25 Winning Tips for Learning Spanish Without Spending a Dime
We’ve found 25 engaging ways to learn Spanish—and they won’t cost you a dime.
We recognize all the facets you need to move your Spanish lingo along: Regular practice across reading, writing, listening and speaking, a range of different, creative activities to keep you engaged, and saving your money for other investments.
So let’s get started.
- 25 Terrific Tips for Cost-Free Spanish Learning
- Tips for Learning Spanish by Reading
- Tips for Learning Spanish by Writing
- Tips for Learning Spanish by Listening
- Tips for Learning Spanish by Speaking
- Tips for Learning Spanish by Studying and Testing
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
25 Terrific Tips for Cost-Free Spanish Learning
Tips for Learning Spanish by Reading
1. Read Spanish magazines and newspapers online
It’s the combination of short stories and snippets together with feature-length pieces that make Spanish magazines and newspapers such a great resource for learning Spanish. If you’re new to this Spanish language game, or you just have 5 minutes to spare over a café con leche, have a quick read. There are plenty of Spanish publications online so you don’t need to scour your local magazine stand on the off chance you might be able to pick up your favorite mag’s Spanish edition.
In practice: Multilingual Books has dozens of free newspapers and magazines online, from Mexico’s El Economista, El Mundo (from Madrid), Elle and Mac World magazines. To keep up momentum, commit to reading one article, column or snippet a day.
2. Try a Spanish recipe written in Spanish
Can there be a more fun way for foodies than to bring your Spanish studies into the kitchen? Instead of just cooking a native Spanish or Latin America dish, why not cook an entire meal from Spanish recipes, with all of the ingredients and instructions written in Spanish? You might want the pizza delivery on speed-dial just in case there are a few false cognates in your dish, but it will be fun giving this different kind of Spanish cooking a try.
In practice: If you’re not sure where to start, My Colombian Recipes has some tasty looking choices, and there are plenty of pictures so you’ll know just what to aim for with your final dish.
3. Change the language on all your devices to Spanish
Spanish immersion is thought to be one of the most effective ways of enhancing your learning. But what if you can’t drop it all and move to Spain? Well, you just have to think of other ways of immersing yourself in the Spanish language. And if you’re like most people, the amount of time you spend online means that changing your computer settings to Spanish is a pretty good start. Change the language across all your devices to ensure no cheating. Do it for a week and see the difference.
In practice: Chrome’s Google Traslate takes you one step further. It allows you to translate translate words or entire sections into or from Spanish. There is also assistance with pronunciation and translation if needed.
Extra tip for learning Spanish: You can immerse yourself with social media too, using Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Pinterest—just click on the links to get our related tips.
4. Read Spanish subtitles while watching TV
Make the most of your downtime by adding a bit of Spanish reading practice into your TV-watching hours. By switching on Spanish subtitles, you can match the Spanish words with the spoken English. So whether you’re studying hard (pausing the TV to ensure you really grasp each sentence) or just letting the words wash over you, you’ll be boosting your knowledge by picking up the style of Spanish that’s used in everyday life. Bonus points if the spoken and written words are both in Spanish.
In practice: Here are five Spanish TV shows to get you started, and here are 10 more winning shows from Spain. Alternatively, if you have a VPN (Virtual Private Network) and a Netflix account, set your VPN to Mexico (or any other Spanish-speaking country) and bingo—Spanish subtitles will appear.
If this is the first you’re hearing of VPN services, let me give you a quick crash course. A VPN gives you online privacy and security, hiding your IP address and supplying you with a new one. It’s also a valuable tool for language learners who’d like to access online resources that have country restrictions. This isn’t always free, but with a safe and reliable VPN service like HideMyAss! VPN, you can really make the most of the internet and have peace of mind while browsing.
5. Visit your local museum and pick up the written leaflets in Spanish
If staying indoors practicing Spanish makes you feel like a caged tiger, why not head to your local museum? Most of the larger museums will feature their literature in Spanish. From information about the exhibits to details about the museum, pick up the Spanish-language pamphlet and see if you can get yourself around.
In practice: You can find an extensive list of museums on Wikipedia where you can sort by country and then on a regional basis. Check your preferred museum online to see what language options are available on arrival.
Tips for Learning Spanish by Writing
6. Write your grocery list in Spanish
Even if you’re not usually a list maker, now’s the time to start. Getting into a habit is often key to learning a language, and if there’s one thing we all do very regularly, it’s going shopping for groceries. Instead of mindlessly wandering the aisles, make a dedicated list of the foods you plan to buy before you go. Practice while you’re in the store by checking off items when you put them in your cart. Even better, try shopping down the world food aisle to see if you can find the products sold in their native packaging.
In practice: Grocery lists are an excellent way to boost your food vocabulary, but there’s no need to stop there. From to-do lists to your daily planner, calendar and even post-it reminders, try to get into the habit of writing them all in Spanish. And if you’re questioned by your colleagues, family and friends, you’ve just earned extra practice as you translate the Spanish into English for them.
7. Start a Spanish journal and write every day
Not everybody has the Bridget Jones (or Pepys) gene, but there’s a lot of language learning value to be had in keeping a diary. First of all, you’re writing daily. But beyond that you’re learning to write Spanish in your own personal style—something you don’t do when the textbook tells you to write a letter to your friend describing your pets (because when was the last time you did that in real life?).
In practice: Start with a couple of sentences describing your day. Progress to describing people you meet, future plans and feelings. If you’re not good at emotional stuff or any form of journaling, use a random question generator to get you started.
8. Translate your work or study emails into Spanish
Whether it’s at work or school, most of us will put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) at least once a day. Be it an email, a bit of homework or a scribbled note to a loved one, use that fresh material to boost your Spanish.
In practice: Pick one piece of writing from your day and translate it into Spanish. To look up unknown words, use Word Reference—or any of these other recommended dictionary apps.
9. Find a penpal
If you’d prefer to have more purpose to your writing than keeping a journal or translating your work emails, consider searching for an overseas penpal. A written version of a language exchange, getting a penpal is a great opportunity to practice while swapping cultural details with your new foreign friend.
In practice: The internet makes it incredibly easy to connect with a penpal who has a similar language level and interests as you, and websites like Interpals will help you get started.
10. Translate an English children’s book into Spanish
Reading Spanish books and magazines is an excellent way to enhance your reading skills and the same methodology can be used to improve your Spanish writing, but in this case you’ll be taking an English story and translating it into Spanish. Children’s books are a great place to start because the language will be basic enough that you can aim to do a translation without any significant reliance on translation software.
In practice: Magic Keys is a great site for young, older and young adult books, and they’re perfect if you have a good grasp of the basics and can work across different tenses. If you’re looking for starter books, Children’s Books Online has a lot more basic options. The books are pretty old, but the language is simple and the style is incredibly charming. To create a habit, try to commit to reading and translating one page a day.
Tips for Learning Spanish by Listening
11. Listen to Spanish radio
Whether you’re the kind of person who likes the radio warbling on in the background or you prefer to have dedicated stints of listening to your favorite talk show, Spanish radio is one of the most useful forms of improving your Spanish listening without having to get out of your armchair.
In practice: TuneIn Radio is a free resource online that will help you pick a station where you can listen to Spanish radio for free. Don’t forget to set a listening schedule so you build up your listening skills over time.
12. Get addicted to telenovelas
On paper, telenovelas might feel like the visual equivalent to listening to Spanish radio, but this method of learning Spanish has the significant advantage that you’re much more likely to get addicted to a telenovela than a radio show. Dramatic storylines, quirky characters, mesmerizing acting and, let’s be honest, the occasional bit of questionable facial hair, all stack up to make you want to sit down and binge your way through show after show, picking up Spanish as you go.
In practice: “Maria la del Barrio“ is one of the most popular telenovelas in the world (180 countries) but you’ll find plenty of others here.
13. Find your local Spanish expat community
Telenovelas and radio aside, there’s nothing more useful than live, regular speech to challenge, boost and practice your Spanish listening skills. When the words aren’t scripted, the topic isn’t set and the colloquialisms aren’t edited out, you’ll get the most authentic burst of Spanish language, so seek out your local Spanish or Latin American expat community and get listening.
In practice: Find a cafe (or any other place frequented by native Spanish speakers) and simply sit and listen—discreetly, of course. If you can do it inconspicuously, use a notebook. Are there words that come up over and over? Jot those down and look them up later if you don’t know what they mean. The speech might be hard to follow at first, but over time it should get easier to pick up.
14. Visit museums with multilingual tour guides and audios
Just like for reading practice, heading to your local museum and picking up the audio set in Spanish will give you an additional element to your museum visit while helping your listening skills.
In practice: Contact your local museums to see whether they offer guides or audio in Spanish. Revisit a few times to really enhance your learning. If you’re struggling at first, try sticking to one section of the museum so you’re hearing about the same thing.
15. Hunt down Spanish covers of your favorite songs
If you can’t go a day without a music fix, then Spanish songs are going to be the perfect way of advancing your learning. Unfamiliar songs sung in Spanish can be catchy and fun, particularly if you’ve heard them overseas and they bring back memories, but Spanish covers of your favorite songs are best for Spanish learning.
In practice: You’ll find more than enough Spanish cover songs to get you started on this YouTube Channel. We accept no responsibility for the quality of the covers, which may give you a giggle or two.
Tips for Learning Spanish by Speaking
16. Join a language exchange group and meet in person
For many new language learners, having the confidence to speak can be one of the hardest parts about Spanish, and may be the last part you tackle, but there’s no escaping it. Instead of waiting until you’re in a situation in a foreign country trying to order food, get some practice with native speakers at a language exchange. Most people are very sympathetic at meetups—they’re trying to achieve the same goal in your native language.
In practice: Language exchanges are reasonably prolific. Check out Meetup to see if there’s one being hosted near you and if not, why not start your own?
17. Find someone to chat with online
Not ready for a real-life situation just yet? Consider taking a step in the right direction with an online chat. Although it would be impolite to cut your conversation off mid-Spanish sentence, online chats do provide a pretty easy escape route (button) when you’re all talked out.
In practice: The free community How Do You Do has been set up for language learners to meet and chat online.
18. Do part-time tour guiding for Spanish tourists
If you’re a people person with a bit of spare time on your hands, then what about donating a few hours to showing some Spanish speakers around your home town? As the tour guide, you can set the rules on how much English versus Spanish you use, but with a captive audience, wouldn’t it be a shame not to use your group to push your Spanish speaking forward?
In practice: With Tourbar you can put your tour guiding services out there.
19. Use the community part of free online Spanish courses
Practicing Spanish with fellow students who are taking the same course doesn’t need to be restricted to traditional Spanish classes. If you’re using an online course to learn Spanish, check whether they have an integrated community. Many of the members will be equally keen to get a bit of practice with another learner, and even if you’re not using the course, sign up just for the ability to chat.
In practice: Live Mocha‘s online Spanish course has a community element with millions of students.
20. Interview yourself in Spanish
Of all the wacky, crazy, outlandish, embarrassing suggestions…this one just might actually work.
Sitting down in front of your phone or laptop’s camera won’t create excitement in most people, and the thought of hitting playback might even make you shudder, but for pure, objective feedback and review, it’s a great method. Until you watch yourself, you might not notice that you don’t roll your r‘s enough or that you run your words too close together.
In practice: Find a time and place when you’re alone (parked in the car, last thing at night) to make your recording. Write down some questions in advance and interview yourself. Try to do this once a week—with the same questions if you like—and see how crisp and clear your pronunciation gets over time.
Tips for Learning Spanish by Studying and Testing
21. Create a realistic study plan
New projects are always exciting, but carrying that momentum through to fluency can be a challenge, which is why you need a study plan. When your motivation wanes in week four, it’s good to be able to return to your plan and see where you should be at—is it the week for learning about grocery shopping or getting around town?
But having a plan is only half of the task if you want success. The plan has to be realistic. Overcommitting on time you don’t have or hoping to reach an intermediate level in a few weeks might be too ambitious. Remember: Slow and steady wins the race.
In practice: Check out online courses to see how they structure their study plans and and create a similar plan. Create a more detailed plan for the first few weeks and see how it goes. This Wikihow will help you make a study timetable if you’re not sure where to start.
22. Create a habit to study Spanish
As that brainy bod Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” And no matter how many books you buy, courses you sign up for and study plans you create, nothing will get you further in your Spanish learning than developing the habit of studying and practicing. Research suggests it takes just a few weeks to get into a habit, so make it a priority in the early learning phase.
In practice: In addition to a study plan, hold a weekly review of how you’re progressing, check how you’re doing against your plan and if it’s not working for you, figure out why. Is your plan too time consuming/too difficult/too boring? To create good study habits, download the Way of Life app (for iOS), which prompts you to record whether you have or haven’t completed your intended task each day.
23. Play Scrabble and bingo in Spanish to test your learning
Testing is another integral part of progressing your Spanish, but it doesn’t all need to feel like homework. Bringing Spanish into your everyday world with fun games is a great way to test your Spanish, particularly when you’re under the time pressure of a game like bingo.
In practice: Scrabble, charades and bingo are all great games to test yourself in Spanish. Even if you’re not surrounded by other Spanish students, you can play Scrabble and bingo by yourself (don’t be embarrassed—you don’t need to tell anyone you’re doing it). The website Spanish Games is also a great place for testing your skills.
24. Take online quizzes in Spanish
If you’re looking for something a bit more formal than tapping two fingers on your arm and waiting to hear “dos palabras,” there are plenty of quizzes available online that can put you through your paces.
In practice: Spanish Programs has a small number of free quizzes that are structured by subject and are good if you’re after a quick time-filler quiz. Study Spanish is the go-to option for more formal testing (practicing your preterite vs your imperfect tenses), and Spanish Central is a nice easy vocabulary tester with many quiz versions.
25. Test yourself with Spanish flashcards
Last but not least, are flashcards. This method of learning long predates anything online, but is such an effective method of learning and testing that there are now plenty of apps and websites dedicated to replicating this system in an online world.
In practice: You’ll find a list of 10 recommended Spanish flashcard apps here. Since these are digital, you can take advantage of some nifty features that manual flashcards lack.
These 25 tips for learning Spanish, together with your usual course of study, should have you on the fast track to fluency. And best of all, they won’t cost you a dime to get there.
And once you’ve exhausted all the resources on this list, there’s no reason to worry because there are even more free tools out there!
You can also turn to affordable options that provide comprehensive Spanish education. While they may not be entirely free, they can offer unique features and learning tools that you may not find elsewhere.
Since they’re meant to be easily accessible, many language learning programs can be downloaded at very reasonable prices, sometimes with free trials. Examples include Babbel and Rosetta Stone. Another is FluentU, which provides a robust learning experience by combining authentic Spanish videos with tools like interactive subtitles, multimedia flashcards and personalized quizzes.
All these options prove that your Spanish learning doesn’t have to tear holes in your wallet.
So, which one are you going to try first?
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)