There’s no better feeling than that sense of achievement you get when you successfully complete something you’ve been striving for.
Now imagine completing an online Spanish course.
How many people do you know who start but never finish an online language course?
I’ll bet you’ve done it. So have I. Well, until now, that is.
I have signed up for and (honestly) reviewed four of the top online Spanish courses on the market right now.
My aim is to help you choose the right one for you, so you, too, can achieve that sense of satisfaction and confidence.
Do online language courses really work?
The short answer to this question is “yes”! They can really work, but it is up to you to put in the time and effort needed to get the absolute best out of them.
But this can work in your favor. I would bet most of us have skipped Spanish class because it interferes with some other plans we might have. I know I have. With an online Spanish course, you can study when it suits you, which is even easier now that most online courses have an equally good app equivalent. Download it to your phone, grab a set of headphones and you can literally learn Spanish whenever the mood hits you.
But how can an online course compete with real interaction, you may ask? Well, an online course can never compare to live conversation, but what it can give you is the building blocks to finally go and use your new language skills in conversation. You will learn the correct way to speak, you will use memory aid tools like flashcards and you will hear Spanish being spoken clearly during your study.
Separating the wheat from the chaff: How to find the right online Spanish course
There are countless courses on today’s market. Some are free, some offer a small monthly subscription, others you pay for outright.
Everyone will have their own personal favorite, and it can really be down to individual preference, but if you are about to invest your time and money in an online course, here are the questions you should be asking:
- Does it offer the right material for my current level of Spanish?
- Is it affordable for me?
- Where can I study? Are you fixed to a computer or can you consider a more portable course? When we think of “online courses,” we often think of a self-paced computer course as opposed to a classroom one, but courses that are available for download that can be used offline can be equally, if not more, convenient. Conversely, university courses and guided courses involving teachers and tutors are becoming more commonly available online. In short, you have a lot of options!
- What is the success rate? What do the user reviews of the course say? How successful were others in completing it?
- Does it cover the particular subject matter that I am interested in learning? Does the course teach vocabulary that is relevant to what you actually want to do with your Spanish? For example, does it focus more on business, travel, etc.?
In addition to the courses below, you can find a variety of affordable Spanish courses at Udemy that provide hours of content you can access on a computer or mobile device. Course topics range from conversational Spanish, to grammar, to “survival” Spanish, so you can search until you find exactly the right course for you. These courses are great for targeting specific areas of your Spanish. Just keep in mind the criteria above as you are searching.
You can also find several online Spanish courses from the University of California on Coursera, including a basic course for beginners that is broken into five stages. Despite offering courses from top universities, Coursera gives you more flexible learning than an actual college course, as you can move through the materials at your own pace.
The courses we will be looking at below are more extensive courses that can all be used as a “main” course over time. Let’s get started.
4 Top Online Spanish Courses, Reviewed
Rocket Spanish consists of audio lessons of around half an hour each around a conversation featuring Amy (learner) and Mauricio (native Spanish speaker). It is one of the closest online courses you will come across to classroom-style teaching. The idea is that you listen and follow along. The dialogue is then broken down and the grammar and vocabulary is explained. You follow each dialogue in sequence.
Rocket offers three courses for a one-off fee, from beginner-intermediate course “The Premium” at around $150 to beginner-advanced package “The Combo” priced at around $300 and “The Works” priced at around $450. These prices are approximate and err on the high side, as Rocket occasionally offers discounts.
There is no escaping that even at beginner level, Rocket Spanish is comprehensive, packing in 134 hours of lesson time.
To make things easier, each time you log on, it remembers where you left off and you just pick up and continue. Rocket does a good job of tracking your progress and giving you loads of opportunities to speak and even record your voice in a role-play-type situation. A little bit weird hearing myself speak Spanish when it was played back, but super useful for improving pronunciation.
The course starts with an audio lesson on “Greetings,” which I initially thought was going to be boring—let’s be honest here, almost every other course starts with “Greetings.” Hang tight, though, because it soon moves on to more useful dialogues you can really relate to. The Spanish they teach you in talking about people, places and things seems close to how natives might really speak to each other.
The dialogues definitely don’t seem as staged or false as many other course dialogues. There is less of formal-type speech and more of how you would talk to a friend or someone you met in a bar. I liked this aspect of it.
The testing section is excellent. You test yourself on what you just learnt and rate from 1 to 5 how easy it was. This was very inspiring for me and helped me move on.
If you are the type of person, like me, who needs some reassurance, check out the “My Dashboard” section. Rocket has a great forum where you can chat with other learners, bounce ideas off each other and make virtual friends. You can also store your own personal comments or notes in this section. This worked for me, as I am usually the sort of person to scribble things down on paper that ends up lost.
There is no escaping the price of this course, which may seem a little steep, but keep in mind that Rocket gives you a free trial to get you started and sometimes offers discounts, and the cost is for lifetime access.
While this course does a very good job of teaching you to speak, there is less emphasis on teaching grammar or explaining sentence structure. So, great if you are looking to improve your Spanish in real-life situations. However, if you are studying to improve your grades in Spanish class, then you may find Rocket falls a little short.
Rocket Spanish is aimed at the Latin American Spanish learner market. While the basic fundamentals of Iberian (Spanish spoken in Spain) and Latin American Spanish are the same, there are some subtle differences. For example, the Latin American for car is carro and in Spanish it is coche. So this course is best suited to learners of Latin American Spanish.
This course is packed full of useful, everyday Spanish and can take you from beginner to intermediate or even advanced. You’ve got nothing to lose with the free trial, so give it your best shot. After that, only you can decide whether the price is right for you.
There are four different Michel Thomas Spanish courses: “Start,” “Total,” “Perfect” and “Masterclass.” CD prices are in the region of $15 for the “Start” course, which is around one hour of audio learning, to around $120-135 for “Total” and “Perfect,” both in the 8-12 hour range. As you may have guessed, Michel Thomas courses are not technically courses that you can take online, but as they are almost completely audio and some of the material can be purchased over iTunes, they may actually be more convenient than strict online learning for some learners. Each original course is available on CDs and “close equivalents” are available for download.
Thomas states that with his course you can “learn Spanish in hours, not years.” Well, I’m already a little dubious knowing just how long it has taken me to learn Spanish, but Michel was a master of no less than 10 different languages.
His remarkable story that led him to become one of the greatest language influencers of his time should be enough to motivate anyone. But is this course suitable for everyone?
Michel’s no books, no writing, no memorizing method is delivered in a way that makes you feel you are in a virtual classroom. It is all audio-based, so just download it to your smartphone, plug in your headphones and go.
He encourages students to not get stressed with the language and actively promotes trying not to remember what you are learning. I am not sure if there is any scientific proof to his claim that trying to remember impedes the student’s ability to learn, but if it helps you to relax while studying Spanish, then I’m all for it!
The reason Michel’s method worked for me is because from the absolute beginning, he teaches you how to simply speak Spanish by understanding and constructing your own sentences. This absolutely gives you the confidence to create proper Spanish sentences in any practical situation.
He focuses heavily on cognates (words that are similar in Spanish and in English) like absoluto (absolute) and satisfaccion (satisfaction). These little tricks really help you feel like you are winning from the start.
Even at the beginner level, he concentrates on verbs in their different tenses and how to use these in sentences. Michel somehow makes all of this simple and, as his claim states, easy to remember, which is hugely inspiring even for those of us with the most foggy memories.
Throughout the course, Michel teaches a male and female in a kind of classroom environment. The male is quite slow to pick things up and needs constant prompting. Thomas is the master of patience but the pace can be frustrating if you want to move on quickly.
Michel is not a native Spanish speaker. His strong Polish accent emerges in his Spanish and English pronunciation. So if you want to perfect your Spanish accent, I would encourage you to listen to some native Spanish speakers.
Which leads me on to the nature of the course: Being an audio course, it is great to listen to in the car or on your iPod at the gym. You won’t even feel like you are studying. But this course really needs to be supplemented with other learning material if you want to move on from beginner or intermediate level.
I would recommend the Michel Thomas Method for beginners and those who are lacking confidence in speaking Spanish. You will finish the course with a much greater understanding of Spanish and will feel much more confident in speaking it.
FluentU is a language immersion package that offers a free trial followed by a monthly subscription for as little as $10 a month. It uses native Spanish videos drawn from the web—like music videos, movie trailers and vlogs—which allow you to learn Spanish in context.
FluentU covers all levels and allows you to custom-make your own course while still helping you understand essential vocabulary and grammar as it is actually used by natives.
From the start, FluentU asks what your level of Spanish is, then tailors a flexible course for you to get started with—fantastic! There are literally hundreds of videos with something to suit every taste—from news, to politics, to children’s songs. You name it, FluentU has it covered, and they also make it fun.
As the videos are native Spanish, FluentU really helps with perfecting your accent. Videos all come with optional English and Spanish subtitles to aid in comprehension.
With each video, there is a really neat little hover dictionary tool which allows you to click any word and hear its correct pronunciation and translation.
The flashcard section is as good as the market leader, but FluentU’s flashcard system just tips it for me because it extracts all the vocab from the videos to integrate the two—great idea! It teaches you proper sentences, whereas some flashcard apps stick to just one word at a time. FluentU has definitely upped the flashcard game with its offering.
The topics are varied: You can choose from arts and entertainment, business and culture, among others. So you can really tailor your own learning rather than being automatically fed what the course thinks you should learn. On top of that, FluentU gives you the choice of format. For example, commercials, movie trailers, news, etc. Another thing I love is that throughout the course, you can check a box to say “I already know this,” helping you move on quicker without things getting too repetitive.
The points system makes you accountable for what you are learning, and this also gives you motivation to continue. Overall, a very complete, thorough and easy course in the sense that it makes learning Spanish easy and enjoyable.
Like any course, this is not a quick fix, hence the monthly subscription. But it will never get stale, as FluentU updates its content regularly, drawing videos from YouTube to keep content fresh and current.
Having spent a month now working through the course, I am seeing a real improvement in my Spanish and I actually look forward to logging on and seeing what is available each day. However, the course doesn’t really have any set structure. Meaning that you approach it as you want, which requires a little bit more motivation in my opinion.
Luckily, FluentU’s ever-changing content and improvements, along with the huge improvement you will see in your level of Spanish, are enough to keep you motivated.
I recommend FluentU for those seeking a natural and fun approach to learning Spanish. It is suitable from beginner level right up to advanced, so there is no limit to its audience.
Duolingo is a cool little language app. Simply select your language, set up a quick profile and take a test to determine your current level. Then, you can log in from anywhere, as it is compatible with Windows, Android and iOS. It is completely free to use—no subscription or one-off fee, no annoying ads and no catch!
Duolingo works on modules aimed at your level. You work through each module in sequence. If you are a beginner it will start on basics, and you can’t move on until you have completed each module in sequence.
Duolingo has a nice interface and it is so easy to use right from the start. You just complete the short test and select your learning daily goal—anything from 5 minutes to 20 minutes a day—and begin learning. It really is that simple.
The modules are made up of different activities, like translations from Spanish to English and vice versa, matching words to their foreign equivalent and typing in what you hear (this is a good way of testing your spelling). Some of the audio is quite fast and I had to listen more than once to catch it. Duolingo has thought about this and has this cool little turtle icon which you click to listen again in slo-mo.
Images pop up to teach new grammar, which is a nice way to aid memory, and occasionally Duo the little green owl will pop up onto your screen with a reminder or tip. Like most other apps, Duolingo does a good job of tracking your progress through each module, but if you feel like you can move on, it gives you the option to “test out,” allowing you to skip to the next section. Great if you feel like you are moving on quickly, but don’t get too carried away or you might miss key vocab—as I did when I was getting confident, then had to go back a step.
At the end of each module, Duolingo kindly tells you what your weakest words are and gives you the opportunity to strengthen them through more testing and repeating.
I liked the fun and rewarding aspect of Duolingo’s app. I think the people behind it realize that we need constant recognition to be able to keep logging in and progressing. Duolingo does a good job of constantly rewarding the learner and showing what a good job you are doing. It keeps track of all the new vocab you are learning in the words section, and you can re-test yourself on these words at any time.
Okay, so as much as I like this little app, I did feel that I would have liked more control over what I studied. The system is designed in such a way that the modules are set and you can’t move on until you complete the last one. There is little to no flexibility in this, which kind of frustrated me.
I felt that some of the sentence structures were very random. Apparently Duolingo is known for this and it is actually a huge topic of conversation among learners if you read some of the threads on their discussion board. For example, I was asked to translate the Spanish sentence Tu vaca es bonita (your cow is pretty). I very much doubt that I will ever need to say this sentence out loud. I would get some very strange looks if I did. Maybe Duolingo throws these in now and then to keep you on your toes, who knows?
With Duolingo you really have nothing to lose, because it is free. It is a handy little app to just have on your phone when you find you have a few spare minutes to take your Spanish that little bit further.
Online Spanish courses have progressed leaps and bounds in recent years and most are a fantastic tool for supplementing your learning with actual speaking.
Go sign up for a course that suits you, and I guarantee your Spanish cannot fail to improve.
Just don’t tell anyone their cow is pretty!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.