When learning Spanish it is best to think of your personal learning style above all. This will not only help you identify what ways you process information, but will also help you identify your potential weaknesses.
The best ways to learn a language are through full immersion when available, or a well-rounded approach that touches on all of the major bases for language – listening, speaking, reading, and writing, in addition to grammar or cultural notes.
While there are many resources available for each particular area of interest, few aside from formal education and tutoring will cover all of them.
Many who are learning Spanish as a second language have problems with listening or speaking, either being unable to understand what is being said or having trouble participating in a conversation.
The easiest way to conquer this is by listening to music or Spanish language media, such as TV shows or movies. Spanish language radio, podcasts, news broadcasts, or interviews also help, since many of these types of resources can be found online. Checking news outlets like El País or looking on iTunes to see the many language courses available (not just for Spanish). And of course, Youtube has become a hub of free resources for learning Spanish where you can hear native speakers from all over the world talk about what interests them, whether it’s cooking, or comedy, or just their lives.
Speaking is a bigger challenge because the only real way to strengthen your conversational abilities is by talking with other people. The easiest ways to do this are to practice talking, even if it is just to yourself or talking in front of a mirror. Reading aloud may also help. But the best way to do it is to have a discussion with a native speaker who will not judge you, but will help you hone your skills and tell you if you’ve made a mistake. Honestly, there aren’t many other alternatives for speaking aside from penpals or repeating things that native speakers say.
Reading and writing provide difficult challenges for those who don’t have a formal education with the language, or those who are just starting. The ones who have no frame of reference for the way the way the language is formed, syntax, spelling, accent marks, or punctuation find it very difficult to express their thoughts or read someone else’s.
The way this is dealt with is typically through reading practice, or by writing short essays. A textbook will often ask you to construct simple sentences like, “My name is…” and then asks you to string together more complex sentences based on what you’ve learned, building upon the foundation of the fundamentals.
Reading provides a different challenge if the person learning does not know how the words should be pronounced. While reading may help you understand the language in terms of official or regional spellings, they may not teach you how a word is actually pronounced. This is when it’s best to have something with subtitles to follow along or a native speaker that speaks slowly but also addresses the issue of spelling or writing things down. There are many resources for books in Spanish. For beginners, it would be best to check out Amazon’s section of bilingual books, which exists for many languages, but specifically Spanish-English books that can be read side by side.
Grammar and cultural notes form the core function of textbooks and teaching materials. A native speaker might know how a sentence is formed or what tense or mood to use, but they may not know why. Native speakers, especially those who don’t have the same formal education, could probably tell you what sounds best to them but may not always be able to tell you why. On sites like Tumblr, resources for learning Spanish can be compiled but they vary in their effectiveness. And though you might find many well-known blogs dedicated to Spanish, you might not be able to fully develop all of your skills.
Textbooks and teachers are better equipped to teach the standard of a language and the way verbs are conjugated and under what circumstances. Even with a good textbook or a good teacher, there can be gaps in the education because textbooks tend to teach what is formal and academically accepted, which is not always how a native speaker would talk. Words and expressions that you learn from a textbook might be best for academic pursuits, but can sound awkward or overly formal in everyday conversation.
Resources like StudySpanish or ClassZone can help you find help with Spanish grammar and allow you to find different textbooks to follow along with on your own time, are good, but they don’t have the same oversight from teachers. One of the biggest drawbacks to many of these resources is that they don’t have the same teacher-student dynamic that allows the learner to ask questions and get clear answers.
In the absence of formal classes, which vary in their overall effectiveness for a variety of reasons, one of the best and easiest ways to develop your skills is to seek out a tutor. 123 Spanish Tutor offers native speakers who can instruct and assist you at any level. The tutors here can help assess your level, guide you through the grammar, and give you more insight than most non-native teachers. Best of all is the opportunity to book a free trial lesson with 123 Spanish Tutor to see what it would be like and to test the waters, at no charge and no risk.
The hard part about sifting through resources to learn a language is trying to find one that fulfills all of your needs, and one that supplies reliable information. It can be hard to strike that balance, but when you find one that does, it’s truly a special and rewarding experience.
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