to do with maximum involvement. While today’s technology allows for facilitated learning, it also has the side effect of passive learning.
While videos are good, they can also lull you into passively sitting for the lessons. For one to really make the most out of any video, you need to be doing something else that’ll burn the lessons into your long term memory.
You need to be writing. You need to be writing the Spanish words and sentences you’re learning in the video. And you need to do it not on a laptop but by hand on a piece of paper. Studies have shown that writing on a piece of paper boosts memory. (An effect not found in laptop note-taking). There’s just something about the action of scribbling that sends precious feedback to the brain, saving the lessons to your memory.
So, whether it’s a YouTube clip or a FluentU video, make the most out of it by having a notepad nearby.
3. Get Spanish Ingrained in Your Subconscious.
If you’re not talking to yourself in the middle of the night, then you’re not really learning.
Most learners are contented with digesting the book, listening to the audiobook or watching the telenovela. After a while, they put their learning material away, turn off their brains and go to sleep.
But not you.
After reading this, you’ll do one more thing after the lessons. You’ll be talking…to yourself, that is. You’ll be creating another pathway for your brain to learn and remember Spanish. You’re gonna develop neural connections inside the brain. Because that’s what talking, in effect, does.
Speak those Spanish words and those Spanish sentences that you just learned or listened to. Reading or listening isn’t necessarily learning. Seriously, how many words will you remember in the morning if you haven’t interacted with them at all?
Learning is talking, speaking, practicing and applying the lessons. John Dewey, the great educator, once said, “we don’t learn from experience, we learn by reflecting on it.”
One of the advantages of having a native speaker as a tutor or as a learning partner is that you’re forced to talk to somebody.
But in cases where it’s just you going at it, talk to yourself. Listen to yourself as the words come out of your mouth in fits and starts.
And when you’re talking to yourself, don’t do it lifelessly or monotonously. Do it with grand gestures! Believe it or not, this has an effect on your memory. Scientists have found that gesturing facilitates retrieval of information in the brain.
So, what are you waiting for? Stand up, work around the house, talk loudly to yourself in broken Spanish and use grand gestures that’ll elicit stares from your neighbors in the morning.
4. Quiz and Puzzle Yourself.
Think back to your school days for a moment. When classroom quizzes are graded, everybody takes them seriously. But when they’re only considered “exercises,” then nobody really bothers to put in any extra effort.
This same thing happens in the self-teaching process. Imagine that you’re all alone going through a Spanish language app. Nobody’s there to judge you, nobody will know how you performed. And you don’t even really believe when the app tells you that more than half of the all learners did better than you in the “exercise.”
You don’t really care.
And worse, you didn’t even pay for the app. It came for free!
What a wasted opportunity to learn!
A team of psychologists, programmers and designers spent thousands of hours developing an app that would be most effective in the market – with all the bells and whistles. And you don’t even take it seriously?
You’ll never experience the full impact that an app, a book, an audiobook or any other learning material was designed to bring if you skip the quizzes, puzzles and exercises. Don’t glance at the content and move on directly to the next lesson. Don’t cheat yourself out of any learning opportunity.
When an audiobook pauses and gives you the time to enunciate the word, in the name of learning, please do it!
5. Repeat the Lessons Over and Over. I Repeat—Repeat the Lessons Over and Over.
Just to be clear, let me reiterate that: repeat the lessons over and over.
You know how Tiger Woods became such a great shot? Repetition.
Same goes for Michael Jordan (although not in golf).
If you really want to maximize every book and every language program you go through, expect to do a lot of repetitions with the lessons. I know, you just want to get through the whole thing and feel accomplished for having gone through the program. But at the expense of what…learning?
We’re lucky to be alive in the age of digital files. Podcasts and eBooks don’t get old or experience wear and tear, so you don’t have to buy new ones. The apps will be as good and fresh as the first time you signed in.
Remember a few years ago when there were cassettes, VHS tapes and DVDs? Yes, DVDs are even antiquated nowadays.
You’d play the tape back a couple of times and things get grainy, the picture begins to be degraded and isn’t as sharp. The audio starts to sound like some extraterrestrial trying to make contact. The DVD scratches and skips over key parts of the lesson. And then there comes a point when the whole thing just stops playing and there’s really nothing you can do about it. Except buy a new one – which takes weeks to arrive.
The connection between repetition and language acquisition is well-founded. And boy, are we lucky that we’re living in a time when technology has made repetition instant, ubiquitous and free.
In this day and age, people are really running out of excuses for not learning a 2nd and 3rd language.
6. Shout Spanish From the Rooftops!
The real test of whether or not you know Spanish is to teach it to someone else.
When we learn by ourselves, we can delude ourselves by claiming that we know something. Yeah, we may know something, but knowing it well enough to explain it and teach it is a little bit different. To teach is to fully grasp a concept. Otherwise, your students will call you out on it.
Psychologists from Washington University in St. Louis discovered that students learn more if they’re expecting to teach others.
That is, students who studied expecting a test were easily bested by students who were told they’d be teaching the topic to others. Those students demonstrated a more comprehensive understanding of the lessons.
Always have this in mind when learning your Spanish–whether it be through books, eBooks, audiobooks, apps or tutoring. Expect that you’ll need to be able to teach it to others, and you’ll be rewarded with a kind of effective learning that makes the time invested in Spanish so worth it.
So, there you go! 6 powerful tips to make the most out of your online Spanish lessons. They all require a little work, but they do have returns that are significantly more than the efforts that you put in.
I hope you continue with your studies. Don’t give up. In time, you’ll get there.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.