Starting a new language can be daunting, so a real desire for that language is essential. The journey is long, but it does not have to be an uphill sprint – not at all – and there’s plenty of small achievements on the way to fluency. There’s infinite resources you can use, some of which are all about speed and mastery, but feel free to sift through some of it and see what works for you.
I want to share the ‘starter kit’ I accumulated for Spanish – I did not start Spanish quickly, or expertly, but I love this language. I am British but growing up with US news and culture has made me more and more aware of Latin American culture and its important role in the States. Additionally, we are not far from Spain and I have met many lovely Spanish people. This little kernel of genuine interest has kept me going.
You do not have to feel motivated every day of the week or every week of the year but if you want to speak the language, you will absolutely get there. Here’s how it began for me:
It’s free, it’s popular, it gives you shiny rewards and it does not judge you! There are some very heavy users of Duolingo out there, but my attitude to Spanish was pretty relaxed. For starters, my daily goal was at the lowest setting. Rather than going for speed, I went slowly and did a ton of revision sessions (to keep the lesson badges ‘gold’). From a base of zero Spanish knowledge, I finished the course in about a year – but I still had many questions.
Duolingo is not the perfect teacher, but the forums can be supportive, and it has proven to thousands of people the old ‘dripping water hollows out stone’ saying: five minutes a day will get you there.
I switched to Memrise after finishing Duolingo: it’s a British language app which has many courses, and it focuses on old-school useful language phrases. It is well structured and goes through greetings, numbers, essential vocabulary for travel etc. It is a good compliment to Duolingo, the content of which can seem quite random. It also allows you to learn Castilian Spanish (Spanish of central Spain), whereas Duolingo favours Spanish from the Americas (fair enough).
3. Coffee Break Languages
Structure! At last! The Coffee Break Spanish podcast started back in 2006 (when people downloaded them by plugging in their iPods) and it has 4 seasons from beginner to advanced. (Other languages now available). I love it because of the friendly format, the listening practice, the grammar tips and really helpful explanations from a teacher who has been in the game a long time. There is no replacing expertise. If you find the first few episodes too slow or elementary, go browse the episodes on their website to find the best place for you to start.
Here we go: I found an online tutor – through iTalki, but there are others out there. If you find the right person, it is so helpful to have a personalised lesson. Ideally you should see a real teacher after a few months of learning because they can correct you and flip around some bad habits.
If you live in or near a major city, get on Google and find a language exchange group – I’ve done language meet ups where people just go to a coffee shop or bar to have a drink, meet new people and practice languages. Try and also get a ‘tandem partner’, someone who you can see regularly to swap your languages! It is really motivating to practice face to face.
6. The Classroom
After all of this, the most effective way to learn a language really is in a classroom. I started evening courses at the beginning of the year, and it has been fun and I have seen so much progress in my Spanish – I have managed to reach an A2-B1 level so far (language level explanation here). I had the same breakthrough when I revitalised my school-level German.
While a classroom is – in my experience – the best place to get to intermediate and from intermediate to advanced, time and motivation are the most important factors for reaching your goal. It is better to be a motivated independent learner than it is to be a 14 year old who never does the homework.
I have finished my schooling but for some reason I went looking for more homework – and you know what? I love it.