The following list of resources are the ones that I use the most, by far. These are my “daily tools”, that is things that I use every. single. day. to learn more and more Spanish, and that I’ve been using for a very long time now. They are time-tested and proven. These tools are essential if you’re using The Telenovela Method–that’s how I learn, that’s my own personal method–but this is an excellent list that will be immensely valuable to any Spanish-learner regardless of which method or technique(s) you’re using.
1. A modern source of Spanish in a form that you enjoy using
This is the crux of the Telenovela Method (you need a source of modern, contemporary Spanish that you’ll enjoy watching, listening to, or reading) and the only item on this list that you might want to skip if this isn’t the method you’re using, but even then I doubt it since just about every person I’ve encountered interested in learning Spanish is interested in finding out where they can get Spanish-language movies and TV shows, especially those with Spanish subtitles, as well as Spanish-language books, newspapers, magazines, and even comics.
To find free online TV shows as well as many other videos in Spanish I highly recommend you consult the two lists that I’ve put together and currently maintain and am constantly updating:
List of Best Free Sites to Watch Spanish-Language TV Online (these generally do not have Spanish subtitles, though there are a lot more of them simply due to the fact that most videos available online don’t have subtitles for them)
For children’s books and cartoons (which I highly recommend for beginning adult language learners, see here to learn why), see the following:
It’s mentioned in the above list of websites where you can watch Spanish videos with Spanish subtitles but it deserves another mention here because it’s perfect for beginning learners (adults and children) and also falls under this category: Bookbox, which is a site that turns traditional children’s stories into cartoons in various languages with subtitles in that language.
For newspapers simply go to NewspaperMap.com, filter by language, and then pick a newspaper (I would go with one in the country that you’re interested in traveling to).
Important (and quick) side note!
If you’re reading this you’re probably learning Spanish at a beginner or intermediate level, and if so could I recommend you quickly check out a site called Yabla? They teach you Spanish using videos made by and for natives (e.g. TV shows, movies, YouTube videos, cartoons, news and documentaries originally made in Spanish-speaking countries for native speakers) coupled with a set of tools specifically designed for that purpose which are integrated into the video player:
- Verbatim subtitles in Spanish shown at the same time as English subtitles (you can turn either or both on or off)
- An integrated dictionary and flashcard system that both automatically looks up a word in the subtitles when you click on it as well as adds it to your flashcards for later review
- Exercises and quizzes about what you just watched that make you apply the new Spanish you just learned.
Check it out here (discounts for educators and institutions, by the way, I know a lot of you are teachers) or read my full review if you’d like more information (and screenshots of the system) first. Back to the article…
2. Dictionaries and a verb conjugation tool or book
Just use SpanishDict. Trust me, I’ve used all the online dictionaries and several paper ones in addition to verb conjugation books and the only one I use anymore is SpanishDict, they’ve got everything you need right there on that one single site and it’s better organized and set up than anything anyone else has got. If you’ll just go to their homepage you’ll see that they’ve got a big search box right up at the top that functions as the search for their dictionary as well as three different translation engines they use all in one, just enter any word or sentence and it’ll detect whether it’s a word to look up in the dictionary or a phrase that needs translating and then take the appropriate action. Additionally, when you look up a verb in the dictionary you’ll see a short conjugation in the form of a table at the bottom of its definition with a link to the full conjugation (right under the table will be a link to “Complete [verb] conjugation”, e.g. “Complete ser conjugation” if the word you looked up was the verb “ser”). There’s also a conjugator on there that you can just go straight to if you’ve got a verb you want conjugated (note the “Conjugate” button in the bar at the top of every page). Here’s a 12-minute video of me explaining precisely why SpanishDict is so good and how to use all the various features of it:
Of course, you can also use any other similar reference that you want: you’ll need a dictionary (if you want a recommendation for a good paperback one, this one by Merriam-Webster is my favorite that I used for years before primarily switching over to online dictionaries), conjugator (e.g. the one on SpanishDict’s site) or a book of Spanish verb conjugations such as Barron’s 501 Spanish Verbs (I have it, it’s excellent), and a translator will help though it’s not absolutely necessary if you don’t have internet access at the time.
There are several web-based translators and translation programs you can download, I’ve yet to find one that beats Google Translate. When looking up the definitions of the individual words doesn’t tell you the actual meaning of what was said, this should be your next tool that you try. It can not only translate any text you enter into it, but it can also translate entire webpages for you: simply copy and paste the URL (the web address that starts with “http://”) into the box on the left and click the link that shows up in the box on the right. Here’s a short video I did on using Google Translate:
Didn’t expect to see this one on here, did you? Urban Dictionary is, by far, the best reference for looking up Spanish slang and curse words that I’ve ever found. It doesn’t have everything, but it has a lot of things. If you run across a word or expression that the dictionaries and translators can’t crack, run it through Urban Dictionary and see what happens. Here’s a short video I did on using Urban Dictionary to look up slang:
Yes, seriously. If you can’t figure out what a word or phrase means through any of the above resources, just google it like this: “what does [“Spanish stuff”] mean”, e.g. “what does ‘buenas noches’ mean” (I do recommend putting the Spanish in quotation marks when you do your search that way you get only exact matches for that phrase). I’ve rarely had this fail and, interestingly enough, I’ve found that frequently the first result, or at least the first relevant result, you’ll get will be to a WordReference forum post explaining the item in question (I’ll get to the WordReference forums in just a minute). Occasionally it’ll be a Yahoo! Answers page or something else that does actually give you the answer you were looking for. Regardless, my point is that if the above obvious references fail to turn up what you’re looking for, just run it through Google, you’d be surprised how often this works.
Forvo is a website where people volunteer to make recordings of words in their native language so that people who don’t speak that language can hear how to correctly pronounce them. It’s brilliant, it perfectly solves the age-old problem of not knowing how to pronounce things when you’re reading in a foreign language. I’ve found it to be utterly indispensable, I use it constantly when reading in a language that I’m just learning where I don’t yet know how to pronounce most words.
Forvo covers 299 different languages and currently has 57,100 words (this goes up every day) in its Spanish index that you can look up and hear a native speaker pronounce for you. Here’s a video I did on what Forvo is, how it works, and how to use it:
The WordReference forums are a great place to ask questions about anything related to language-learning: a word or phrase you don’t understand, anything regarding the how or why of what a native speaker said (i.e. grammar and syntax), general language-learning advice regarding your techniques, etc. They’re very friendly and eager to help, just be sure to search to see if your question has been asked already: do this first.
If you do find that you need to post a question there, just leave the tab open and reload it a few minutes later: I find that I generally have several responses to my question within ten to fifteen minutes of posting it. Like I said, it’s a fantastic resource and excellent forum. Here’s a video I did demonstrating the use of the WordReference Forums and talk about when and how it should be used:
8. Places to look up any grammar or syntax you don’t understand
You’ll need some way of learning any Spanish grammar or syntax that you don’t understand, and there are so many ways to do this via so many different free online resources it’s ridiculous, I’ll try to cover some of the main ones right now that I think are the best:
YouTube – Yes, just YouTube in general, there are so many Spanish lessons and courses and individual explanations of single concepts (e.g. tu vs. usted, the preterite, the subjunctive, etc.) I can’t possibly list them all but I’ll tell you one of the most effective ways of utilizing YouTube when you want a concept in Spanish taught to you is to simply search YouTube for that specific concept because I can almost guarantee you there will be a video out there (probably several, which allows you to have the same thing explained to you several different ways thereby significantly increasing your understanding of it) made for the sole purpose of addressing that specific aspect of the Spanish language. Here is my short list of outstanding YouTube channels that focus on teaching Spanish:
- Señor Jordan’s Spanish videos
- The Spanish Blog
- SpanishDict’s channel
- Spanish Ben (this is Ben of Notes in Spanish fame, a website with tons of free Spanish podcasts that I highly recommend)
- Spanish Sessions
Additionally, you have excellent written resources such as:
SpanishDict’s section on Spanish grammar and syntax – This is a great little list of various Spanish grammar and syntax components. They have good, easy to understand explanations and a quiz at the end of each one.
Wikipedia’s Spanish grammar section – This is an excellent reference for looking up specific concepts once you know what they are (or have a good general idea), but I would advise against attempting to utilize it as something like a set of lessons or a course in Spanish grammar—you can, but it’s very dry and things are explained as concisely as possible with only a few examples per concept (great for a reference, again, but not so much as a full and proper lesson). Also, note that the above link just goes to the general Spanish grammar section and that they have separate and more detailed sections on:
- Spanish verbs
- Spanish conjugation
- Spanish irregular verbs
- Spanish nouns
- Grammatical gender in Spanish
- Spanish adjectives
- Spanish determiners
- Spanish pronouns
- Spanish prepositions
9. An SRS such as Anki or paper flashcards.
We’re going to need some way of actually noting everything that we look up and initially learn so that we can study it later and won’t forget it (that way it will be available for us to use when we’re trying to understand a Spanish TV show, movie, or song, or trying to talk to a native speaker, and that particular bit of Spanish gets used), and of course you don’t want to be stuck trying to memorize everything you look up (vocab, grammar, etc.) as soon as you do so, you want to just quickly look it up, understand what’s being said, note it for later study, and then move on with your movie, show, or book, right? Of course. Trying to learn it all the very second you look it up would mean you’ll spend an hour on a single sentence, it’ll be horribly tedious and boring, and that’s the opposite of what we want. So we need some way of noting what we learn for later review so that we can move on without getting bogged down: this is where our SRS comes in…
I highly recommend Anki (click here to go to their site and download the software). Anki is a Spaced Repetition System, or SRS, that is essentially a software version of flashcards. The way a SRS works is on the principal of spaced repetition where review of previously learned material is spaced at longer and longer intervals which allows the student to learn large quantities of small individual data or facts and retain them indefinitely. It takes advantage of what’s known as the “spacing effect” which is the psychological effect where people will learn things better if they’re reviewed a certain number of times over a long period of time than if they’re reviewed the same number of times over a much shorter period of time. This, of course, makes it perfect for learning vocabulary, grammar, sayings and idioms, and just foreign languages in general. The above was just a summary on Anki and how to use it, I highly recommend that you go read my full-length post that I did on Anki, what it is, how it works, how to use it, and which includes a 12-minute video of me demonstrating everything which I will also put below here for you:
If you really want, you could use paper flashcards instead, though I don’t know why you would.
What we’re going to do is have Anki open while we’re watching our movie or reading our book, in addition to SpanishDict or a similar reference to look up what we need to look up, and as we learn what we need to in order to understand what’s being said, we’re going to put that information into Anki in the form of flashcards for later review. Just put whatever you need to in there: vocabulary words, grammar rules, expressions and their meanings, etc., then move on—you’ll review that stuff later.
Optional but recommended:
If you really want an organized grammar book to refer to (having a physical book can come in handy if you’re, for example, reading a book in Spanish and don’t have a computer handy to look things up with), I will happily recommend Baron’s Spanish Grammar by Christopher Kendris, it’s fantastic, I’ve got half a dozen books on Spanish grammar and this one is by far the clearest and easiest to understand and it has the added bonus of being very compact such that it’s slightly larger than a wallet and can easily be carried in your pocket. Of course, you can always look up Spanish grammar online but I know that a lot of people prefer to have a hard copy book as a reference since it’s a bit faster and easier under some circumstances (pretty much anytime you’re not right in front of a computer).
Some workbooks I really like are The Practice Makes Perfect Series of workbooks, and I’ve personally completed several of them and they’re excellent. The easiest, cheapest way to do this is the Practice Makes Perfect series of workbooks that you can find on Amazon for around $7 each. These are excellent choices for learning the must-know fundamentals and, unlike other workbooks, have space in them to write the answers (that’s a pet peeve of mine: workbooks that don’t do this so you have to keep a separate notebook for all your work, just makes things so much harder to keep organized). I especially recommend you get the Basic Spanish workbook and the Spanish Verb Tenses workbook.
I really hope this was useful to you and assisted you in your goal of learning the Spanish language. Let me know what you think (questions, criticisms, and recommendations are all welcome), please, in the comments!
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