How can I enjoy studying Spanish?
March 25, 2017 1:30 PM   Subscribe

I'm serious about learning Spanish, but I've come to dread my daily study sessions. What sort of framing, routines, or projects made language-learning more enjoyable for you?

I know if I find more ways to make learning Spanish pleasurable, I'll make more progress, more painlessly.

I'm an adult with a demanding job, tight budget, and in a city with a tiny, scattered Spanish-speaking community. So I'm especially interested in suggestions that are affordable and don't involve immersion.
posted by newtonstreet to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
There are many things online of course. I've enjoyed Notes in Spanish. Also, when I first started I read classic children's books.
posted by falsedmitri at 1:40 PM on March 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Why not immersion? That is the absolute best way to learn. I'm assuming you meant you don't want to pay for an immersion course which is understandable as those are very expensive. But there are other ways that don't involve much money.

Listen to ONLY spanish music.
Listen to Spanish audio books .If you're a beginner try audio- books for young adults like Diary of a Wimpy Kid which has been translated into lots of languages.

These audio things that can be done while you're doing chores or other stuff in the house.

When it's time to watch tv, watch ONLY Spanish TV and movies DUBBED in spanish. (don't use subtitles. They don't ever work in learning a language. You must hear it being spoken constantly so you're actually better off with cheesy dubbing.)

Every chance you get speak in only spanish to someone no matter how much you're struggling. Insist the person speak only spanish to you. This works best with people who truly do not know how to speak English. For one thing, they won't slip into English in order for you to understand them because they can't. Secondly- They will be more patient with your struggle to learn than those who are already bilingual because they themselves are likely struggling with learning English.

The above is how I learned to speak Italian. It works. It's a cheap way to do immersion. However keep in mind that the HARDEST part about doing the above is emotional rather than intellectual. If you're a beginner you will think it's all a waste of time to listen to audio books and such because you can't understand a word of it. You will think you're not learning anything and you will want to give up and just put on some English lyrics instead. DO NOT FALL FOR THIS TEMPTATION. Spend all your time if possible only exposing yourself to spanish media. No matter what you may believe, I promise you that your subconscious mind is picking up on more than you realize. You will go through many weeks of thinking you're wasting your time and not learning anything and then suddenly the week will come where you will be surprised at how much you actually understand and know. So you have to be patient and you have to be OK WITH NOT UNDERSTANDING WHAT YOU ARE HEARING. The more ok and comfortable you become with the usually uncomfortable feeling of not getting it- the faster you will pick up on the language. This is part of the reason small children learn languages so easily. They are completely comfortable with repeatedly listening to sounds and words jumbled together that make absolutely no sense to them. This attitude will make a huge difference for you, but it's not an easy attitude for adults to take on so be patient with yourself.
posted by bearam at 1:47 PM on March 25, 2017 [18 favorites]

I will watch this space with interest, as a person in a similar boat.

What other hobbies do you have? If you like to sing, try learning some songs in Spanish. If you're crazy about model airplanes or planting tulips or spelunking, watch spanish-language youtube videos about those things.

News in Slow Spanish might be an option for you.
posted by bunderful at 2:42 PM on March 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

Can you find a way to study with and/or teach someone else? I learned more easily and had much more fun learning when I enlisted my spouse as a study partner, though he's never studied Spanish. I also highly recommend a semi-immersion approach of finding Spanish-language music, TV, and movies you enjoy, and possibly also reading Spanish-language news on a topic of interest.
posted by epj at 3:14 PM on March 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

What kind of media do you enjoy? If you like watching movies, you could find Spanish subtitles (or Spanish movies with English subtitles). There are lots of free Spanish language newspapers online, such as El Pais (Spain), Frontera (Mexico), Granma (Cuba), El Comercio (Peru). Or Spanish literature or audiobooks. Immersion doesn't necessarily have to be with another person.
posted by dilaudid at 4:58 PM on March 25, 2017

From the BBC, Spanish Steps and Mi Vida Loca were fun and a little bit immersive - you could try those!
posted by Acari at 5:00 PM on March 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think the first step might be identifying why you've come to dread them. Like what, specifically, about these lessons evokes that reaction. Dread is pretty powerful. For me, with languages in particular, it's the combination of being really shitty at auditory processing + hating being bad at something.

So I had to deal with the emotional component of hating being bad at something (which was really about being intensely critical of myself if I wasn't instantly brilliant at something) and then I had to address the auditory difficulties, which is more of a neurological thing for me.

If you also have difficulty with auditory processing, you might check out pronounciation guides to literally teach yourself the sounds before you learn the words. According to the dude at Fluent Forever (who of course sells stuff, but people like the stuff he sells, so) this is the method used by opera singers and missionaries and is particularly useful for immersion. Learn the sounds (how to recognize them and pronounce them) first so your brain doesn't have to do both auditory and language at the same time, and then learn words.
posted by schadenfrau at 5:08 PM on March 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Decide what part of the language you want to study, read a little about it, then search the web for [Spanish verb tenses quiz]" or [Spanish quiz food vocabulary]. Those are fun, you get instant feedback, and if you hit a question you don't know you can either a) just get it wrong and move on, or b) open another tab and search for the answer and the reasons behind the answer.

Also, shop on Spanish-language shopping sites. You could find something interesting.
posted by amtho at 5:48 PM on March 25, 2017

When it's time to watch tv, watch ONLY Spanish TV and movies DUBBED in spanish. (don't use subtitles. They don't ever work in learning a language. You must hear it being spoken constantly so you're actually better off with cheesy dubbing.)

For pure immersion I agree this is best, but if you can find movies/shows with Spanish captions that actually match the audio, I'd strongly recommend that as well. Not only are you hearing the words, you're seeing them, and sometimes you might pick up the meaning better than just listening alone. (I.e. there might be words similar to English that you can get the gist of at a glance, but hearing them is another matter entirely.)

If you're going the audiobook route, I also suggest investing in the Spanish papercopy (hardcopy, e-book) and follow along.

Both are basically the same setup as having a parent read to you while you look at the page.
posted by lesser weasel at 5:51 PM on March 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Mmmm, I took 6-years of it in school and use lots of medical Spanish -- but would wish I was more fluent. Netflix lets you see shows in Spanish and use English subtitles -- I did that for Orange is the New Black :) Thought it was useful. But so much so much is keeping it going. If not using it, you lose it.
posted by skepticallypleased at 5:57 PM on March 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm just beginning to learn Spanish so I don't know if this will actually be very helpful, but I got a couple of poetry books with side by side translation (one side English, one Spanish) and I'm enjoying reading them immensely. What I've been doing is reading one Spanish page aloud before looking at the English page, then reading the English, and then reading the Spanish page aloud again line by line while looking at the lines in English as well. Even though I know very little Spanish so far, I think reading the lines aloud is helping with my pronunciation, especially because poetry has a certain rhythm to it that prose generally does not. And I'm picking up vocabulary through it as well. And, it's really fun!
posted by dysh at 6:53 PM on March 25, 2017

Listen to and study Cafe Tacvba, especially their classic record Re*, dancing around as you learn.

For present subjunctive, there's Ojala que llueva café.

For contrary-to-fact uses of compound tenses of the past subjunctive, there's Esa Noche.

For giving directions using informal commands, there's Esperando.

For an incredible string of one example of chilango (Mexico City) slang after another, to the point where the uninitiated wonder if it's even Spanish, there's Chilanga Banda.

For clearly the best son jorocho about an alien abduction, there's el aparato.

*with the exception of the song La Ingrata, which is an unfortunate cringeworthy attempt at irony that they have since apologized for and no longer perform in concert.
posted by umbú at 8:23 PM on March 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Something I enjoyed when learning Japanese was reading Wikipedia articles about topics that I was already familiar with. It's much easier to puzzle out the meanings of sentences when you already have an idea of what they're going to say, which means less time spent flipping through the dictionary and more time learning how to figure out words from context.

I also liked playing video games in Japanese. Using the language in pursuit of a goal and getting instant feedback really helped it stick in my head, I think.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 12:24 AM on March 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am also learning Spanish. If you memail me in Spanish, I will attempt to answer in Spanish.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:49 AM on March 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would be interested in a Spanish-language pen-pal thing as well. Considering whether a MeTa post would generate a whole list...
posted by bunderful at 7:28 AM on March 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

I learned to speak Spanish fairly well with the help of a tutor. What is fun varies across people and over time for the same person. However, my overall experience is that Spanish is a particularly fun language to learn to speak.

If you don't have a private tutor, look into finding one who uses the conversational method, which is more about talking in the target language than rehearsing grammatical rules. Because speaking Spanish is fun, and a tutor will be willing and able to let you do a lot of that without your being yet fluent. It will also motivate you, 'cause you will want to impress your teacher. has listings for them, or you can find people who do lessons over skype.

Absolutely watch as much TV as you can in Spanish. I consumed several seasons worth of a telenovela from Spain, Amar in tiempos reveultos, via internet. It helped immensely with phrasing and everyday vocabulary, going far beyond building just passive understanding. I also learned a lot about the history and culture of Spain, which is crucial background to speaking a language. Also -- I discovered -- this particular telenovela is a true work of art. Though that was a happy bonus.

RTVE has a lot of good programming, in general. Explore the site. Find a news program to watch every day. (Some, but not all or most, of the series require a vpn with a european location; which might be a worthwhile investment if your taste is similar to mine. News shows there don't need a vpn.) Another good source of programming, with no vpn needed, is the Basque public TV station eitb.

Definitely sit regularly and watch even if you don't understand what they are saying. I don't know if this in itself is fun, but it should be effortless. Think of it as a kind of meditation. Your unconscious mind will be at work, and when you eventually understand, this is seriously fun.

Oral grammatical drills are something that sometimes I find fun, and sometimes I find less fun. There is a music to each language, and repeating and varying basic phrases can be like practicing scales or arpeggios on a musical instrument. There are a lot of free audio-lingual Spanish courses here, full of oral drills. If you can get into the Spanish Basic course, you'll find doing oral drills can be fun; doing them is a lot like speaking, and speaking is fun. Another kind of drill that can be useful is computer-based verb conjugation drills; your mastery of all those verbs tenses and moods and the many irregular verbs needs to be instinctual. I don't have a particular recommendation -- I was doing this 10 years ago --, but you should be able to find a friendly, game-like verb conjugation app somewhere on line that will be enjoyable to use regularly.

Also, lurk at A Language Learner's Forum. You can get a lot of ideas for how to study from the example of the (self-avowed) language geeks there, as well as very helpful tips about language learning resources.
posted by bertran at 7:53 PM on March 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Came back to add that private tutors do not have to be expensive; I found someone who was great for $25 / hr. I saw her once a week. On skype you should be able to find someone less expensive still.
posted by bertran at 8:11 PM on March 26, 2017

I enjoyed the group work in Spanish classes. I also really enjoy dipping into from time to time. I'm reading a fictional book (about a topic I already really enjoy) in Spanish at the level I am trying to learn currently. I think it might be helpful to consider what you enjoy in general, how you like to learn and see how you can combine that with learning Spanish specifically.

JKSeazer's suggestion is similar to what I'm saying about the book - will definitely be taking that tip!
posted by Kat_Dubs at 12:10 PM on May 12, 2017

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