How can I relearn Spanish?
May 15, 2013 8:00 PM   Subscribe

I studied Spanish in high school and college, and I even spent a semester abroad in Spain. At that point, I was very proficient at reading, writing, and speaking it. Sadly, in the 8 years since graduation, I feel as though I have forgotten everything. I am looking to get into a field where knowing Spanish would be very helpful, and I am trying to figure out the best way to both relearn what I knew (and possible go beyond that). Obviously for speaking, I will need to get out there and practice, but before that, should I just pick up my old textbooks and get going? Or, is there a better way?
posted by aka_anon to Education (14 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
I'm personally a fan of Duolingo for refreshing and occasionally learning. It's got a well-laid-out tree, the lessons make pretty good sense, and eventually it gets more interactive with helping others translate. Oh, and it's free. I assume that all users are somehow being employed to translate text for someone or something, I don't know.

Ah, under the info section "How Can it Be Free?":

Here’s how it works: Somebody who needs a webpage translated uploads it to Duolingo. That document then gets presented to Duolingo students who can translate it in order to practice the language they are learning. When the document is fully translated, Duolingo returns it to the original content owner who, depending on the type of document they uploaded, pays for the translation.
posted by komara at 8:15 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

For review and relearning, I like Spanish Verbs and Essentials of Grammar. It's a very slim volume that contains exactly what it says in the title. It would not be ideal for an autodidact encountering Spanish for the first time, but for review, it is superb, because there's no time wasted on "Hola, me llamo..." type exercises. It doesn't contain vocabulary lists and the like (the included vocabulary is contextual, to illustrate a given conjugation or grammar point), which I actually regard as a strength, since you'll be able to pick your own, external sources of vocabulary that are most suited to your particular needs (e.g. medical vocabulary, culinary vocabulary, legal vocabulary, etc.).

IIRC, the book regards Spain's Spanish as normative, which raises an interesting point. If you studied in Spain, and depending on your teachers, but you'll be working with people who speak other types of Spanish, I'd still recommend the book, of course, but supplemented by heavy interaction with native speakers of the sort you'll encounter in your work. My teachers for three of my four years of high school Spanish were quite particular about the fact that they weren't teaching "Spanish," but castellano. Later on, in New Mexico, I was told that my accent was stuck-up.

Anyway, get the book!
posted by jingzuo at 8:19 PM on May 15, 2013

You can get a refresher by staying at one of the many spanish language schools in central or south america.
posted by empath at 8:23 PM on May 15, 2013

Seconding Duolingo, especially if you knew the basics at one point and are looking for a refresher. Duolingo has an (allegedly) great iPhone app, and will be releasing their Android app in about two weeks--I'm counting days.

LiveMocha might be a good option, as well, though I feel like it throws you in a bit more--though that might be appealing to you. One of the nice things about LiveMocha is while there are paid things, you can also earn points (to unlock lessons, etc) by correcting other people's English. That means that native Spanish speakers unlock lessons by correcting your Spanish, which I think is really useful and something that most places don't offer.
posted by MeghanC at 8:44 PM on May 15, 2013

Can you travel, at all?

A lot of my high school Spanish came back when I spent a month in Peru. I remembered long-forgotten vocabulary and actually improved at both listening comprehension and conversation compared to where I was when I stopped studying the language formally.

That said, my grammar absolutely tanked. So if at all possible I'd suggest a Spanish language immersion school (or maybe even just lessons) during the trip.
posted by Sara C. at 10:16 PM on May 15, 2013

Another vote for Duolingo - I find it a lot more effective than either a class or a text book for picking up grammar rules.

You might like the Coffeebreak Spanish podcasts.

Look around for local conversational meetups in Spanish. Depending on where you live Meetup might be a useful place to start.

Finally Youtube can be a great source of material in Spanish - find somebody discussing news issues or producing recipes for example.

Absolutely none of these kinds of great and (largely) free resources would have existed to help you 8 years ago. Language learning has got a little easier I think.
posted by rongorongo at 2:08 AM on May 16, 2013

Immersion! As Sara C says - can you travel? Or even go to a part of town where you might frequently hear Spanish? I would also recommend watching lots of Spanish language movies, listening to Spanish language radio/music and reading. Or put an ad on Craigslist, Couchsurfing etc for a conversation partner. IMHO there are no better tools for learning/refreshing a language than immersion. Suerte!
posted by faraasha at 4:12 AM on May 16, 2013

I am making some progress using a paid tutor (pretty reasonable per hour compared to language schools) from - if I had the motivation to study some grammar in between classes I would be further on, but through talking on Skype I am gaining more confidence in my ability to communicate about a variety of themes.
posted by AuroraSky at 4:59 AM on May 16, 2013

Get a few industrial-strength pen pals with whom you can write regularly (daily?) about real subjects that interest you both.

This could include email lists in Spanish, where you will discuss one of your favorite subjects (heavy metal, cats, whatever) in Spanish.
posted by pracowity at 6:20 AM on May 16, 2013

Another favorite method of mine: If you have a favorite book you've read many times (for me, Ender's Game), go buy it in Spanish. You'll know the story well enough to help you "guess" at the language you don't already know, and you'll get a heavy dose of colloquial dialogue and prose.
posted by jeffjon at 7:28 AM on May 16, 2013

So far, these are all great ideas.

I am doing the same thing- here is my strategy:

1) I am working through my into-level university textbook. Even stuff I already know, I'll read it all and go through it and do the exercises. Even if it's sometimes repetitive, the repetition drills things into your brain.

2) Listen to the Coffeebreak Spanish podcast that rongorongo mentioned. I especially like the "Showtime Spanish" program. They do an exercise where you're given an English phrase to translate, then after your attempt, they give you a thorough walk-through of the correct answer. It's the most practical and helpful thing I've encountered in a podcast.

3) Read articles on Wikipedia in Spanish. After reading one and looking up words I didn't know, I'll go back to it a few days later. I sometimes need to look up the same word or idiom a few times before it sticks, so I find it important to read the same thing more than once.

4) I write ridiculous little stories with the new stuff I'm learning and send them to my friends. I'll read them a week later and be reminded of that thing that I learned, but had since forgot...thus re-learning them and engraving them into my brain until the end of time.

5) Learn the lyrics to songs that I really like (most Many Chao stuff). I like to sing them as I walk around. The repetition helps with your pronunciation and accent. And because songs are fun and repetitive, it really drills stuff into your brain. It's a great way to learn vocabulary. Of course, lyrics are poetic so not always grammatically correct.

6) You need to practice speaking! I barter an hour of Spanish conversation for an hour of English conversation with someone who is learning English. You could also hire a tutor or talk to a patient friend...
posted by beau jackson at 7:52 AM on May 16, 2013

Android's Market place as an App for this. It's called Mango Languages. It's free, and has loads of languages to pick from. I highly recommend it. There are different lessons-so if you start off on lesson 1 and you feel it's too slow, or something you already know-skip ahead.
Listen to it like an audio book, speak along with it. Learn away. Good Luck.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 9:22 AM on May 16, 2013

The paid Skype language lessons on that AuroraSky mentions have worked really, really well for me. After years of classroom Spanish, I could barely hold down a real conversation. My Spanish atrophied for years after I graduated, and I finally found the site. During my first lesson, I forgot how to say basic words like "morning" and "fifteen." After a few Skype sessions, though, my speaking ability is light years better, and I'm pretty confident I'll be able to get around Bolivia when I head there in a week. Send me a message if you want a tutor recommendation!

Democracy Now in Spanish is a great free resource. Here are yesterday's headlines. Listening and reading along helps a great deal with comprehension.
posted by bergeycm at 10:16 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all fantastic responses, and I will definitely check them out. As for travelling, I would love to, and maybe if I ever go back to school full time I'll try to swing it, but right now it is not an option for me.
posted by aka_anon at 6:24 PM on May 16, 2013

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