What's The Best Way to Learn Spanish in 2021? The Ultimate Guide

What's The Best Way to Learn Spanish in 2021? The Ultimate Guide

The Best Ways to Learn Spanish in 2021

Introduction

Spanish is the 2nd most widely spoken language in the world. Consequently, dozens of resources are available for learning it.

The problem is, when you look for advice on what to use, it usually doesn't take into account your level, goals or budget. And most of the recommended tools aren't there because they're the best but because the website owner is receiving commission on any sales. Not ideal.

You don't need outdated software like Rosetta Stone. You don't need expensive audio courses - why use them when there are so many great Spanish podcasts and shows?

I'm also not going to tell you that the best way to learn Spanish is to move or travel to a Spanish-speaking country. Because let's face it: few of us have the time or money for this. And you'd probably spend too much time with English-speaking expats anyway.

I'm going to give you a toolkit containing all the resources you need for becoming fluent in Spanish. Crucially, you'll be able to view recommendations based on your current level. And in case you're on a tight budget, more than 50% of the resources listed are free.

Habits, commitment & goals

You can jump straight into exploring the best tools for your level via the contents list. But finding the best tools is not sufficient for you to reach fluency in Spanish. Tools are just one element of a wider system employed by effective language learners.

So before you check out the resources, read the below advice. It'll take you two minutes and could be crucial to your success.

1) Make learning a habit.

The speed at which you learn Spanish will largely be determined by your ability to practice consistently and stick to it. If you can make learning Spanish a habit, you won't need to rely on willpower or motivation, both of which fluctuate.

Habits are developed through cues and rewards. The cue sets the behaviour into action. For learning Spanish, the cue could be as simple as setting a daily reminder in your calendar to practice at the same time each day. The reward should ideally be intrinsic; learning should feel rewarding and fun. Avoid resources you find boring.

2) Commit yourself to regular practice.

Create a simple weekly plan so you don't have to decide whether to practice; simply check your schedule and see what's on. The plan should be realistic and include specifics. Here's an example:

Monday - after work, 25 mins: Listen to a Spanish podcast episode.

Weds - before work, 15 mins: Do exercises on an app.

Sat - 11am, 45 mins: Spanish class.

3) Study in short, focused bursts.

You'll notice that the example activities above are between 15 and 45 mins.

Learning a language is exhausting, particularly at the start. Don't push yourself to fit everything into a long, weekly study session. Short, frequent activities will be easier to fit into your week. You'll be able to concentrate better and make faster progress.

4) Be clear on your goals & adjust accordingly.

When choosing tools & resources from this page, consider your goals.

For example, are you aiming for conversational fluency, i.e. the ability to converse with native speakers at a normal, conversational speed? If so, you'll hit your goal fastest if you spend most of your practice time speaking and listening to Spanish. Prioritise listening to podcasts and speaking with a tutor or an exchange partner; avoid getting addicted to Spanish learning apps.

To find the best tools for learning Spanish according to your level, choose from the options below:

The best ways to learn Spanish for beginners

What we'll cover:

👉 Tip: you may want to save this guide before exploring the resources, so you can come back to it.

Learning basic vocab & grammar:

TOOL #1: PODCASTS

Listen to a Spanish podcast every few days and you'll rapidly improve your ability to understand Spanish as it's spoken by natives. If you're short on time, try listening whilst doing the dishes or commuting.

To maximise your learning from podcasts, try to repeat the words and sentences you hear from time to time. This will help you memorise words and improve your pronunciation. Also, many podcasts have transcripts available for a fee. These can really supercharge your progress.

If you're a complete beginner, two good options are: Language Transfer and LightSpeed Spanish. They also have episodes for more advanced learners.

If you already know a little Spanish, you can also try Notes in Spanish.

All of these podcasts take things nice and slow, providing clear explanations.

If you like listening to the news, you can try News in Slow Spanish (For Beginners). It requires a subscription but is nicely done and transcripts are provided.

Podcasts are an excellent way to learn Spanish.
Listen to Spanish podcasts - your brain will be surprised by how much it learns.

TOOL #2: APPS

Below are the most popular apps for learning Spanish, together with their ratings on the Play Store. I've included both free and paid options.

As a beginner, you'll find apps handy for picking up some basic vocab and grammar. But beyond this, if your goal is to be able to have conversations in the language, the best way to learn Spanish is not through answering multiple choice questions on an app. It's through speaking and listening to people. So once you know some Spanish, don't use the apps as a substitute for speaking and listening practice.

Apps with free plans: Duolingo (4.6) | Memrise (4.6)

Paid apps: Mondly (4.7) | Lingodeer (4.6) | Babbel (4.5)

Learning to speak Spanish

For learning to speak Spanish as a beginner, you have two main options: 1-on-1 tutoring, and group classes. Once you're able to have basic conversations in Spanish, you can also try language exchanges.

If you're a complete beginner, you might want to consider learning some vocab via podcasts and apps before taking lessons.

OPTION #1: 1-ON-1 TUTORING

It's not the cheapest option, but taking private lessons is certainly one of the fastest ways to learn to speak Spanish. A good tutor will get you speaking for at least 70% of the lesson time, whilst making you feel comfortable about making mistakes and providing clear feedback.

A less obvious benefit of having a tutor is keeping you on track. A good tutor will support you and help you stay consistent. Knowing you have a scheduled class/homework, and that there is somebody who cares about your progress, can be crucial.

Cost estimate: If you're taking the lessons online, you can get a good Spanish tutor for between $11 & $25 per hour. You'll usually get better value than learning locally as you can connect with tutors living in countries with a lower cost of living.

What to look out for: Many platforms do not screen tutors properly, nor offer refunds or timely support with booking issues. Take a trial session before committing to lessons. And watch out for services that try to tie you into a subscription.

Where to find a tutor: Compared to other sites, it's easier to find a talented tutor on LanguaTalk, which I co-founded. Unlike others, we actually put time into finding the best tutors. You can take a free, 30-minute taster session with no card required. Check out the reviews and videos of our Spanish tutors here.

Lessons should focus on speaking. Good tutors will ask you lots of questions and give precise feedback.

OPTION #2: GROUP CLASSES

If you'd prefer to learn locally and with others, group classes are worth exploring.

Pros: It's a social experience; you may make friends with your classmates. If you like structure, it may suit you as textbooks often guide the classes.

Cons: There's usually no flexibility to focus on what you personally want to improve upon, nor to concentrate on topics that interest you. If you want to learn how to speak with locals, you may be frustrated with the limited speaking practice.

Cost estimate: This depends on where you live and the size of the group. The cost will probably be similar to 1-on-1 online classes.


Whatever you choose, try topping up your speaking practice through self-talk.

All the normal self-talk that goes on in your head during the day can be done in Spanish. Instead of thinking “I need to eat something” in English, think it in Spanish instead. And when you don't know how to say something, look it up quickly on your mobile. I cover the best tools for this below...

Supporting tools to maximise learning:

TOOL #1: DICTIONARIES & TRANSLATORS 📕

Three of the best online dictionary and translation apps are: Reverso, WordReference & Linguee. Crucially, they all provide examples of the words in context. Try noting down full phrases and sentences as this will aid memorisation whilst simultaneously teaching you how sentences are formed.

For checking on your mobile, SpanishDict is a super app.

TOOL #2: VERB CONJUGATORS 🤓

As a beginner, you must enjoy learning, or you may give up. This means avoiding the boring stuff, which for many, means grammar. So at the start, don't worry about anything other than the present tense, which is all you need to have simple conversations.

But even for the present tense, you'll still need to conjugate verbs. WordReference & Reverso both provide excellent verb conjugators for free.

TOOL #3: FORVO

A dictionary specifically for pronunciation. It has a database of several million words pronounced in over 300 languages – all recorded by native speakers. A wonderful free resource!

TOOL #4: A NOTEBOOK ✍

Whilst using the tools listed in this guide, you should jot down new words in a notebook. Studies have shown that when you write rather than type, your ability to recall information improves significantly. Researchers believe this is because writing is slower and involves deeper mental processing.

Get Started:

  1. Experiment with the tools listed above to see what works best for you. This could be a mix of podcasts, apps and classes. Add them as activities in your calendar over the next week. If you're looking to learn Spanish as fast as possible, you may want to explore taking 1-on-1 lessons. On LanguaTalk, you can check tutor profiles and book a free, 30-minute taster session.
  2. Save this guide so you can come back to it later.

¡Buena suerte! (Good luck!)

The best ways to learn Spanish if you have a basic level (A2)

What we'll cover:

👉 Tip: you may want to save this guide before exploring the resources, so you can come back to it.

Improve your listening skills, vocab & grammar:

TOOL #1: PODCASTS

Listening to Spanish podcasts every few days will work wonders for your ability to understand spoken Spanish. Podcasts are ideal if you're a busy person as you can listen whilst doing other things - commuting, cleaning etc.

To maximise your learning from podcasts, try to repeat the words and sentences you hear from time to time. This will help you memorise words and improve your pronunciation.

You've selected that you have a basic (A2) level. As it's hard to assess yourself and your level may be slightly above or below A2, below are several options with different difficulty levels and dialects:

Podcasts in Castilian Spanish (Spain):

Notes in Spanish - Basic series, Intermediate series. One of the most popular Spanish podcasts, the hosts Ben & Marina explain things clearly. The audio is free, whilst transcripts and worksheets are available for purchase.

LanguaTalk Spanish - A couple of Spanish teachers having fascinating conversations on all sorts of topics. They speak at a relatively slow pace to make it easier to understand. Unlike other podcasts, you can view and download an interactive transcript for free. The transcript makes it a lot easier to follow, but if you find it too difficult, start with the Notes in Spanish basic series.

Español Automatico - I love this podcast because Karo, the host, speaks Spanish so clearly. It's more for an intermediate level but you might surprise yourself. Transcripts and worksheets can be purchased.

Podcasts in Latin American Spanish:

Duolingo Spanish - Stories told in a mix of Spanish & English. Nicely produced and transcripts are available for free on the website.

Charlas Espanas - If the Duolingo podcast is a bit slow for you, you may prefer this. The hosts are from a number of different Latin American countries, so you'll be exposed to multiple dialects. They take turns presenting a variety of episodes on vocab, expressions, grammar, culture, news, and Latin American history. You can buy the transcripts and worksheets.

Podcasts are an excellent way to learn Spanish.
Listen to Spanish podcasts - your brain will be surprised by how much it learns.

TOOL #2: NETFLIX

If you have Netflix, numerous Spanish language shows are at your fingertips. Some good ones to check out include Casa de Papel, Elite, Club de Cuervos, Quien Mato a Sara and La Casa de Los Flores. More shows can be found on Rotten Tomatoes.

How to use Netflix for learning Spanish:

  1. Put Spanish subtitles on. Resist using English subtitles as you'll end up reading them and not paying attention to the Spanish.
  2. If you miss something, you can use the menu to skip back 10 seconds.
  3. Change the playback speed to 75% when required.
  4. If it's still too hard for you, many shows in English also have Spanish subtitles so you can at least read them and pick up new vocab.
  5. Add new vocab in a notebook and revise it.

TOOL #3: NEWS

Do you watch the news? How about doing so in Spanish instead of English? News presenters speak clearly, and you'll already know some of the stories, helping you understand. Some options for you:

RFI Español - Short, international news programmes in both Latin American and Castilian Spanish. Search for it on your podcast app to see all episodes.

SBS Español - News clips, typically 5-15 mins each, ideal for fitting into your day. You can change the playback speed too.

Euronews - International news clips & articles (useful reading practice!)

TOOL #4: APPS

Below are the most popular apps (both free and paid) for learning Spanish, together with their ratings on the Play Store.

A caveat: apps are designed to be addictive. You already know enough vocab and grammar to start speaking to people and listening to Spanish media. If you want to be able to communicate in the language, the best way to learn Spanish is not through staring at an app. It's through speaking and listening to people. Use the below apps to complement your speaking/listening practice, not as a substitute.

Apps with free plans: Beelinguapp (4.8) | Memrise (4.6) | Drops (4.6) | Duolingo (4.6) | Clozemaster (4.3)

Paid apps: Mondly (4.7) | Lingodeer (4.6) | Babbel (4.5)

Learning to speak Spanish

There are three main options for building your confidence in speaking Spanish: 1-on-1 classes (most effective), group classes (social), and language exchanges (cheap/free).

OPTION #1: 1-ON-1 CLASSES

It's not the cheapest method, but taking 1-on-1 lessons is without doubt the fastest way to learn to speak Spanish. A good tutor will get you speaking for at least 70% of the lesson time, whilst making you feel comfortable about making mistakes and providing clear feedback.

A less obvious benefit of having a tutor is keeping you on track. A good tutor will support you and help you stay consistent. Knowing you have a scheduled class/homework, and that there is somebody who cares about your progress, can be crucial.

Cost estimate: If you're taking the classes online, you can get a talented Spanish tutor for between $11 & $25 per hour. It tends to be better value than learning locally as you can connect with tutors living in countries with a lower cost of living.

What to look out for: Many platforms do not screen tutors properly, nor do they offer refunds or timely support with booking issues. Book a taster session before committing to classes. And beware services that try to tie you into a subscription.⛔

Where to find a tutor: Compared to other sites, it's easier to find a good tutor on LanguaTalk, which I co-founded. Unlike others, we invest time into finding the best tutors. You can take a free, 30-minute taster session (no card required). Check out the videos and reviews of our Spanish tutors here.

Lessons should focus on speaking. Good tutors will ask you lots of questions and give precise feedback.

OPTION #2: GROUP CLASSES

If you'd prefer to learn locally and with others, group classes are worth considering.

Pros: It's a social experience - your classmates may become good friends. If you need a lot of structure, it may suit you as textbooks often guide the classes.

Cons: There's typically no flexibility to focus on what you personally want to improve upon, nor to concentrate on topics that interest you. If you want to learn how to speak with locals, you might be frustrated by the limited opportunities to practice speaking.

Cost estimate: This depends on where you live and the size of the group. The cost will probably be similar to 1-on-1 online classes.

OPTION #3: LANGUAGE EXCHANGES

If you have a limited budget and/or live in a city, you may want to try a language exchange.

Pros: Drinking alcohol will make you feel fluent, even if your sentences don't make sense 🍻 (the events are often held in bars). It's fun and you may meet some cool people (I made some lifelong friends at exchanges in Paris & Valencia).

Cons: You may drink more alcohol than is good for you, particularly if you're nervous. They're not an efficient way to learn - you spend time travelling to the meet up and once you get there, you spend half your time helping others with your native language. You may get stuck with people with whom you have zero in common.😴

Where to find language exchanges: The Meetup app has exchanges in many cities, whilst Tandem and HelloTalk are apps for meeting people to chat online with. If you're a lady, watch out for strange guys using these apps for dating (this also applies to Meetup, but less so, in my experience).


Whatever you choose, try topping up your speaking practice through self-talk. All the normal self-talk that goes on in your mind can be done in Spanish. Instead of thinking “I need to eat something” in English, think it in Spanish instead. And when you don't know how to say something, look it up on your mobile. I cover the best tools for this below...

Supporting tools to maximise learning:

TOOL #1: DICTIONARIES & TRANSLATORS 📕

The best online dictionary and translation apps are: WordReference, Reverso & Linguee. For checking on your mobile, SpanishDict is a super app.

Crucially, they all provide examples of words in context. Try noting down full sentences and phrases as this will aid memorisation whilst simultaneously teaching you how sentences are formed.

TOOL #2: VERB CONJUGATORS

WordReference & Reverso both provide excellent verb conjugators for free. These are so useful when you're not sure whether you're conjugating a verb correctly.

TOOL #3: FORVO

A dictionary for pronunciation. Has a database of several million words pronounced in over 300 languages, recorded by native speakers.

TOOL #4: A NOTEBOOK ✍

Whilst using the tools listed in this guide, jot down new words in a notebook. Studies have shown that when you write rather than type, your ability to recall information improves significantly. This may be because writing is slower and involves deeper mental processing.

Start experimenting:

If you've finished this guide and are feeling motivated, why not experiment with the tools above to see what works best for you? Pick three and add them as activities in your calendar.

If you're keen to learn Spanish as fast as possible, you could explore taking 1-on-1 lessons. On LanguaTalk, you can see tutor profiles and book a free, 30-minute taster session.

You might also want to save this guide so you can return to it later.

¡Buena suerte!

The best ways to learn Spanish if you have an early intermediate level (B1)

What we'll cover:

👉 Tip: you may want to save this guide before exploring the resources, so you can come back to it.

Improve your listening skills, vocab & grammar:

TOOL #1: PODCASTS

Listening to Spanish podcasts every few days will work wonders for your ability to understand spoken Spanish. Podcasts are ideal if you're a busy person as you can listen whilst doing other things - commuting, cleaning etc.

To maximise your learning from podcasts, try to repeat the words and sentences you hear from time to time. This will help you memorise words and improve your pronunciation.

You've selected that you have an intermediate level (B1). Below are several options covering both Castilian and Latin American Spanish:

Podcasts in Castilian Spanish (Spain):

LanguaTalk Spanish - Jesus & Rocio, two Spanish teachers, discuss all sorts of topics. They talk slightly slower than normal to make it easier to understand. Unlike most other podcasts, it has video too and you can view the transcripts for free. The transcripts are interactive, meaning they move with the text, so you can read as you listen. Vocab lists are also available.

Notes in Spanish - A very popular Spanish podcast, hosted by Ben, an English guy and his Spanish wife, Marina. I like how clear the explanations are, and their conversations are engaging. The audio is free, whilst transcripts and worksheets are available for purchase.

Español Automatico - I used to listen to this podcast because Karo, the host, speaks Spanish so clearly. Transcripts and worksheets can be purchased.

Podcasts in Latin American Spanish:

Charlas Espanas - The hosts are from all over Latin America. They take turns presenting a variety of episodes on vocab, expressions, grammar, culture, news, and Latin American history. You can buy the transcripts and worksheets.

Duolingo Spanish - If Charlas Espanas is too difficult for you, Duolingo's podcast is a good alternative for Latin American Spanish. Stories told in a combination of Spanish & English. Well made and transcripts are available for free on the website.

Listen to Spanish podcasts - your brain will be surprised by how much it learns.

TOOL #2: NEWS

Do you follow the international news? How about doing this in Spanish instead of English? News presenters speak clearly, and you'll already know some of the stories, helping you understand. Some options for you:

RFI Español - Short news programmes in both Latin American and Castilian Spanish. Search RFI Español on your podcast app to see all episodes.

SBS Español - News clips, usually 5-15 minutes each; ideal for fitting into your day. You can change the playback speed too.

Euronews - International news clips and articles (useful reading practice!)

TOOL #3: NETFLIX

Numerous Spanish language shows are at your fingertips on Netflix. Some good ones to check out include Casa de Papel, Club de Cuervos, Elite, Quien Mato a Sara and La Casa de Los Flores. More shows can be found on Rotten Tomatoes.

How to use Netflix for learning Spanish:

  1. Turn Spanish subtitles on. Resist using English subtitles as you'll end up reading them and not paying attention to the Spanish.
  2. If you miss something, you can use the menu to skip back 10 seconds.
  3. Add new vocab in a notebook and revise it (use SpanishDict on your mobile to look up words).

TOOL #4: APPS

As you already have an early intermediate level, to become fluent, you should be focusing on speaking Spanish as well as listening to and reading authentic materials. So if you have a choice between those activities and using an app, skip the app. If you have enough time to do all of them, below are some of the most popular apps (both free and paid) for learning Spanish, together with their ratings on the Play Store:

Apps with free plans: Beelinguapp (4.8) | Memrise (4.6) | Drops (4.6) | Clozemaster (4.3)

Paid apps: Mondly (4.7) | Lingodeer (4.6) | Babbel (4.5)

Learning to speak Spanish

You have three options for building your confidence in speaking Spanish: 1-on-1 classes (most effective), group classes (social), and language exchanges (cheap/free).

OPTION #1: 1-ON-1 CLASSES

To become more fluent in Spanish, you need to speak the language more, and work on your weak areas. A good tutor will get you speaking for at least 70% of the lesson time, whilst making you feel comfortable about making mistakes and providing clear feedback.

A lesser discussed benefit of having a tutor is keeping you on track. A good tutor will support you and help you stay consistent. Knowing you have a scheduled class/homework, and that there is somebody who cares about your progress, can make all the difference.

Cost estimate: If you're taking the lessons online, you can hire a capable Spanish tutor for between $11 & $25 per hour. It tends to be better value than learning locally as you can connect with tutors living in countries with a lower cost of living.

What to look out for: Many platforms don't screen tutors well, nor do they offer refunds or timely support with booking issues. Book a taster session before committing to classes. And beware services that hook you into a recurring subscription.⛔

Where to find a tutor: Compared to other sites, it's easier to find a good tutor on LanguaTalk, which I designed and co-founded. Unlike others, we actually invest time into finding the best tutors. You can take a free, 30-minute trial session (no card required). You can see the reviews and profiles of our Spanish tutors here.

Lessons should focus on speaking. Good tutors will ask you lots of questions and give precise feedback.

OPTION #2: GROUP CLASSES

If you'd prefer to learn locally and with others, group classes are worth considering.

Pros: It's a social experience - your classmates may become cherished friends. If you require a lot of structure, it may suit you as textbooks often guide the classes.

Cons: It lacks flexibility: you can't focus on what you personally want to improve upon, and you may have to study topics that bore you. If you want to learn how to speak with locals, you may be frustrated with the limited opportunities to practice speaking.

Cost estimate: This depends on your location and the size of the group. The cost will probably be similar to 1-on-1 online classes.

OPTION #3: LANGUAGE EXCHANGES

If you have a limited budget and/or live in a city, you could consider a language exchange.

Pros: Drinking alcohol will make you feel fluent, even when your sentences don't make sense 🍻 (the events are usually held in bars). It's fun and you may meet some nice people (I made some lifelong friends at exchanges in Paris & Valencia).

Cons: You may drink more alcohol than you intended to, particularly if you're nervous. Exchanges aren't an efficient way to learn - you spend time travelling to the meet up and once you get there, you spend half your time helping others with your native language. You might get stuck with people with whom you have zero in common.😴

Where to find language exchanges: The Meetup app has exchanges in lots of cities, whilst HelloTalk & Tandem are apps for meeting people to chat online with. If you're female, watch out for strange guys using these apps for dating (this also applies to Meetup, but less so, in my experience).


Whatever you choose, try topping up your speaking practice through self-talk. All the normal self-talk that goes on in your mind can be done in Spanish. Instead of thinking “I need to eat something” in English, think it in Spanish instead. And when you don't know how to say something, look it up on your mobile. I cover the best tools for this here (together with tools for checking pronunciation and conjugating verbs).

Start experimenting:

If you've completed this guide and are feeling motivated, experiment with the tools above to see what helps you the most. Pick three and add them as activities in your calendar over the next 10 days.

If you're aiming to learn Spanish as fast as possible, you may want to try taking personalised, 1-on-1 lessons. On LanguaTalk, you can view tutor profiles and book a free, 30-minute trial session.

You might also want to save this guide so you can return to it later.

¡Buena suerte!