Help me find the right "learn Spanish" app!
October 6, 2012 11:09 AM   Subscribe

I spend a lot of time sitting around waiting, with my iPhone. I also spend a fair amount of time having very similar conversations, in my very poor conversational spanish, with native-speakers who (usually due to tragic life circumstances) lack education in their own language. What I don't do is expand my vocabulary or learn proper grammar. As a consequence, while I can usually understand the gist of what people say and make myself generally understood, I don't understand the details, can't express myself precisely, and I'm not getting any better at any of those tasks.

I'd like to find a "learn Spanish" app I could work at while waiting around. Specifically, I'd like help with vocab (flashcards, presumably), and I REALLY need help with grammar. Can someone suggest an app (ok if I have to pay for it) that can help me learn these things? I don't really need someone to practice whatever it is I learn as I work regularly with enough interpreters, and they're generally happy to let me practice Spanish during our down time together.* It's fine if the app doesn't cover everything - I'm just looking for marginal improvements. (Also, please don't suggest that I just get out there and practice speaking spanish. I do quite a bit of that, and I'm perfectly comfortable speaking the language to perfect strangers. The problem is that I am sufficiently ill-educated in the language to be able to have the kinds of conversations I'd like to have, and just practicing without more learning isn't cutting it for me.)

*: Just to be clear, they've offered. I'm not presuming on their generosity.
posted by Nx to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
For a flashcard app, I'm very happy with Flashcards Deluxe. I can enter new terms the minute I learn them and review things whenever I have down time. It uses various algorithms to make sure you focus on the stuff that's giving you trouble.

In addition to using it for vocabulary, you could use it to reinforce grammar points. I make model sentences that use specific grammatical patterns, and I memorize those sentences and so I can apply them as a template to make new sentences.

For example, one handy sentence is "Si yo fuera tú, no haría eso" (If I were you, I wouldn't do that). I've memorized it and pull it out to use as a pattern for every hypothetical sentence that includes "if" and "would" ("If he were more reliable, he would still have a job" etc.).

For actually learning the grammar, I look forward to seeing what others recommend. I used the "Practice Makes Perfect" series of books.
posted by ceiba at 11:26 AM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

ceiba's reference to books inspires me to observe that if there are good grammar-learning books available for Kindle, you could use the Kindle app to put the on your phone. It wouldn't be flash cards, but if there are good books out there (I have no idea) it might be helpful.
posted by willbaude at 11:47 AM on October 6, 2012

Not an app suggestion, but also not a 'go out there and have some conversations' suggestion.

You could try reading simple Spanish novels - I found Harry Potter in translation useful especially with the English original on hand in case of extreme difficulty, but you could also try a Spanish-language novel with an English translation on hand. American Amazon is great for this. Novels helped me a lot with colloquialisms and broadening my vocabulary.
posted by srs airbag at 11:50 AM on October 6, 2012

I like the idea of using the Kindle app to read Spanish grammar books. However, I'd recommend reading reviews carefully before buying an electronic version of a language book.

The Practice Makes Perfect series that I mentioned is available for Kindle but is difficult to use in that format, at least on my normal, smallish-screen Kindle. The all-important examples are in tiny type that won't enlarge for some reason.

Another option, if you always have internet access, is to bookmark a Spanish grammar site and work your way through it.
posted by ceiba at 12:05 PM on October 6, 2012

I use my iPhone almost every day for language study. Before I get to that, I agree with you that "getting out there and speaking" is not a good language learning strategy, primarily because since your vocabulary is so poor (1) you have very little to say and (2) there is very little you understand. The key is to increase comprehensible input, which you seem to recognize.

As far as my iPhone learning, here is what I do. Please keep in my that the iPhone is a supplement to a language learning system; it is not my sole source of language learning.

1. I use the flash card app Anki. It is $25, but I think I bought it on sale for $15. I think it is worth the $25. You can make your own vocabulary decks. I would recommend focusing on the first few thousand most common words. There are also many shared Anki decks that are publicly available, so perhaps some have Spanish vocabulary. The most effective strategy is to make your own flash cards based upon your main language learning program e.g. flash cards of vocabulary from a textbook.

2. Listening to audio lessons. Your public library may have Pimsleur or Michel Thomas. I tend to listen to audio courses in my car. There are also free audio components from the Foreign Service Institute. There is also a Michel Thomas app for the iPhone, and you can buy lessons in-app. There is also a Pimsleur app for Spanish.

3. Like I said, the iPhone is not going to be a good sole source, especially if your grammar is poor. I recommend the Spanish Basic or Spanish FAST from the FSI Courses to get your started. These materials are dry but free and popular with the internet language learning community. They are PDFs but I imagine too small to read on an iPhone; you'd need an iPad or to read on your computer as part of your main study program. The audio components of the lessons can be downloaded as free mp3s for your iPhone.

4. I also recommend a good phrasebook, and you could make flash cards for those phrases. I like the Rough Guide series, but others like Lonely Planet and others. This is helpful because it gives you the language as chunks of information that also show word usage and grammar.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:10 PM on October 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

My library offers free access to a language application called Mango. Check and see if it is available through your library.
posted by Altomentis at 1:35 PM on October 6, 2012

Babble's German app is very good for building vocab. I would imagine its Spanish app to be similar. (Oh, and it free!)
posted by chiefthe at 1:46 PM on October 6, 2012

The best way to expand vocab is by reading extensively. The problem for language learners is getting to the point where they can read extensively.

Reading also helps with grammar, a bit. Some of the weird stuff with Spanish though you're just going to have to drill.

Also be aware that there is definitely regionalism that goes on with Spanish, so you might learn something using your app that your local friends have no idea (or think you're being archaic) about. :) (choice of which past tense, etc.)
posted by titanium_geek at 2:47 PM on October 6, 2012

Duolingo is working on a mobile app and I think it'll be ready this month. In the meantime, you can see if you like their learning style by signing up on the web site.
posted by tantivy at 3:10 PM on October 6, 2012

Babbel for iPhone. Did wonders for my Spanish vocabulary.
posted by univac at 5:38 PM on October 6, 2012 isn't an app (although maybe they have one), but they have interactive grammar exercises and I would highly recommend it to fill in the gaps so that you can communicate better.
posted by ramenopres at 12:10 PM on October 7, 2012

I just learned about Quizlet here on AskMe, and I'm really impressed. I'm pretty sure the app is free, and you can download flashcard sets that others have uploaded (and also use them on the website).
posted by kristi at 10:27 AM on October 8, 2012

I am learning spanish myself. I have bought Rosetta stone and got myself Pimsleur CD sets as well.
I have also bought several apps. Rosetta stone is expensive (they have companion app for iPhone). Same issue with Pimsleur ..iphone app stuff is expensive but no doubt both these are great tools.

For daily practice I suggest get a spanish word a day app. Disclaimer: I wrote this one myself and its free.

Good thing about this app is it has lessons with audio and pictures for every word created by illustrators. Each word has short story associated with it. You also get full english translation of the story including quick tap to meaning of every single word in english.
posted by hassanikyz at 6:05 PM on December 9, 2012

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