Spanish is the second most popular language in the world with nearly 407M native speakers. 43M people in the United States are either native speakers, or have native-like proficiency in Spanish. The emergence of Latin America as an economic superpower and the growth of America’s Hispanic population has ensured the relevancy of studying Spanish in the 21st century.
The question remains: how do you really learn Spanish?
Below, we take a look at some of the best ways to learn the Spanish language, and the pros and cons of each:
1. Personal Lessons
A language isn’t merely a set of words and grammar rules. It is a living artifact that changes with time and place. The flavor of Spanish spoken in Peru is drastically different from the kind spoken in Barcelona, Spain. Private lessons from an actual native speakers ensures that you not only understand the rules governing the language, but also the many inflections and variations present in it.
Personal lessons is the most expensive way to learn Spanish, but also the most effective. Some of the advantages of persona lessons over books/CDs/online courses are:
- One-to-one Interaction: Having a tutor who can correct mistakes, improve pronunciation and relate cultural contexts is crucial to complete mastery of a language.
- Group Interaction: Group lessons are particularly beneficial as you can learn from your peer group who will more or less share your proficiency. Interacting within the group will help you practice the language in a ‘living’ environment. The peer group can also be a great source of motivation and competition.
- Immediate Feedback: Mistakes are pointed out immediately in a private lesson – something that isn’t possible with non-interactive teaching methods (CDs and books). Feedback is especially important for learning pronunciation and intricate grammar rules.
Personal lessons can cost anywhere from $20 to $125+ per hour depending on the location (New York will be far more expensive than New Mexico, for example). You can also expect to pay a premium for highly qualified or reputed teachers. Group lessons are a cheaper, but equally effective alternative to individual lessons.
Video courses such as this beginner’s course to Spanish are a solid alternative to private lessons as well.
2. Instructional Audio CDs
Audio CD courses sound too good to be true: pop in the CD on your drive home from work, and you’ll be speaking Spanish fluently in less time than it takes a Game of Thrones season to end. The truth is that audio courses actually work, but not in the passive manner the marketing material might lead you to believe.
Learning any language requires active involvement in a regulated process (no matter how simplified that process might be). Even with audio CDs, you will eventually have to put in some serious leg work, especially with a language as linguistically diverse as Spanish. Nevertheless, there are some major advantages of using instructional audio CDs:
- Cost-Effective: Instructional courses can start as low as $15 for beginner lessons. Even advanced lessons are typically less than $100.
- Simplified Processes: The manner of the medium ensures that instructional courses eschew workbooks and writing exercises in favour of listening to audio lessons. This is great for beginners just picking up a language.
- Focus on Real-World Communication: Since most audio courses emphasize speaking and not reading/writing Spanish, you get a laser-sharp education on communicating in the real world.
A major disadvantage is that audio courses cannot teach you how to read or write a language. These courses are excellent for tourists and casual learners to pick up the nuances of Spanish, but people who want a more thorough education should look elsewhere. If you find your pace slacking off after a couple of weeks with these programs, consider investing some time in this mind mastery course.
3. Software Applications
Interactivity, large peer communities, and relatively low cost have made software applications one of the most popular ways to learn Spanish. Different applications emphasize different learning methods (such as the word association method pioneered by Rosetta Stone). Supplemented with regular interaction with an actual native speaker, these software programs can be powerful learning tools because of the following reasons:
- Interactive Lessons: Interactivity increases engagement with the lesson and keeps students interested in the process. Some programs incorporate games, puzzles and stories to ensure faster learning.
- Learn at Your Own Pace: Lessons can be stopped, paused and repeated until you are comfortable – an obvious plus. Be warned though: this also enables unmotivated students to shelve the software when encountering difficult passages.
- Support Communities: The popular software courses have developed large support communities that help out fellow users. This can be an invaluable tool to not only learn the software better, but also practice language with a peer group.
- Mobile Apps: Prominent software programs are also available on mobile and smartphones as dedicated apps. This means you no longer have to be tied to your desktop and can learn on the go.
4. Online Resources
A number of websites dedicated to the study of Spanish have emerged in the past few years. These sites offer the dynamic learning environment of private lessons along with the interactivity of software programs. Most are free, some cost as little as $0.99 for dedicated mobile apps. A few popular online resources are:
- Duolingo.com: Duolingo is a social learning platform that emphasizes co-learning and motivates students with badges, points and awards for completing milestones. The platform is free at the moment.
- Livemocha.com: Livemocha takes a unique approach to learning languages. For every language that you want to learn (say, Spanish), you will have to teach someone a language you know in return (say, English). This ‘crowdsourced’ learning is very effective as you get paired up with a number of different ‘teachers’ (who are really students learning other languages).
- Mindsnacks.com: MindSnacks creates mobile apps for language learning. Although limited in scope, the apps are fun to use and highly interactive, making them perfect for children, beginners and tourists.
- Nulu.com : Nulu teaches you Spanish by reading the day’s newspaper to you. It’s a great way to supplement your Spanish knowledge through real world examples.
5. Other Methods
Besides the following, there are a bunch of other ways to learn Spanish as well, such as:
- Local Language Groups: Websites like Meetup.com facilitate meetings between like-minded people. It is easy to find Spanish language groups in your neighborhood that can help you practice and learn the language.
- Learn from Native Speakers: Programs such as Amerispan.com help English language speakers learn Spanish by staying with native speakers. This is an excellent way to not just learn Spanish, but experience Latin American culture as well.
If you’re looking to start a business in Latin America, consider taking this course on Spanish language markets.
Learning Spanish is a lifelong process that requires long-term commitment. Complete mastery requires that you not only learn Spanish in a classroom setting, but understand its cultural contexts as well. Watching Spanish movies with subtitles, making Spanish-speaking friends, and even living in a Spanish-speaking country for some time are some ways to keep up with the language.