So you’d like to know how to learn Spanish on your own, you say? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Learning another language is one of the best ways to make new friends, become more hireable and grow as a person. Some people learn a new language to find a date abroad. Other folks think that being able to speak another language will help them earn more money. And a few people just like the challenge, especially if they’re trying to learn a new language as quickly as possible. No matter what your reason is, we’re happy that you want to learn a new language and we’re here to help you. Let’s get started.
Why learn Spanish on your own?
It’s a good question. Why would anyone want to learn Spanish on their own? For starters, some people don’t enjoy learning in a classroom. Other people may want the freedom of creating an individualized curriculum and studying on their own time. And a few folks probably just want to see how far they can get without having someone to hold their hand. We won’t lie, there is a certain level of satisfaction that comes along with learning a language on your own. Being able to walk into a Latin American restaurant, order a meal, and speak with the waiter/waitress all based on self-learning is an amazing feeling. This is why learning Spanish on your own is a great idea.
What does learning Spanish on your own mean?
Well, a few things. First, it means you’re not paying to meet with a teacher every week. Secondly, it means that you are the master of your own destiny. Sounds a bit freeing and ominous at the same time, right? It is. You are your own teacher. You are your own motivator. And you are the one who has to hold yourself accountable to a study routine. But let’s also look at the question of, “What does learning Spanish on your own mean?” in a more literal sense, cutting it down to: “What does learning Spanish mean?” Only you can answer that question. Learning, or achieving fluency, in a language is specific to the person learning it. Some folks think that being able to watch the news in another language without a dictionary means you’ve officially learned it. Other people think that in order to be fluent, you need to be fluent in the culture of another place. And there’s even a group of language learners who believe that you can never truly be fluent in another language; that you’ll always have more to learn. Take some time to ask yourself this question, and have a good answer for it. It’ll help you on your journey.
History of the Spanish language
Like French and Italian, Spanish is a Romance language that came from an earlier form of Latin. About 1,500 years from when the Spanish language began to form, a written version was developed in the cities of Toledo and Madrid. From that point on, the language spread like wildfire to other countries, via colonialism. This is why, despite the distance from Spain, Spanish is spoken as a first-language in countries like Chile, Peru and all of South America except Brazil. Today it is the official language of 21 countries and is spoken by around 437 million people, making it the second most-spoken language in the world by a number of native speakers. So once you’ve learned it, you’ll have quite a few people to speak with!
How to learn Spanish on your own faster
Before jumping into the step-by-step guide of how to learn Spanish on your own, it’s important to discuss a few pieces of advice from language professionals, a.k.a. poly and hyperpolyglots. A polyglot is someone who has mastered the ability to speak a handful of languages, and a hyperpolyglot is someone who speaks dozens of languages. Yes, dozens of languages. Fortunately, many of these poly and hyperpolyglots enjoy helping others learn languages, so below are a few strong pieces of advice:Become a chameleonAccording to Tim Keeley, a modern polyglot, learning a language has nothing to do with your intellectual capacity. Instead, it’s about how comfortable someone is with taking on a new identity, which means not becoming too attached to who they are and how they currently see themselves. This is much in line with the growth mindset, which is the belief that we can learn, improve and become better at things versus remaining the same, or “fixed.”Fake it until you make itFor many people, the issue with learning a new language is that they get too caught up in the intricacies of a language e.g. spelling, grammar, etc. Michael Levi, another modern polyglot, says that people should look to imitate native speakers in terms of how they speak, which words they stress, facial expressions and any “strange” noises they make. Levi says if people do this, they’ll often overcompensate in the beginning by going a little too over the top with their imitations, but that that is necessary and you can always dial it back. Be realisticWhen learning a new language, people often psych themselves out because they think that if they don’t sound like a native-speaker within a week, they’re doing something wrong. They set almost impossible standards for themselves which only leads to less confidence and motivation. Instead, it’s important to practice as often as possible, while setting goals that feel comfortable and realistic to you. There are endless classes, workshops, meet ups and online programs for people to use nowadays, which only helps to make the thought of learning a new language a bit less daunting and mysterious.
How to learn Spanish on your own
Okay, the moment you’ve been waiting for is here. Well, almost. Before jumping into advice, tools, tips and tricks for learning Spanish on your own, it’s important to understand that you get out what you put in. If you don’t make learning Spanish a priority, especially since you won’t have a formal teacher, it’ll be much harder to “learn” it, no matter how you define the word. If you follow the steps we provide, there’s no doubt you’ll be able to lay a strong foundation to build upon for years to come.Understand your motivationBefore beginning to learn Spanish on your own, ask yourself why you want to learn it. The strength of your answer to the why will help set the stage for the rest of your language learning journey. So, take your time. We listed a few reasons in the beginning of this article, but they may not apply to you. Only you know the true reason as to why you want to learn Spanish, so write them down. Whenever the going gets tough, and it will, you’ll have a solid set of reasons to remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing.Set a daily learning cadenceA learning cadence is a rhythm for when you study, practice and make progress. We recommend only studying in 90-minute blocks before taking a break. This is because people tend to space out after 90 minutes of staring at a book, or even practicing with other people. It’s important here to think about the time of day you’re most productive. Is it in the morning, afternoon or evening? Decide what time of day is best for you, and then create a curriculum around that. It could be studying for two 90-minute blocks before 12pm, and doing another round later in the afternoon. Or maybe you can only spare 1 hour of study per day after work. No matter when you do it, just make sure you do it. And pair specific tasks and lessons with specific days. For example, Tuesday could be the day you watch a movie in Spanish and then write for 30 minutes. Thursday could be when you call up your pen pal in Ecuador and talk for an hour, etc. Remember, you’re the master of your destiny here, and you’ll have to be responsible for when and how you learn.
Identify necessary resourcesRemember what we said about getting out what you put in? It’s true. So in order to learn Spanish on your own, you’ll need a set of tools. The type of tools can vary, but we’ve included a handful, with direct examples, to help:Apps
- Pan’s Labyrinth
- The Motorcycle Diaries
- Y Tu Mamá También
- Check out our full list of Spanish movies to watch
You can also, of course, use YouTube videos, audio recordings, picture books or a multitude of other things to help you get up to speed.
Practice, practice, practiceEver hear the expression, “If you don’t use it, you lose it?” Well, it applies to language learning. If you don’t frequently practice your Spanish, especially since you’re learning it on your own, it won’t stick. If a language doesn’t stick, and you take a few weeks or months off from it, it’ll be harder to remember anything when you go try learning it again. Below are a few ways of practicing:WritingKeep a journal that you only use for writing in Spanish. Write for five minutes every night. As time goes on, write for 10, 15, 20, then 30. It’s recommended to write about your day, in any other way you’d write it. If you want to use a word that you don’t know, look it up in a dictionary, write it down and keep going. The act of writing (with a pen or pencil), will help embed Spanish in your memory more.AppsUse one of the apps we listed above a few times a week. Many of them employ what’s called “gamification,” which means that using the apps will make you feel like you’re playing a game. This makes it funner for everyone.
BooksIf you’re just starting out with Spanish, find a few children’s books, in addition to the ones we listed above, and work your way through them. It may seem silly to read about talking animals or anything else that’s usually in children’s books, but the simplicity will allow you to lay a strong foundation for more complex works.MoviesPick a few movies in Spanish and stick with them. Make sure you actually enjoy them, and watch them at least once a week. You can start off with subtitles, but you’ll eventually need to turn them off. Struggling to understand what an actor is saying is normal. As time goes on, you’ll be able to understand more. Not only that, but you’ll tune your ear to different accents, which will help you speak more like a native.MusicThe same advantages of watching a movie apply to music. Except with music, it’s even more portable, rhythmic and may help you learn more, quicker.
Immerse yourself in Latin and Spanish cultureThis is in line with the tip about becoming a “chameleon” above. Immersing yourself in Hispanic culture, while leaving your own behind, will allow you to feel Hispanic. Like a method actor, this will help you get into the role of a Spanish speaker more, which will undoubtedly accelerate your learning. The best way to do this is by eating Hispanic food, reading newspapers in Spanish, finding a Hispanic pen pal to speak with, and even adopting manners and behavior of places where Spanish is the primary language, like Spain, Argentina, and Costa Rica.Take a proficiency testWe know, we know. Tests weren’t supposed to be a part of the formula for learning Spanish on your own. But if you want to formally gauge how much you know, it’s not a bad idea. Aside from your own feeling of progress (Latinx pen pals not having to translate, completing a few books in Spanish, journaling every night without a dictionary, etc.) having some sort of certificate saying that you’ve achieved a beginner, intermediate or expert level is a nice way to know that your self-learning is working. Below are a few to choose from:
- Official ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI)
- ECL - European Consortium for the Certificate of Attainment in Modern Languages
- TELC - The European Language Certificates
Learning a language on your own won’t be easy, but it’s nowhere near impossible. It may also be a lot more engaging and fun opposed to learning in a classroom. If you can stay motivated, come up with practice strategies that are interesting to you, and put in the necessary amount of time, you’ll be speaking Spanish at a beginner, or even intermediate, level in no time. Whenever you find yourself stuck, reread this article, switch up your approach and reread that list of reasons for learning Spanish that you came up with. But most importantly, have fun! No matter where you start, you’ll get to your destination. We’re sure of it.