A quick search online will reveal a huge volume of language learning resources. How on earth do you sort the good from the bad and find something without wasting money and time on things that don’t work? Most language resources are now well established and the language learning community has worked out which ones do the job consistently well for the widest range of people.
Below are the resources which are most efficient and pleasing to learn from. Don’t forget to use film, TV and local language exchanges to supplement your skills and inject some interest whenever you feel your motivation drop.
You can spend a lot of money on books but many of them are so boring you don’t get past the first chapter. Other books can have convoluted over-grammatically based styles which are hard to understand. Yet more lack sufficient exercises. You don’t need a cupboard full of books – just one or two good ones. Publisher McGraw-Hill Education produces the best ones which are;
Spanish DeMystified’. This is a single volume which covers Spanish grammar and sentence construction in a logical and easy to understand way. It also has lots of exercises for you to practice with. Their explanations are really clear and they cover a huge amount in a single volume taking you right through all the tenses and main usage points. This is the best book we have come across and it is highly recommended. It is available in paperback and kindle versions (in addition to Spanish they have French, German and Italian versions too).
The ‘Practice makes Perfect’ Series. This series of books pack in pages and pages of exercises and practical examples. They are well organized into sections so you can easily find the verb tense or grammatical rule that you want to work on. The books do contain a bit of explanation too but their main focus is to provide you with practice. The series is also available for French, German, English, Chinese, Italian and Portuguese. In Spanish there are 14 titles in the series;
Complete Spanish All-in-one
Spanish problem solver
Spanish sentence builder
Compete Spanish Grammar
Intermediate Spanish Grammar
Advanced Spanish Grammar
Spanish Verb Tenses
Spanish Vocabulary Games
Spanish Pronouns and Prepositions
Spanish Past-Tense Verbs
The Spanish subjunctive
Michel Thomas was a very interesting and remarkable man. He was born in Poland in 1914 and lived to be 90, dying in New York in 2005. In the interviewing years he managed to master 10 different languages. His early life was traumatic. As a child he was sent away from Poland to escape anti-Semitism however he was sent to Germany. From there he escaped to France where the Nazi’s caught up with him and he spent two years in a concentration camp where he was tortured. After the war he worked as a spy infiltrating and investigating war criminals – his language skills were essential to this role.
In 1947 he moved to America and set up his first language school. He was the language teacher to the stars and he produced a series of language learning resources in 12 different languages (Spanish, French, Italian, German, Dutch, Greek, Portuguese, Japanese, Polish, Russian, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese). His method is not based on rote learning but instead it relies upon you listening to and repeating words and phrases. This is a more natural approach to language acquisition and this is probably why it feels so effortless.
This is not a free resource however it is well worth investing in one of his Spanish language learning packs. If you are lucky you might be able to find them in your local library or pick them up second hand on ebay. In our experience it is one of the fastest ways for learners to pick up a truly usable vocabulary. If you are going on holiday or want to get a head start before starting a class-based Spanish course his beginner series are highly recommended. There are also intermediate and advanced programs as well as vocabulary boosters. You may come across his original course; ‘Spanish with Michel Thomas’ (Complete Course – 8 CD Set), ‘Advanced Course’ and ‘Language Builder’ which are great if you still a have CD player. The range has been updated and re-named; ‘Start’, ‘Total’, ‘Advanced’, ‘Masterclass’.
On their own they are not sufficient because there is no exposure to writing – however they are a fantastic way to build up some confidence and start speaking a language properly. He really focuses on the importance of correct pronunciation which is essential to being understood in another country. All the book work in the world will not make you understandable if you don’t grasp these pronunciation basics. As most internet and class-based courses focus on the written word his course is good to do in parallel – your listening and speaking skills will race ahead of your classmates.
There is a great deal of learning you can do on your own at home but once you progress past the basics there really is no substitute for a good teacher or class. A real live Spanish teacher will be able to give you instant feedback on all aspects of your language skills, identify areas you need to work on and suggest suitable exercises or study materials. In addition, quality Spanish Lessons will help you understand some of the grammatical points which are hard to grasp. They should also be a fun way to learn and provide structure and motivation that are hard to match when you self-study.
duolingo.com Is a great online resource and it’s free! You can do it whenever, wherever you are. Do a quick 5 minutes or as long as you want. Duolingo records your progress and prompts you to study, refresh areas you haven’t covered in a while and learn brand new tenses or vocabulary. Importantly it contains a lot of listening practice which is essential if you actually want to hold a conversation. It is currently offered in a whopping 27 languages one of which is Spanish.
The site is not great at explaining the grammar and some of the subtleties of usage and there is no spoken practice so it is only useful as a complementary resource to other learning tools. However, it is a great way to practice and learn new things with very little effort particularly if you are always on the go and don’t have other resources to hand.
Nearly everybody finds understanding the spoken word the hardest. This is probably because traditional learning focuses on written text with some speech. There is little exposure to comprehension particularly by native speakers. Even if your language teacher speaks to you in Spanish it will be slower and more precisely enunciated than in real life. The first time you hear a real Spanish person speak at normal speed with no gaps between the words you will probably feel that all your lessons counted for nothing! However you will ‘tune in’ fairly quickly so the more experience you have listening to real spoken Spanish the better.
There are plenty of online resources to help – films, videos, pop music, online radio stations, subtitles films and TV shows as well as listening programs developed specifically to assist in language learning. Find something you enjoy and just start exposing yourself to the foreign language – even if it seems totally incomprehensible it will be helping you learn the correct pronunciation and the important stress patterns of the language and its grammar.
As you get better you can start trying to focus and understanding what is being said. At first you will only get a word or two but as you progress it will become easier. Once you have a good grounding try a news channel – news readers speak very clearly, using proper grammar and don’t have strong accents so for learners is some of the easiest language to understand.
Here are some great free listening resources for you to try;
News in slow Spanish (newsinslowspanish.com)
BBC Spanish Listening Foundation (bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/spanish/listeningf/)