Teach Yourself Spanish with Free Tools

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Duolingo – Website, App

Duolingo helps you learn a new language for free on their site or mobile app.

Duolingo helps you learn a new language for free on their site or mobile app.

Duolingo offers to teach you various languages using their website or mobile app. It has been extremely helpful and was the kickstarter for all of this. The app requires an Internet connection, which is a downside. But I usually use it before bed anyway.

It does teach vocabulary in the standard method of learning language. However, it teaches through examples. So there aren’t any lessons or flashcards or instructions. You merely learn the vocab and verb congregations by seeing them in sentences. Each “lesson” is really a test in which you have to translate individual words or sentence, either into English or into Spanish depending. The variety of question changes which helps to keep this from getting too tedious. And while there are nothing but questions, it doesn’t quite feel like a test. (I’m bad at tests).

Duolingo has worked best for me as a supplement to more structured learning.


Accelerated Spanish – Podcast, Website

Use mnemonics to learn a new language quickly

Use mnemonics to learn a new language quickly

The Master of Memory general series teaches memorization tactics using mnemonics. I’ve never used this method for learning before but it actually works. Even if it feels hokey.

The accompanying podcast, Accelerated Spanish, is the best podcast I’ve found for learning a new language. Trust me, I went through most of them. The creator, Timothy Moser, has a perfect voice for this and really performs well. Although he is telling goofy stories, he never makes fun or breaks the interruption. I also like that the podcasts are 15-30 mins long. This is perfect for when I’m doing less mentally-intensive tasks at work. Or my work commute. If they were any longer, I would likely lose focus.

Without this podcast and website, I would have already given up learning the language again. I love that the website doesn’t teach you greetings and nouns. It starts out by teaching connecting words and pronouns first. Using the argument that these small words make up almost 50% of the language. It really has helped for getting the gist of sentences quicker. Sure, maybe I don’t know one or two words but it’s easier to pick out nouns based on context than “and”, “between”, “from”, “with”, etc.

I tend to listen to the podcast at work then come home and spend an hour on the appropriate lesson on the website. The videos are even goofier but as a visual learner, seeing the pictures to go with the story is really helpful.

There are also tests if you’re into that type of thing. (I’m bad at tests).


Bilingual Children’s Books from the Library – Books

Read bilingual children's books to learn a new language with familiar stories.

Read bilingual children’s books to learn a new language with familiar stories.

The library has been a huge free resource for learning Spanish on my own. I found a section within the children’s section devoted to bilingual and foreign language books. Here, the majority are in Spanish or Spanish/English. This is so helpful.

I started out by reading La Caperucita Roja (Little Red riding Hood) and La Pollito Tito (Chicken Little). And Nieves Blancas (Snow White). Reading through these, first in Spanish, then English, was helpful to get an understanding of how the language is used. I knew the stories enough to also guess translate based on context.

Bilingual books with stories are easier than really simple books that are just nouns and numbers.


Immersion by Changing Every Day Settings to Spanish

Change native language settings on your smart phone to really immerse yourself in the language.

Change native language settings on your smart phone to really immerse yourself in the language.

After a month of half of teaching myself Spanish via online resources, I decided to test myself. I changed the native language on my phone to Spanish.

It’s been about two weeks now since I started to learn Spanish and I still have it set that way. I do know enough of the language (and the general settings layout) that I can switch it back if I really need to. But so far it’s been fine. And very helpful! Learning the days of the week and months of the year was far easier when I see them every single time I check the clock on my phone.

I am learning new words through context and menus that I wouldn’t have encountered so often otherwise.

The first week was a little frustrating. Not because I didn’t know the words but because my brain was confused. Like, when waking up in the middle of the night and seeing “miercoles, 14 de Noviembre” on my screen. It took me a minute to realize I was seeing things straight. Also, changing the settings changed some other things. Like, my weather app defaulted to calculus!


Immersion By Finding Every Day Things in Spanish

One of many ads in Español seen on the NYC subway

One of many ads in Español seen on the NYC subway

Even a casual lunch at a Cuban restaurant with a friend turned into a Spanish lesson just by browsing the menu. It was in Spanish and English. But it was interesting to see how they phrased things. Since there are varying dialects of Spanish. (I am aiming for learning Mexican Spanish, rather than Spain Spanish).

Living in NYC, this type of immersion is extremely easy to find. Every single day I can find at least one advertisement or flyer on the subway that is in Spanish. Sometimes it has the English translation but not always. I now look for something in Spanish on the subway and read through it, trying to translate it, or learning new words. That is free and so simple. And something I get to do every single day.

I’m not quite at the point where I can eavesdrop or anything. But I certainly do hear Spanish every day as well.


Do not Get Frustrated When Trying to Learn Spanish

I’m barely two months in to really focusing on this. And I find myself really frustrated. Then I have to stop and remind myself that I am trying to learn an entire new language! Heck, I still get mixed up by certain words in English. Like affect, effect. And there are plenty of English vocabulary I am unfamiliar with. I can’t expect to know every word in another language in two months!

And I also have to remind myself that I spent 4 years, years, in high school learning French. I’m no where near that much learning for Spanish.

There are some disadvantages to teaching yourself. You have to have a lot of self-discipline and motivation. But also, you do need to find native speakers (or friends who know it very well) because there are some cultural type idioms and phrases you will not understand just by text alone.

You also don’t have a gauge of how well (or not well) you’re doing when you learn Spanish on your own. In a class, you see your peers and know if you’re doing better or worse than them. But with no comparison, it’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t think you are progressing. It is difficult to see our own progress.

But I love walking around the house calling my cat bonito gatito!

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