Starting to learn a language can seem like standing at the base of Mt. Everest and looking at the peak.
If you are a true beginner without any previous knowledge of the language, you might look up and think that you face an impossible task.
However, you know there are thousands of people who have conquered that mountain before you, as well as millions upon millions of students who have been able to achieve fluency in Spanish.
You are not alone.
And with this post, you will learn how to tackle the Spanish language as a complete beginner.
Get your climbing gear—it is time for an adventure!
Why Even Learn Spanish, Anyway?
Did you know that there are over 572 million Spanish speakers around the world?
Indeed, Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world (by number of native speakers), and the numbers are growing exponentially year after year!
People have different reasons for starting to learn a language.
If you want to get a great new job, Spanish can be a valuable asset. With the number of speakers growing every single day, knowing Spanish can help you earn a living as a translator, an interpreter, a language teacher or even an immigration social worker.
Going on vacation, perhaps? Wouldn’t it be awesome to mingle with the locals, know how to order home-made food and visit places only a Spanish-speaking person would ever be able to reach? Whether you plan on going to Mexico for a week, staying in a small village in Barcelona for a month or spending a whole year visiting the Americas, a basic knowledge of Spanish is a must if you want to survive!
Your reasons might be purely academic or maybe they are reasons of the heart and your motivation is love!
Whatever is driving you to it, you want to learn Spanish, and that is what counts.
All of us have been beginners at something in our lives. Whether it is DIY, gardening, karate or languages, no one is born knowing everything about everything. You have to start somewhere.
The problem with enrolling in a Spanish course or trying out immersion is that many learning methods either go too fast or do not really start from zero. So, to avoid getting lost in translation, you have decided to take the bull by the horns and start learning by yourself in advance. I salute you, my friend.
And if you are looking for possible ways on how to get started, you have come to the right place!
Before You Begin: A Brief Introduction to This Guide
This post will help you get started and go from knowing nothing to being your own language teacher in no time.
Divided into nine steps, this guide covers the first things you need to do to start learning Spanish and prepares you to enter a whole new world where you are the one who decides what to do next.
You will find out everything from how to choose the right book for you to the first steps of actually learning the language. It will give you bits of priceless advice on how to start working on your grammar, pronunciation and listening skills, as well as provide links to some valuable resources. Put the nine steps into practice and see your Spanish get more awesome by the minute!
By the end of this post, you will have the tools you need to start this new learning adventure!
How to use this guide
This guide is by no means intended to be a comprehensive course on Spanish for beginners. Instead, this post is a guide for those people who want to get started but do not know how.
Use it as a way of making sure that you have everything you need before you start learning. Then, follow the steps contained within to keep moving forward and cover the necessary basics.
Do not expect this little article to include everything you need to be fluent. This is a guide for real beginners who want to start using Spanish as soon as possible for the very first time, and want to do it in a structured and easy-to-follow way.
So grab a pencil and a piece of paper, go through the steps in order, make any notes you need to and, finally, start learning Spanish!
Spanish For Beginners: The Ultimate Guide To Get You Started In 9 Easy Steps
Now that you know what you will find in this post, it is time to get started.
Welcome to the ultimate guide to learning Spanish for beginners from scratch in nine super easy steps!
1. Get a Good Grammar Book
You might have heard that all you need to do when learning a new language is memorize a couple of words and phrases and use them whenever the opportunity arises. This might be good advice if you only want to know some basics for a brief exposure to the Spanish language, like travel.
But if you want to learn Spanish—I mean really learn it—you will need to learn the grammar.
You may not want to be the king of grammar, and I am certainly not going to try to convince you to become one, but the truth is that grammar is indeed important and necessary if you really want to learn a language.
I always imagine grammar as being the skeleton of a language. Once you have the skeleton, you can add muscles (vocabulary), veins and arteries (reading skills) and even a brain (listening and speaking). If you have everything but did not get yourself a nice skeleton to begin with, all you will end up with is a patchwork of little bits and pieces you will not understand.
So start by having a look at a few of the possible grammar books available and choose the one you feel comfortable with. Remember that you are the director of all this enterprise, so opt for books that have a style and type of content you really enjoy.
Once you find yourself a good grammar book, you can go on to the next step and keep getting ready for the party.
2. Immerse Yourself with FluentU
FluentU is the best language learning program for people who are looking for personalized Spanish learning experiences.
With FluentU, you have unlimited access to all kinds of videos, quizzes, flashcards, interactive subtitles… The list goes on and on! You will be able to listen to native speakers in videos like movie trailers, news, inspirational talks and much more—all while organically improving your listening skills, vocabulary and grammar.
Videos and lessons are organized by difficulty level, so even the least experienced beginners can benefit from the content. Thanks to the program’s progress-tracking system, you will receive questions and suggestions based on your learning history.
If you want to feel the immersion vibe without having to leave your house, FluentU is all you need. Give it try with its the free FluentU trial and discover a new dimension of language learning!
3. Learn Basic Vocabulary
Now that you have a good grammar book and the FluentU app/course, it is time to start learning some basic vocabulary.
By building vocabulary before you begin studying tenses and other grammar concepts, you are ensuring that you will have enough words to work with when you are ready to begin building sentences. Besides, learning basic vocabulary always comes in handy because it allows you to understand more and more complex phrases as you build it up.
You do not need to learn words like the parts of a car (unless, of course, you aim to become a Spanish-speaking auto mechanic). Keep it simple, focusing initially on commonly used words, and work your way up to more complicated topics.
You can start by learning the numbers in Spanish, the days of the week and the months of the year. Learn how to tell the time, learn the right terms for colors and animal words. Study any vocabulary you think you will use in an everyday conversation and anything else that is relevant to you.
Once you have numbers and a few common words under your belt, you can move on to more complex vocabulary like adjectives (always helpful when you want to describe people and things) and some basic verbs. This last topic will be super useful and should not be skipped, because you will be using these verbs in order to accomplish the next step.
4. Master the Main Tenses
Once you have a good pool of verbs, you should start learning the main tenses.
The concept of a “main tense” is a very broad one that will mean something different from teacher to teacher. However, we can all agree the following are a must in order to start communicating in Spanish:
The present simple: You will need this one to talk about your daily routines, primarily. Spanish also loves using this tense for different purposes (including the future!), so it is a good idea to start with it.
The future simple: One of the easiest, if not the easiest, tenses in Spanish, it will help you express all your thoughts about the future. Add to it the periphrasis ir a (going to) and you will have all you need for now.
The preterite and the imperfect: These two tenses are very often studied together so that the learner can clearly see the differences between them. Although this grammar topic may take you a little while to master, once you do, the rest will be as easy as pie.
The present perfect: This tense is so similar to its English counterpart that you will cry tears of joy (or almost).
5. Use YouTube
While you are learning your basic vocabulary and the main tenses, I recommend that you start visiting YouTube.
We all know we can go to YouTube and spend hours watching fail compilations and cute cats, but did you know that YouTube is one of the best resources out there for language learning?
There are hundreds of channels dedicated exclusively to teaching vocabulary and explaining grammar concepts. You can also find videos that will help you improve your pronunciation, songs with subtitles so you can sing along, Spanish vlogs and so much more.
There are literally hundreds of channels for any kind of learner!
There is also a special type of video that is getting more and more popular: the “learn while you sleep” video or Sleep Learning. I must admit I was very skeptical when I saw this for the very first time. I am what you would call a rather old-school teacher, so grasping the idea of pressing play on a video and going to sleep sounded too good to be true.
But I gave it a try, and… I was super surprised! After listening to the same video over a period of six nights, I was able to remember over 90% of the words in the video.
It might work for you, too—at the very least, there is no harm in trying it for yourself.
6. Make Forvo Your New Best Friend
The day I discovered Forvo was probably one of the happiest days in my life.
Imagine a place where you can enter words and expressions in any language and a native speaker of the language will read it for you right away. You do not have to wonder if the speaker is pronouncing it correctly because it is their native language, but there are also different pronunciations available for each word and words have a point system where you see the most positively voted pronunciations first.
Forvo is a tool you will probably be using from day one until you become fluent. It can also be used as a mono- and multilingual dictionary, and the whole site is hyperlinked so you can easily go from place to place in the blink of an eye.
Whenever you are studying Spanish and want to know how a word is pronounced or how a whole sentence is uttered by a native speaker, go to Forvo.
7. Start Reading
Reading from day one may seem like an impossible task, but you cannot imagine how much it can help you!
I know the idea of reading a 600-page book in a foreign language when you do not speak a word of it is, to say the least, crazy. But there are many other ways that can help you practice your reading skills without having to break a sweat.
Start by reading children’s books and graded readers at the lowest level possible. You do not have to be a child to benefit: even if you are 85 years old, it will help you! We all have a kid inside, so why not feed it with some fairy tales and adapted stories in Spanish?
You can also try bilingual books. They are awesome! First of all, there are many topics and genres to choose from, and second of all, you do not have to go back and forth between the book and a dictionary because the translation will already be right there.
Apart from this, you can read articles and blogs related to topics you like (like cooking or traveling), manual instructions (paradoxically, technical vocabulary is more universal and cognate-filled than everyday language), and even a dictionary. Do not judge! This is the first thing I do even before I get a grammar book every time I start learning a new language.
Finally, you can read and enrich your life with hundreds of free FluentU articles. Search by topic, author, keyword, level… The choice is yours! The articles are written in English, but they contain so much Spanish you will wish you had 48-hour days in your life.
Start reading, and never look back!
8. Listen to the Best Podcasts
You are already taking care of your vocabulary, your grammar, your pronunciation and your reading skills… but what about your listening skills?
Listening to podcasts is the best way to start immersing yourself in a new language.
Choose podcasts made in Spanish by native speakers to be sure that you are learning correctly. In the beginning, everything can feel a little overwhelming. Podcasts in Spanish are obviously not in English, so do not expect to understand everything right away. You will start recognizing single words, then expressions and phrases, then main ideas and, finally, one day, you will be able to understand almost everything.
A perfect world would have a podcast for every single possible topic in any imaginable level, but we do not live in a perfect world. Because of that, you might want to start with a podcast that teaches Spanish to English speakers. This kind of podcast will be very accessible and will start getting your ears used to the new language.
After that, choose podcasts that are entirely (or almost entirely) in Spanish and cover simple topics like transportation, food, clothes, daily routines or hobbies. After listening to a bunch of podcasts like this, to can go on to the next level and listen to any native podcast that catches your attention or deals with topics you are really interested in.
Practice makes perfect!
9. Practice Conversational and Writing Skills
The last step to get you started learning Spanish will be to practice your conversational and writing skills.
Now that you have gathered some vocabulary and a little grammar, you know how to pronounce words and you have read and listened to enough Spanish, it is time to jump into real life and start using what you have learned so far.
Start with baby steps. Try to teach some words and expressions to your family and friends. It does not have to be long and complicated. A simple Buenos días (Good morning) can be a great way to start.
When you feel comfortable talking in Spanish around your closest friends and family members, extend your reach outside your comfort zone. Find a pen-pal or join a Spanish chat and try to introduce yourself. You might find people who want to chat with you. Try to always answer in Spanish!
The last step in your journey will be having a real conversation with a native speaker. If you do not feel comfortable enough or do not have the possibility of finding a language-exchange group, try to call your pen-pal or call or walk into any Spanish-speaking company or store and ask in Spanish about one of their products.
You will feel embarrassed or nervous at first, but the more you practice, the more confident you will become.
Learning a new language can be both exciting and intimidating, but you are not alone. There are millions of other students around the world who have decided, right at the same time as you have, that they want to study this beautiful language.
I wish you all the best in this new adventure you have just started.
The Spanish-speaking world is now yours for the taking. Why not go one step further and start the intermediate level?
Stay curious and, as always, 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.