How is it that some people can switch from one language to another so easily?
Did their parents force them to learn another language when they were kids?
We’ve all met them: “I speak just the five languages. Well, six if you count Tagalog, but I’m only conversational in it, so it doesn’t really count…”
Believe it or not, many multilinguals didn’t net their language skills because they’re super-human (or had over-zealous parents). Many of them spent their childhood bouncing between the likes of Geneva, Hong Kong, Madrid and Rome.
But they didn’t refine their talent by spending hours with their jet-setting noses stuck in books conjugating verbs robotically.
They were fully immersed in the language from a young age, learning and practicing new words in a foreign tongue in order to get by—to trade sandwiches at school and understand the cartoons on TV.
So, without a time machine and a new set of world-wandering parents, or the option to move to a new country to study the language in immersive depth as an adult, how can the rest of us stand a chance of picking up Spanish so easily?
The answer: Spanish immersion software.
Here’s a guide to why Spanish immersion software works, together with details of the best Spanish immersion software around.
Why Spanish Immersion Software Works
- Learn like a two-year-old: Kids are smart at learning languages. Without any clear structure or language learning instruction, they just shift from babbling to talking. And they do that by being fully immersed in the language, starting with simple words that are important to them, and moving on to complex sentences to make themselves understood.
- Dive straight in: Speaking and listening skills are perhaps the most important (and useful) aspects of learning a new language. With Spanish immersion software, you’re thrown straight in with words and basic sentences.
- Exercise based: Practice, practice, practice. Through repetition and regular practice, the exercise-based nature of Spanish immersion software means you’re less likely to get bored, and more likely to learn.
Spanish Immersion Software: 8 Stellar Programs for Language Learning
There are lots of language learning options out there. Here are eight of the best Spanish immersion software programs on the market.
And don’t worry if some of these options look they’re going to break the bank—check out your local library to see if any of the courses are stocked for your use free of charge. My local library system has Pimsleur, Michel Thomas and Rosetta Stone, for example.
Cost: Free, with a basic account starting at just $8/month
Format: Website, App
FluentU is designed to get you comfortable with everyday Spanish by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversations with easy-to-read subtitles.
FluentU provides learners—from complete newbies to native-level speakers—with an extensive catalog of authentic Spanish videos that span a wide range of topics including music, news, sports, inspiring talks and commercials.
These real-world videos immerse you instantly in the Spanish language without wasting time learning how to describe nonexistent siblings or order a kilogram of your least favorite fruit.
It’s a great way to figure out what kinds of Spanish language videos help you learn best.
Choose any video that strikes your fancy! You’ll see how many Spanish vocabulary words you can learn from it, and you can even look at the transcript of the dialogue and practice vocabulary before watching the video.
Once you’ve chosen your videos, you can improve your comprehension with the interactive subtitles. Hover over any word or phrase to see the translation, along with a helpful image.
You can even use awesome active learning tools like vocabulary lists and multimedia flashcards to study and reinforce the newly-learned language from your videos.
Plus, FluentU will allow you to keep track of all your progress along the way.
Thanks to FluentU’s complete language learning program, you’ll learn and actively practice the language you hear in videos.
Just step into FluentU’s unique “learn mode” to learn all that a clip has to offer. “Learn mode” takes your learning history into account, asking questions based on what you already know, which sets you up for success.
It also recommends videos based on what you’ve learned, creating a truly personalized learning experience.
Cost: $299 for CD or download of levels 1-5, $224/year for online subscription and app
Format: CD-ROM, app
As the saying goes, “If you want to learn to swim, you have to get in the water.” And that’s what Rosetta Stone does, right from the first lesson. Whether you choose the classic CD package or subscribe for the online course and app, there is no safety net of your own language to guide and assist you; you’re literally immersed from the get-go. That might sound daunting, but words and phrases are added on a gradual basis according to how quickly you are learning.
You may start off with simple matching exercises, like adding words to pictures, but with speech recognition technology to help you with your speaking, sessions with tutors and games to play in the online community, there is enough variety to keep you motivated.
It isn’t just about repetition either. Rosetta Stone’s sequences have been carefully designed to help you recognize patterns, not just rules, making it easier for you to retain what you’ve learned, even when you’ve switched the software off.
Format: Audio CD, MP3, app, download
If the Pimsleur method is considered good enough for U.S. government agencies, diplomats and corporations, surely it’s good enough for the rest of us?
Perhaps the reason Pimsleur is so popular, and has been for 50 years, is because it has an incredibly effortless approach to learning. By committing to just 30 minutes per day—listening to a CD and repeating the words out loud—Pimsleur promises to have you speaking a language in no time.
Pimsleur has a much stronger auditory focus than some of the other programs here. Much of language learning with Pimsleur means listening to a conversation and then repeating parts of it, gradually building up knowledge until you can recall the phrases that have been said when prompted.
Pimsleur does come with a reading component, too, but this is secondary and not heavily focused on. The audio is the huge selling point for them—you can use this program to learn easily and effortlessly, wherever you go. Many people use this program for learning while driving! Just let the teachers guide you from basic phrases to complete sentences. It always prompts you to listen, repeat and respond, making it highly interactive.
The software works by Graduated Interval Recall. Say, what? It’s a system of getting you to repeat words at specific intervals that are optimum for moving words from your short-term (sieve-like) memory to your long-term (I’m-actually-an-elephant) memory.
Best of all: As there is no clicking on laptops or tablets, you can learn Pimsleur in the car, turning that dead commute time into something much more productive.
Cost: $49.95 for download (levels 1-3) or $42.46 for CDs (levels 1-3) or $29.95 for MP3
Format: Download, CD-ROM, MP3
Instant Immersion Spanish is based on image recognition, and parcels its learning sessions into edible 10-minute chunks. There are 10 modules to work through, each dedicated to a specific topic of learning, starting with the basics such as food, colors, time and numbers.
Each module features learning sections as well as fun games that are designed to be engaging while reinforcing your learning. The software includes record and playback functionality for practicing pronunciation, the chance to video chat with native speakers and a dictionary that can be printed and created into flashcards for offline learning.
If you’re specifically interested in learning Spanish for business, there is also a module dedicated to workplace topics including business meetings, IT/internet, phone calls and business travel.
Cost: Prices vary, see above link
Format: CD-ROM, iPhone/iPad app
Similar to Pimsleur, the Michel Thomas Method is all about learning without books, homework or having to memorize anything. Perfect if you’re happy to sit back and let the Spanish language wash over you.
The late Michel Thomas counted Hollywood stars, politicians and business leaders among his past pupils, and his method promises to have you learning a language in hours not years.
Speaking is an integral part of the Michel Thomas Method, so you might want to practice this when you’re alone, but listening, absorbing and then speaking is the magic formula for this particular piece of Spanish immersion software.
Cost: $677 for CDs, DVDs, site, app and MP3 (levels 1-5)
Format: CD-ROM, DVD, website, app, MP3
Fluenz offers an interesting twist on Rosetta Stone. Unlike Rosetta Stone, which is so immersive there are zero words in your native tongue, Fluenz believes that a combination of immersion and structured teaching is best. By presenting students with English translations, Fluenz helps students better relate to the structure and grammar of the language, and thereby absorb it better.
There are a number of exercises to keep you interested, like matching words to images, answering questions, writing what you hear and translating words and phrases into your native tongue. Learning tips sprinkled throughout are spoken in English, such as suggested word associations and occasional motivational prompts, like getting you to imagine being in Spain.
The link above will lead you to the Latin American Spanish course. The course on Spanish from Spain can be found here.
Cost: $115 for CD-ROM (5-in-1 complete collection) or $99 for digital download (5-in-1 complete collection)
Format: CD-ROM, download
The aim of Ouino isn’t to get you to recall words associated with pictures, it’s to get you to learn the building blocks from which you can construct your own sentences. By breaking down sentence structures, supplying a hefty slab of vocabulary and tackling verbs, the idea is that you’ll end up with the requisite foundation for becoming fluent in Spanish.
Like FluentU, Ouino lets you study the subjects you want to learn when you want to learn them—probably one of the most useful aspects of learning a language, because who wants to learn how to describe their pet when what they really need to know is how to order dinner.
Cost: $29.99 for CD-ROM (levels 1-4)
Format: DVD, MP3
Easy Spanish has been designed by some smart brains: university language experts. The learning system is step-by-step and as well as full immersion, it incorporates voice recognition software so you can practice real-world conversations and nail your pronunciation.
Easy Spanish includes MP3s so you can enhance your learning while you’re on the move, as well as an interactive dictionary and cultural movies.
Whether you’re learning Spanish for business, school or travel, you can set your own learning objectives and track your progress along the way. And, if certain words aren’t coming natural, just hit the speech lab for more in-depth language workshops.
With this range of Spanish immersion software programs to choose from, you’ll be speaking like a native in no time.
Jo Fitzsimons is a full-time traveller, digital nomad and language learner. When she’s not up to her neck in false cognates, she spends her time writing about her travels on a freelance basis and also on her blog, IndianaJo.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.