Do you want to be sure that you only engage in study techniques that truly work?
Well, look no further. This post is perfect for you!
Here, we’ll do three things:
1. We’ll look at the unmistakable signs that your study techniques are working, so you can be sure that you’re constantly moving in the right direction.
2. We’ll get into some of the most effective study techniques ever devised, so you can integrate them instantly into your learning repertoire.
3. We’ll check out some of the coolest Spanish learning sites that’ll blow your old record learning pace out of the water.
I know you can’t wait to get started, so let’s do just that.
9 Signs That Your Spanish Learning Websites Are Giving You an Effective Workout
1. Studying Spanish Doesn’t Become a Drag
The earliest sign that your learning technique is serving you well is that it makes things fun. The opposite is also true: If it bores the living daylights out of you, then your “technique” is actually the stumbling block to language acquisition. (This is both tragic and ironic, because it’s supposed to light your way, not trip you up.)
One of the reasons you get bored is that the technique you’re using isn’t compatible with your learning style. For example, you’re an auditory learner but night after night you’re slogging through thick volumes of Spanish text. Of course you’re gonna be bored out of your brains—or at least you won’t be as excited and engaged as you could be!
Pay attention to your learning style and cater to it.
For example, if you’re an auditory chap, why not get on FluentU and look for concert recordings and music videos? If you feel like it, you can even sing along. This kind of content is perfect for auditory peeps who learn best when there’s a beat, a rhythm and a melody to sing or tap to.
Coincidentally, FluentU’s videos also cater to visual learners who appreciate the stimulation from colors and moving forms. Even the context of body language can greatly assist your understanding of a native Spanish speaker talking about his hobbies. But this site doesn’t just stop at collecting and curating authentic Spanish videos.
The whole experience is further elevated by the active learning tools, like interactive captions, multimedia flashcards and running vocabulary lists. So instead of just listening to what’s being said or sung about, you can actually become more actively engaged in your chosen content.
This is the multimedia method of learning. Let’s see you get bored with that.
2. You Ace the Quizzes and Drills
The second sign? You know you’re doing it right when you’re breezing through the quizzes and drills. This means that the lessons have been saved in your long-term memory and can be accessed at will.
You know what study technique pounds difficult lessons, like Spanish verb conjugations, into your long-term memory?
Let me say that again, “Repetition!” It’s one of the cornerstones of learning. But hold on, we’re not talking about rote repetition here. Do that and you’ll rapidly put yourself to sleep.
The kind of repetition we’re interested in here is the kind that comes at you in different forms and from different angles. In memorizing vocabulary for example, you don’t work through a dry list of Spanish words and their English translations neatly columned on a white piece of paper. That’s proven not to work.
Do this instead. Get yourself to Memrise. Sign up and go to their “courses” section. Click the Spanish flag and choose from the variety of lessons offered.
You’ll notice the unique repetition methodology of Memrise very quickly. After learning the word “cinco” (five), for example, you’ll be quizzed on it in different ways.
Sometimes you’re given the English word and you have to supply the Spanish equivalent. Other times it’ll be the other way around. Sometimes you’ll even be asked to type the Spanish or English word itself. Then all this will be repeated. Each repetition forms stronger and stronger neural connections in your brain. You don’t only gain Memrise “points,” you gain Spanish words for life.
3. You Consult the Dictionary Less and Less
When you began learning Spanish, you probably ran to the warm embrace of a dictionary every three seconds. (Especially for words with over three letters.) With the help of that dictionary, you became more and more familiar with the words. Now you require its services less and less. This is one of those paradoxes in learning where good material makes itself obsolete.
But if over time you don’t feel any more familiar with Spanish vocabulary, then maybe your tool isn’t as sharp as it should be. Meaning, your dictionary is poorly constructed, forgettable and hounded by mundane examples.
If you often catch yourself thinking, “Hey, I’ve come across this word two or three times before. I just can’t remember what it means,” then you’ve got an ineffective resource in your hands.
If you still haven’t heard of it, let me introduce you to SpanishDict. Although it presents itself as a translator, it’s that and so much more. Dictionary entries in SpanishDict are crisp and nuanced, with memorable sentence examples.
The site goes deep into the details of a searched word. Typing the word “car,” for example, will fetch you a dictionary entry that has loads of useful information.
More than being a place to define unfamiliar words, SpanishDict has winning sections on grammar, conjugation and flashcards. Check ’em out!
4. You’re Beginning to Sense Improper Grammar Usage
Hey, here’s something to chew on. Mistakes are part of the human condition. Native Spanish speakers commit grammar mistakes. Even you make mistakes in your own native tongue. The moral of the story? Don’t take mistakes too seriously.
This is key advice that the great polyglots of our day will give you. Benny Lewis, of Fluent in 3 Months fame, will certainly nudge you towards making those booboos. What’s important isn’t avoiding mistakes at all costs. It’s knowing where they might be lurking. Only then can you take the necessary steps to correct your mistakes and avoid making them.
You know your study techniques are working when you get to that place where you develop a gut sense for these mistakes. When you sense that “something’s wrong” with your grammar, then you know that you’re actually progressing. That’s what native speakers actually feel. They hear that something’s off. They may not be able to pinpoint it, but they know something’s just not right.
In order to reach this point of a “sixth sense,” I’d recommend you try out the StudySpanish site as well as Rocket Languages, which offers audio courses for Spanish (among other languages) and focuses on getting you up to speed with both speaking and understanding the language.
While grammar is often vilified and considered unnecessary by many modern language learning sites, these two actually see grammar as vital to second language acquisition. You would do well to invest time on these sites.
Because grammar is such a broad topic, you should take things slowly. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Study grammar in manageable pieces so you don’t get overwhelmed. This is the “Divide-and-Conquer” study technique—a proven method of attack when dealing with subjects that are broad and deep.
With “Divide-and-Conquer,” you’ll be able to tame the more difficult nuances of Spanish grammar.
5. You Still Know the Vocabulary Words You Memorized Last Week
One of the most frustrating experiences in learning Spanish is staring at a word, knowing you’ve seen it before and being unable to remember what it means. It’s a symptom of a lesson failing to reach long-term memory.
An effective study technique, on the other hand, is memory-friendly. It makes remembering natural and instinctive.
Vocabulary is a great barometer for testing not only a person’s tenacity but also a study technique’s value. There have been plenty of methods and approaches, hypnosis included, that have been tried. One of the most effective memory techniques found is the use of flashcards.
Who would have thought that something as old school as Mrs. Anderson’s flashcards could be an effective Spanish learning weapon. They may not look like much, but used properly flashcards are like flashlights to memory, aiding the storing and accessing of information.
But just remember: not all flashcards are created equal, let me give you some great resources I’ve found online.
Anki is considered the best-in-class. Its flexible platform allows you to integrate images, audio and even videos into your flashcards. You can also create different formats and layouts and dictate the cards’ frequency and timing. As a spaced repetition program, it automates at what intervals of time you practice each care.
One of its working principles is that the words you find difficult will be presented with greater frequency. This means you’re not wasting time on vocab you’ve already mastered. You’ll spend more time on words that are tricky.
For ready-made flashcards, SpanishDict has decks that teach Spanish numbers, colors, animals, shapes, dates & time, greetings, food, common phrases, money, clothing, adjective, political terms and so much more.
What’s so cool about SpanishDict flashcards is that you can be tested a couple of ways. You can click “Recognize” and do multiple-choice drill. You can click “Listen” and choose the correct translation for a spoken word. Finally, you can choose “Recall” where you type yourself the translation of the word given. Go through all of them until you’ve master the whole deck!
6. You’re Thinking in Spanish
If you wanna be thinking in Spanish, go to the places where people naturally think in Spanish.
There are about two dozen countries that have Spanish as their official language. If you decide to go there and live among the native speakers, the technique you’re using is called immersion. You’re putting yourself in situations where you have to speak the language. While living in Latin America, you’re attending a 24/7 Spanish class. Everywhere you go, the grocery store, the park or the mall, there’s a Spanish lesson waiting to be learned.
Truth is, immersion is a massively effective learning technique. But it has massive practical limitations as well. You can’t just pack up and leave whenever you want to. You have a family, a job to go to, bills to pay, gym membership to cancel, etc. Maybe you like living where you’re living. Maybe traveling is too expensive right now.
Fortunately, technology has advanced so much that immersion can be done online.
FluentU is firmly rooted in this idea of online language immersion and brings you real-life, contemporary Spanish videos that make you feel like you’re renting a flat in Spain. The videos cover a wide range of topics and themes from politics to sports, business, relationships, entertainment and pop culture.
FluentU videos offer you a hyper-reality in which you can pause, rewind and replay Spanish dialogue whenever you want. Obviously, this pause and playback option isn’t possible in real-life interactions.
When a native Spanish speaker starts blabbing at a thousand words per minute, you can’t just hit some button for him to stop, much less start again or replay what they just said.
Not only can you do that through online immersion, FluentU has interactive captions to accompany the videos so that you can follow along. When you roll the cursor over a word in the subtitle, you’re presented with a dictionary entry for the word—its definition, pronunciation and a sentence example.
7. Spanish Becomes Second Nature
You used to laugh silly every time Spanish speakers extend their R’s. Now, it’s not so funny anymore. It’s normal. It’s supposed to be that way.
When you first started learning, somebody advised you to change the default language of your phone and social media accounts to Spanish. That’ll make sure you get to practice every day. So you did Facebook, in Spanish.
It used to be so awkward, and you used to find it impossible to use your phone and navigate the Facebook interface in Spanish. You thought it unnatural to click “Me gusta” instead of “Like.” But now you wouldn’t have it any other way.
Spanish became normal. No big deal. That’s simply because it became a habit. You dealt with it every day.
Studying Spanish in such a way that it becomes a habit is a very powerful and efficient technique. A habit is something you do every day, no questions asked. A habit, by virtue of repetition, begets excellence. And this is what you want to happen with your Spanish.
By immersing yourself in Spanish every day, you get to be really good at it. One website I’ve found to be at the forefront of turning Spanish sessions into a habit is Duolingo.
Duolingo has this green owl mascot who lands on your inbox every day, in the form of a “Daily Spanish Reminder,” telling you to practice. The email shows your progress bar and displays the number of points that you need in order to get to the next level.
Duolingo then teaches you language through creative repetitions that appeal to visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners alike. There’s something there for everyone. Try Duolingo and discover why it’s one of the best language learning sites out there today.
8. Time Flies When You’re Studying Spanish
Time distortion happens when you’re deeply engaged in studying something. You didn’t realize that you’d already spent four hours studying and skipped your lunch.
You know that it was four hours well-spent because your brain was fully engaged on the matter at hand. No extraneous matters intruded in your concentration. It was just you and the learning material. (Unfortunately, this experience happens more often with video games than it does with Spanish textbooks.)
Luckily, technology once again comes to the rescue. There are a number of sites that are so fun and so engaging they might as well be played on an Xbox or a PlayStation. In addition to Memrise and our trusty pal FluentU, you can check out Busuu or Babbel, one of the most popular sites for learning Spanish online.
They have a way of teaching you Spanish that distorts time. Their materials are so fun and engaging that you won’t even realize you’ve been taught some complex Spanish grammar rule.
If you’ve been burned by the ineffectual methods of classroom learning, be prepared to realize how easy things are when it’s actually made to be fun. When you find yourself spending hours on these sites, you’ll really believe the saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
9. You Can Teach Some Spanish to Others
I’ve saved the best for last. This one’s for those who’ve studied Spanish for a while now, for several months or even years. Do you wanna know if you’ve retained what was supposed to be retained and learned what was supposed to be learned?
The surest way to make sure you’ve learned is to find out if you can pass on what you’ve learned to somebody else. You can’t give what you don’t have, right?
If you’re just starting out with Spanish or still in the thick of things, there’s a Jedi mind trick that’ll take your learning to new heights.
Studies have shown that students learn better when they’re expecting to teach the lesson to others. They gain a better and deeper grasp of the lessons’ ideas and insights when they know they’ll have to teach someone else someday.
Turn this to your advantage by approaching your Spanish lessons not just as a student but as a “future teacher.” Imagine that you’re going be teaching Spanish to wide-eyed students someday.
That simple fact alone will make you pay more attention to the lesson. Knowing that you’re responsible for someone else’s education makes you extra motivated to have the lessons, grammar rules and vocabulary words down pat. But where do you find yourself some future students?
Livemocha and Easy Language Exchange connect you to a community of people who want to learn the world’s languages. There are plenty of people there waiting to learn the difference between “el” and “la.”
You can teach them Spanish and your new friend will teach you his or her native tongue. That’s why it’s called “language exchange.” Or you could hook up with a native Spanish speaker and ask them to humor you while you play teacher for a bit.
So how about that?
Based on the nine signs, do you think your study techniques are working or not? More importantly, are you now aware of the things that you can do to learn Spanish as effectively as possible? And do you now know where to go online when you need a leg up in Spanish? If so, then I’ve done my job in this post.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.