No hablo español - best way to teach myself Spanish (again, sort of)?
September 13, 2019 12:35 PM   Subscribe

I am tired of only being able to speak one language and I really want to try to learn Spanish. I did take it in late middle school, high school and for a year in college, which was obviously way too late in life for it to have really taken hold. But I'm ready to try again! Snowflake details below...

Where I'm at is that the present tense is pretty firmly ingrained in my brain. As long as I know the word for a given verb, I can say simple things like "Yo bebo jugo de naranja" / "I drink orange juice." At one point, I knew the preterite past tense although I've forgotten it. I vaguely recall learning things like the subjunctive to express hopes or speculation, and how to say commands, but that has definitely fallen out of my brain.

Just to get me started, I have been doing things like Duolingo and Rosetta Stone. But I see that it teaches a lot of vocabulary that is easy to memorize ("abrigo" means "jacket" and so on). But these methods don't seem to explain conjugation - they just sort of introduce verbs and hope you pick up how they work. Maybe I haven't gotten far enough for that to happen, but I really feel like memorizing vocabulary and phrases is the easiest part. I want to focus on learning how to conjugate verbs correctly because that is the building block to create sentences. I'm quite good at English - like, sentence diagramming comes naturally to me - so I think understanding the building blocks and conventions of Spanish would be useful to me. I also want to get better at understanding spoken Spanish since reading it is much easier for me.

Are there any good apps or interactive websites, etc. that will teach me verb conjugation and the mechanics of Spanish? I like being able to read *and* hear the words, and be encourage to write them and speak them, so I can make sure I understand pronunciations too. In high school, I remember learning the present tense with a shoe-shaped diagram of yo, tu, el/ella/usted, nosotros, ellos/ellas/usteds, which was helpful to be able to refer back to. I learned by memorizing the pattern, and it isn't helpful to me to just encounter verb usage as one-offs. I also want guided lessons that have a structure to them and are interactive. I do like the way Duolingo works, I just want something that focuses on the grammar lessons and not just repetitive exposure to phrases/words.

A few years ago, I did sign up for an adult education class to refresh my Spanish. But it was once a week and I found it moved way too quickly. As an adult education class, people were coming in with different levels of Spanish background, and a lot of people were ahead of me, so I felt stupid asking questions. The instructor didn't seem to have the time to focus on giving individual attention either. It just wasn't that helpful. Also, getting up and going to a class at some place is a hassle that makes it more likely I will quit. I think I need to focus on studying on my own for now.

I'd consider one-on-one private lessons, but not right now. I would rather start on my own to refresh the stuff I already learned and do what I can on my own before I spend the money on lessons. I think lessons will be expensive and I should try to get as far as I can on my own. Down the road I'd consider it.

Any ideas or recommendations or thoughts? Unfortunately, living in South America or Latin America is not a possibility for me right now, even though I know that's the true way to learn!
posted by AppleTurnover to Education (6 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I think when you're doing it on your own, you want to spread yourself around a bit and pick up a variety of formats. So, books to read up on grammar initially, apps for drilling the grammar, podcasts to improve your listening, language cafe to practice speaking, follow some Spanish news accounts on social media and see how much you can understand from articles they link to.

I asked this question about resources for learning verbs which you might find useful.

I really enjoy the Duolingo Spanish podcasts - they claim to be intermediate Spanish but if so, they're definitely lower-end intermediate - the Spanish is very slow and clear, and always backed up by explanations in English. They're also really interesting, and explore a lot of the recent chequered history of various South American countries through first-hand experiences. Gritty Spanish (which you have to pay for) is pretty hilarious, I've not listened to it as much as I thought I would, but with topics like Bent Cop, Hustler from Vietnam, The Drunk etc., it makes a change from more traditional stilted language learning audio. It features a whole selection of different accents, too.

I've found Michel Thomas CDs useful in the past, they might be dated by now, but if you can find them in a library or second hand I'd give them a go - they explain the grammar but bit by bit, giving you immediate listening/speaking practice to back up the theory.

If you want to practice speaking, you can sometimes find native Spanish speakers offering Skype lessons from Spanish-speaking countries, which can be reasonably priced, or look for language exchange opportunities/language cafes near you etc.
posted by penguin pie at 12:54 PM on September 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

You may already know this, but a lot of people miss it because the Duolingo app and site don't make it very clear: Most "lessons" in Duolingo have grammar/usage notes that you should read before doing the interactive portion of each lesson. To read the notes, click on the lesson and then click the "light bulb" icon icon in the pop-up box.

For example, the notes for the lesson titled "Activities" in Duolingo's Spanish course include present-tense conjugation charts for the three regular verb forms.

Notes for some courses are not (yet?) compatible with the Duolingo mobile apps, and are available only if you use the Duolingo web site. However, it looks like all or most of the notes for the Spanish course are available on all platforms.
posted by mbrubeck at 5:32 PM on September 13, 2019 [8 favorites]

I've been learning Spanish ...

Here's a breakdown of fluency levels and how to understand them

I started with Duolingo but felt the same as you, I was memorizing vocab but not getting the language. Honestly I think the best way to learn is to get a good foundation of formal education and then go off on your own to build on top of it

Sounds like you attended a BAD school because they didn't group you with your level.

You could attend a better school in another country virtually for a lower price. PM me for specific recommendations.
posted by jander03 at 6:16 PM on September 13, 2019

I'm a fan of the Foreign Service Institute's audio-lingual courses, which are freely available. Their basic Spanish course may start off a bit slow for you, but it's very comprehensive and teaches the grammar you seek with an emphasis on aural comprehension and oral production. These are taught and reinforced by the drills that come on the mp3s, accompanied by explanatory and illustrative text. (Don't be put off by the strange phonetic transcription system they use in the text; it's actually really useful to understand just how much real spoken Spanish uses elisions.)

The book Ultimate Spanish Review and Practice is a fine way to learn the grammar in a written form, with good explanations and exercises.

I can't recall the name of the product I used to practice written verb conjugations -- this was twelve years ago, but it was essential to my learning to speak the language. Definitely look until you find a good one -- and it is worth paying for one that is good.

I didn't use it, but you might enjoy the educational telenovela Destinos which will teach basic grammar. More info here. In general it's a good idea to listen to as much spoken Spanish as you can, even if you initially aren't understanding much of it. You will eventually. If you have netflix, there's lots and lots of Spanish series there to watch. Try watching them with Spanish cc subtitles. Spain's state television channel is also a good source for videos.
posted by bertran at 7:34 PM on September 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

I don't have any practical suggestions, just a word of encouragement: my friend's 82-year-old mother set about teaching herself Spanish, in order to communicate with her daughter-in-law, and succeeded. She is only of average intelligence/ linguistic talent but has a great deal of persistence.

It's never too late.
posted by all the light we cannot see at 10:41 PM on September 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

If you're interesting in speaking Spanish (as opposed to reading books/news/websites or listening to music/TV/news, etc), the best thing you can do is practice speaking. Get yourself comfortable with speaking by talking to yourself, your pets, your houseplants at home. Practice dialogues and phrases and sentences you learn from Duo or Rosetta.

Then find yourself a conversation group. Do you have a local public library? Nearby community college? Look for conversation tables. Maybe you can do a language exchange with someone over iTalki or sign up with a community tutor.
posted by carrioncomfort at 10:10 AM on September 18, 2019

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