I spent a couple years teaching myself Spanish using fun stuff like movies, TV shows, music videos, and free online resources and I decided to write a blog about everything I’d learned about what worked and what didn’t
Hi, I’m Andrew, that’s me on the left doing my best impression of The Rock or something. I started teaching myself Spanish about five years ago. I tried a ton of different things: Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, textbooks, workbooks, phrase books, Spanish-language movies, Spanish music, children’s books, Spanish newspapers, flashcards, learning and memorization software (Anki), FSI (those old language programs by the Foreign Service Institute from the 1960s or something you can get for free online now) and more. I even took a Spanish class about ten years ago while I was at university (did not go well–if classes don’t work well for you, believe me, I understand and I’ve got something that will work for you, and no I’m not charging for it, chill).
About three years ago I decided to start a blog on how to teach yourself Spanish, from home, using primarily free online resources and fun things like movies and music videos and what-not like I mentioned above, and here it is. This site isn’t designed to teach you Spanish, for the most part, it’s designed to teach you how to teach yourself Spanish, from home, while spending as little money as possible and making it as fun and interesting as possible, just like I did. All I’m doing here is sharing what I’ve learned through my own personal experience of doing what it is that you’re probably trying to do right now.
After about two years worth of experimentation from the time I decided to teach myself Spanish, I had figured out what worked and what didn’t and I had come up with what I thought was a fantastic way to learn a foreign language that was fun and effective because the primary thing you do is watch, listen to, and read your favorite movies, TV shows, music, books, and comics. You just find some Spanish-language material (movies, music, books, etc.) that you personally will enjoy and you use those to teach yourself Spanish. It’s so effective because it’s fun and feels like you’re barely putting in any effort because you’re using material that you personally enjoy.
This is a technique I learned from a friend of mine at university (Tulane University, for those wondering) about 10 years ago: he got fluent in Spanish in just over a year entirely from watching what are called “telenovelas”, which is the Spanish word for soap opera. I took his technique and significantly modified and improved it, and now I call it “The Telenovela Method”. The very first thing I would recommend you do right now is to go read my article that I’ve written on it (again, it’s free, I’m not selling it), here: The Telenovela Method of Learning Spanish.
You can use this method with movies, TV shows, music, books, etc. Just about any type of modern popular media will work. The most important thing is that you pick material that is fun, amusing, entertaining, and/or interesting to you.
But I barely know any Spanish! I have no idea where to start or what to do, I just want to be able to converse with native speakers about normal stuff, and I don’t want to learn the wrong kind of Spanish or get started the wrong way and then end up frustrated three months down the road and quitting!
Yup, I hear you, believe me. If you don’t know any Spanish at all then you’re certainly going to have a harder time learning the entire language just from movies and books and what-not, you’d definitely be better off if you could get to sort of a high-beginner or low-intermediate level in Spanish and then transition into the Spanish movies and books and such, right?
Believe me, I understand, I’ve been there and done that. I spent the first year or so of my learning-Spanish quest aimlessly wandering about, trying this system and that system, this book and that, this website and that (“free lessons!”, right? well, you get what you pay for), and none of them worked particularly well (I made progress, but it wasn’t anywhere near what I was expecting, I wanted to actually be able to talk to people!). I just wanted to be able to talk with native speakers, to hold some semblance of a conversation with them, not about some advanced technical subject like economics or a complicated political debate, but just about everyday things–I wanted to be able to make friends with them, to learn about them, and to connect with them. I’ve written up a post on what I think is the best way for most people to go about avoiding this problem (and it is a problem that commonly plagues beginners, I’ve found):
However, if you’re ready to try out the Telenovela Method and just want to dive straight in:
Ok, the Telenovela Method sounds like fun, can you show me some examples of how to do this?
Sure. I’ve got six such posts where I do this with a music video. I take the video, give you the Spanish lyrics and the English translation, and then break the whole thing down and use it to teach you a ton of Spanish. The point of these is primarily to teach you how I do this with the Telenovela Method so that you can go and do it yourself with any music video, song, movie, or TV show that you like, the Spanish that you learn from these posts is just a bonus, what I primarily want you to take away is how to do this. Here are those six posts (I’ve done five with Shakira songs and one Juanes song, there will be more in the future, please subscribe to my RSS feed or newsletter if you’re interested in being notified when they come out):
You talked about how important it was to make the learning process fun, what’s that all about?
The primary reason most people fail to learn a language is that they give up and quit, and the primary reason they do that is because they simply lose motivation, get bored, and/or get discouraged. The way you prevent that is by finding as much motivation as you can and by making the whole thing as fun, interesting, and not-boring as possible. I’ve written up several posts on this:
Motivation: You Don’t Need a Shark, But You Do Need Something – I explain the importance of motivation in learning a new language and how to find it.
The Most Important Factor in Learning a Language is… – I explain why I think that fun is, essentially, the most important factor in learning a language and how to make it as fun and interesting as possible. I believe that this will, by far, do more to make you successful in your quest to learn Spanish fluently than anything else will. Seriously, read it.
Why you should use kids’ stuff: because you’re a simpleton who needs to be entertained lest you lose interest and wander off, that’s why. – I explain why I think that children’s material in Spanish–things like children’s books, TV shows, and movies–are such a fantastic resource.
Learn Spanish with comics! Do you like Garfield, Calvin & Hobbes, Cathy, Foxtrot, Marmaduke, etc.? I’ve got something for you! – I found an awesome site where you can read the Spanish versions of tons of famous comic strips like Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes online for free, fantastic resource. I additionally found another free online comic in Spanish (with English translations!) you might also be interested in that I talk about here.
The Awesome Language-Learning Resource that is Children’s Books – I explain why children’s books are such a fantastic resource for learning a foreign language and then I tell you about a website where you can read nearly 200 Spanish-language children’s books online for free.
What’s the most useful post you have? Not according to you, but according to your readers.
Based on feedback I’ve gotten from readers in comments and e-mails, other language bloggers, and people on reddit where this post was submitted, that would definitely have to be this one:
What do you have that will help me learn Spanish RIGHT NOW? I want to learn some cool stuff in Spanish NOW!
No problem, I’ve actually got some really interesting stuff, I really try very hard to make sure that what I put out there in this particular theme is very reality-centered–that is, if it’s not common with native speakers, I don’t use it. Check these out:
Do you have anything about Spanish-speaking cultures and countries? That sort of stuff is fascinating.
I agree, I love learning about other cultures, peoples, and countries. The whole reason I learn a language is so I can communicate with people, that’s it, not because I want to impress anyone or anything like that. My primary goal, by far, is to be able to talk to people who speak the language. Check this out:
Top 9 Ways to Avoid Looking Like a Gringo in Latin America – This is actually a guest post I did for Dave over at GoBackpacking.com, just so you know, but yes I wrote it, to be clear.
How about free online resources to learn Spanish? What do you have about that?
Awesome List of Free Spanish-Learning Resources – This is another guest post I did for Jennie over at IELanguages (excellent blog, by the way, highly recommended for language-learning in general) where I listed my absolute favorite free Spanish-learning resources. I should note that, as I said in that post, I only included about 10% of all the stuff I’ve got bookmarked and saved, but it’s the very top 10%, I didn’t want to make it a ridiculously long post and waste people’s time with every imaginable resource and tool.
List of Websites Where You Can Watch Spanish Videos with Spanish Subtitles or Transcripts Online for Free – This is a list I’ve been working on for over a year now because after I put out the Telenovela Method post people have constantly been asking me where they can find Spanish-language videos with Spanish subtitles online for free, especially full-length TV shows (such as telenovelas) and movies. Well, I finally put a list together, and yes there are some places where you can even watch telenovelas (popular ones! Like Betty la Fea!) online for free with Spanish subtitles. Not only that but there are news sites where you can do this and a couple of sites where the community members pick videos off of YouTube and subtitle them in various languages (just one of these sites has over 2,000 such videos, all free). Between all these sites you’ve got tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of hours of Spanish-language videos with Spanish subtitles available to you online, for free. I do update the list every time I find a new site and remove any dead links, so the list itself will never become outdated.
List of Best Free Sites to Watch Spanish-Language TV Online – This is a list of my favorite websites that you can use to help you learn Spanish via watching Spanish-language TV (news, shows, telenovelas, whatever) and is one of the most popular posts on my site. Only criteria is that they must be free, I’m not going to recommend anything you have to pay for (it’s just too easy to find free stuff and therefore no one’s going to be willing to pay for it–hey, I wouldn’t, I don’t blame you). I’ve divided it up alphabetically by country. Oh, and I actually checked each one of these sites to make sure that they were working and actually had streaming video available, unlike every other list of Spanish language TV/radio station sites I’ve managed to find online (all of them had tons of links to broken sites, all of them).
Best Spanish Dictionary and Verb Conjugator – For what it’s worth, at this point, I actually recommend you just use SpanishDict for everything, their verb conjugator is now better than any other one out there, which is really nice. I do, however, still prefer Google Translate for a translator.
Now, speaking of lists of free online Spanish resources…
If I wanted to get started learning Spanish right now, what’s one thing you’d suggest I do?
Besides reading all my posts here, haha? I’d tell you to subscribe to my super-duper amazingly awesome and entirely free newsletter, of course! Here’s why you should do that:
I put together a list of the internet’s Top 33 Free Spanish-learning resources, my favorite language exchanges and Spanish chat rooms, and more. I’ve spent a great deal of time putting together a 3-part series of articles for you on the internet’s best free resources for the Spanish-learner that you’ll get when you sign up for my newsletter–in addition to all of what you get below, I’ll be sure to send you any updates about cool new sites, resources, and learning tips and techniques that I come up with (I’m currently putting together a whole series that will teach you in great detail precisely how I go about learning a new language):
Part 1: A very long list of my favorite Top 33 free online Spanish-learning resources (tools, references, sites with free lessons, articles, blogs, forums, etc.) that’s far too long to include here, especially with all the other stuff I’ve got here that’s available just on this site alone, and I’d like to offer it to you (completely free, you don’t have to do anything other than sign up) right now.
Part 2: I explain what language exchanges are (essentially they allow you free access to an unlimited number of native speakers to practice your Spanish with), why they’re absolutely essential if you’re teaching yourself (I’m serious when I say this: it’s impossible to get fluent without them if you’re learning a foreign language on your own), how to use them, and which ones are the best.
Part 3: I cover chat rooms which are specifically devoted to connecting you with native Spanish speakers who want to learn English so you can chat with them in Spanish (and they’ll help and correct you) and then you do the same for them with their English (these are completely free to use, but rather hard to find, but I’ll tell you where the best ones are!). Sign up below!
I want MORE!!! How about some stuff about language-learning in general?
Sure, why not:
I want MORE!!!
Ok, ok, check out my Archives/Site Map and you can see every post I’ve ever written and go through and read whatever you want.
I really hope this site has proven useful to you in some shape, way, or form. Please feel free to contact me via my Contact Page (it goes right to my e-mail inbox, I’ll see it immediately) if you have any questions, suggestions, or need help with anything at all. Really, I cannot possibly tell you how much I appreciate getting feedback from readers and people trying to learn Spanish, don’t hesitate to contact me.