Looking for the best way to learn Spanish? Estás en el lugar correcto! (You're in the right place!)
I've learned Spanish myself (alongside 5 other languages) and wrote a book about language learning, and I'm happy to help you avoid the mistakes I made and make your Spanish journey a huge success!
In this Spanish learning guide, you'll find everything you need to kickstart your Spanish studies so you can start having your first conversations in Spanish.
I'll share the 6 best ways to get better at Spanish listening comprehension, memorize vocabulary, learn grammar the correct way, and have fluent Spanish sentences off the tongue.
I'll also share my favorite resources with you and a sample learning routine you can start using today.
And finally, I'll give you 3 ways to learn Spanish you should avoid at all costs if you want to get fluent fast 🙂
PS: In case you doubt if any of this works, take a look at this 30-min interview where I repeat a lot of the advice in this learning guide and explain how I learned Spanish… in Spanish 😉
PPS: Whenever I recommend a language product, I might earn a small commission. I only recommend programs I believe in anyway and that work well with Conversation Based Chunking™ 🙂
1: Listen to Spanish Native Speakers as Much as You Can
It’s much easier to learn Spanish (or any foreign language for that matter) if you start by listening to native speakers as opposed to studying words and grammar.
Why? Well, because if you don't listen enough to Spanish, you don't really know what the language is supposed to sound (or look) like!
Think about it. If you start studying word lists and and grammar drills, and you try to string together a sentence, you only know if what you say is “grammatically correct”.
But you have no idea if what you're saying is also what a native speaker would say! You'll probably be asking yourself “Is that really what a native speaker would say?”
You just don't have that frame of reference yet.
Now, compare that to starting to listen to Spanish native speakers, in conversations, right away.
If you hear them say something like Estoy de vacaciones (I'm on holiday), guess what: you now KNOW for a fact that's what a native speaker says!
You don't even have to understand the grammar behind it, you just know that's what they say and you can say the exact same thing!
That's why you should start by listening to native speakers from the very beginning. So your brain starts getting used to the language. You build that frame of reference.
Your listening comprehension will improve massively too. And your pronunciation too. AND you'll feel like you're learning a real language, used by real people to communicate, not just memorizing abstract word lists and rules.
Best Listening Comprehension Resources
Watch Spanish YouTube Channels
I co-founded a popular YouTube channel with Spanish lessons, called Spring Spanish. We have hundreds of Spanish lessons on there that you can watch.
For more YouTube channels, check this roundup post of best YouTube Channels to learn Spanish.
Listen to Spanish Podcasts
Podcasts are a perfect way to practice your Spanish listening comprehension (especially if they come with an interactive transcript). Check out my overview of the 10 best Spanish podcasts. Special mention to SpanishPod101 for creating tons of Spanish content with transcript!
Watch Spanish TV Series (for intermediate/advanced learners)
If you're a total beginner, watching series in Spanish might be out of reach. But if you're a bit more advanced already, Spanish TV series can be an excellent source of input to practice your listening comprehension.
What's nice about these series is that they're often more like soap operas (the famous “telenovelas”). You'll quickly familiarize yourself with the characters, the storylines aren't that complicated and there are tons and tons of episodes to watch.
Here's a video we created at Spring Spanish about good Netflix series:
Bonus tip: Watch series in Spanish, with Spanish subtitles. That way you can listen and read at the same time. If you use English subtitles you might stop listening altogether, and then you won't learn that much. If you're watching a Netflix series, you can also use this tool to add bilingual subtitles to your series!
Use Dialogue-Based Courses
If you prefer to get your listening comprehension from a structured course, make sure you use a dialogue-based course. We've created such a course over at Spring Spanish (and we're currently developing a full “radionovela” course that'll give you plenty of content to listen to)! Other good courses are:
- Rocket Spanish
Takeaway + Task
If you want to improve your Spanish, then you have to listen, listen, listen!
So make sure to choose one YouTube channel and one podcast. Then start watching/listening to them for at least 10 minutes a day.
2: Practice Shadowing to Work On Your Pronunciation
If you're just starting out learning Spanish, you'll want to work on your pronunciation.
As a first step, familiarize yourself with some of the basis Spanish sounds. Here’s an excellent article that covers all elemental Spanish sounds.
Set aside some time to practice them all.
Afterwards, I recommend you start doing an exercise called shadowing.
How to shadow native Spanish speakers
The basic idea: you listen to a recording of a Spanish native speaker and, with just a slight delay (1-2 seconds), you repeat what that person says.
This will not only help your pronunciation, it will also help you internalize the Spanish rhythm and cadence.
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to shadowing (I would create a video demonstrating it, but it would be utterly confusing to you, as you would hear the original audio and the audio of me speaking at the same time! If I find a way to create a clear demo video, I’ll make one )
1. Find a speech, podcast or other audio in Spanish (e.g. on YouTube). Take a slow one if you’re not that proficient yet. You could also slow down the audio/video a little on YouTube, or with with an app like Audacity. Maybe use this sample dialogue to get started:
2. Use headphones, but only in one ear—you want to hear yourself talk.
3. Play the audio and repeat what’s being said. If you want to focus solely on pronunciation, repeat what the speaker says as quickly as possible, with minimal delay (when the speaker finishes a word, you want to start saying it). If you want to train your memory as well, you can increase the delay between what you say and what the speaker says to a couple of seconds.
4. That’s it! You’re listening and speaking at the same time. Now marvel at your brain’s capacities and experience the improvement in your memory and pronunciation.
5. Start with slow conversations or speeches (find Spanish podcasts for example, or YouTube videos), and slowly work up your way toward materials played at normal speed.
6. Then amaze native speakers with your flawless accent and comprehension.
One last piece of advice. Complete the exercise with audio only, without reading a transcript at the same time. Using a transcript might be tempting, but you really want to focus on memory and sounds only.
While shadowing, you don’t have to understand everything you’re saying. In fact, you probably won’t. But this doesn’t matter. What matters is you’re getting the muscles in your mouth and tongue used to producing certain sounds, and that you absorb the rhythm and intonation of a native speaker.
So go ahead: use the dialogue that I gave you and start shadowing it! Do this exercise as often as possible, especially in the first weeks and months of learning Spanish. It’ll make a big difference in how you sound, and how native speakers perceive you.
Other good resources you can use to practice pronunciation
Speechling. The. Speechling app gives you native-speaker audio to work with and lets you record yourself repeating what you hear. Then, their pronunciation coaches (real human beings) listen to your recordings and give you feedback on your pronunciation! It's a great way to practice pronunciation in a low-stress environment. Check it out here.
Takeaway + Task
Practice pronunciation from the very start; if you wait too long, it'll be very difficult to get a good accent. Your task: use the dialogue audio embedded above and practice it through shadowing!
3: Focus on Chunks, Not Words and Grammar
Ok, so now we got you listening to tons of Spanish every day, here's the next tip that'll supercharge your process:
Don't learn words and grammar rules… learn chunks.
Chunks are word combinations with a specific meaning that are always, or very often, used together and that you don’t even think about as separate words.
Native speakers don't even think about as separate words anymore. They roll off the tongue without having to think about grammar… without having to understand the grammar behind them.
These chunks are stored in your brain as patterns, which are reinforced every time you hear them. When you want to use a chunk, it just rolls off the tongue, without you having to think about the grammar.
Your memory contains a network of such “chunks” which you naturally combine into sentences. They exist in all languages, including your mother tongue. This is why you don’t need to know all grammar rules in your mother tongue and can still speak it naturally, without thinking.
Memorizing chunks is what will allow you to speak fluent Spanish without having to think about verb conjugations, word gender and more. They're a way for you to bypass grammar altogether.
Here are some examples of chunks in English and Spanish:
- una persona un poco seria (a slightly serious person)
- me gusta mucho (I like it a lot)
- hola, mucho gusto (hello, nice to meet you)
- a qué hora (at what time)
- estoy de vacaciones (I'm on holiday)
- por cierto (by the way)
- cada vez que (every time that…)
- ¿Todo bien? (Everything good? = how are you)
- by the way
- catch a train (but not “catch a taxi/car”)
- happy birthday
- Merry Christmas
- how's it going
Think about it again. If you hear a native speaker say “estoy de vacaciones“, does it really matter why he uses “estoy” and not “soy” (another verb Spanish people use for “to be”?) Or why they say “de vacaciones” and not “en vacaciones” or “por vacaciones” or so?
Of course not! You now know the chunk is “estoy de vacaciones” (or “voy de vacaciones (I'm going on holiday)”). So you can learn that by heart and use it yourself.
So your goal as a language learner is to discover as many chunks like that as possible.
Where do you find such chunks?
You guessed it… Your best source for useful Spanish chunks is in native speaker dialogues. Not in your grammar book. Not in a newspaper or a novel either (people usually don't speak in complex sentences from written language).
So focus on discovering chunks from conversations in everything you hear. For example, while watching a Spring Spanish lesson (there are hundreds on YouTube).
In a bit I'll show you a good way to memorize them so they roll off the tongue.
Then combine that with some grammar study if you want. But you should mainly focus on learning the chunks.
Takeaways + Task
Watch a Spring Spanish Video. Or a podcast. Try to find 5 “chunks” where you think “Oh, so THAT's now a native speaker says this in Spanish! Now I finally know how to say that in Spanish myself!”
Want more info about Conversation Based Chunking?
I've written an entire book about the concept of “Conversation Based Chunking”. If you'd like an in-depth explanation, you can get it on Amazon:
4: Learn Grammar & Verb Conjugations In Context, Not In Rules
If English is your mother tongue, you'll probably find Spanish verb conjugations daunting. Same with word gender.
The trick to master these is to NOT to learn them by heart as rules you need to remember in a conversation (spoiler alert: you'll be too nervous to remember them anyway).
Your only goal with grammar is to
- understand it when you see it in context; and then
- automate it by learning chunks in context
Here's what I mean. If you want to learn the simple present for the verb “estar” (to be). You could learn a table by heart like this:
- yo estoy (I am)
- tu estás (you are)
- él/ella/usted está (he/she is (you (formal) are))
- nostros estamos (we are)
- ellos/ellas/ustedes están (they/you (plural) are)
And then in a conversation you'll have to retrieve that whole table to build your sentence? That won't work.
However, when you hear someone say, “Hola Lukas, ¿cómo estás? (Hello Lukas, how are you?)
You can just learn “cómo estás” by heart as a whole! You know it means “how are you” but you don't have to analyze every single part of it.
Now, what if you then hear someone say “Estoy bien, gracias”. (I'm fine, thanks)
So “I'm good, thanks” is “estoy bien“. You can also learn that by heart as a chunk (I'll show you how to make the memorization easy in a second).
Would you agree that you can easily say cómo estás and “estoy bien” now, without having to think of that whole conjugation table?
That's how you should approach grammar. See it in action. See where it's used. How YOU are going to use it in conversations.
And if you then want to learn the rule, then that's fine. But again, the more you can avoid thinking about rules while speaking Spanish, the easier it'll be to speak!
Here's an example of how you can learn the verb “estar” through chunking:
Takeaway + Task
If you're learning grammar a grammar topic right now, try to see how you're going to use that grammar topic in real life. Try to find example sentences where you see the grammar in action in chunks. And try to learn that chunk by heart as a whole so you use the grammar rule correctly automatically, without even thinking about it.
5: Supercharge Your Memory with Spaced Repetition, Cloze Cards and Chunks
So now you're listening to tons of Spanish. You're also paying extra attention to the chunks you hear. And you're giving grammar the attention it deserves (but not more than that either).
Your next task is to make sure you don't just hear the chunks… but you also imprint them on your brain so you can remember them when you're trying to speak Spanish yourself!
The best way to do so is by using a very specific type of flashcard: the Cloze Card.
Here's how it works:
Step 1: Find a chunk
Let's say you hear the chunk “Yo soy Lukas, mucho gusto.” (I'm Lukas, nice to meet you.)
Immediately you should think “Ah! mucho gusto means “nice to meet you”! I didn't know that, that's interesting! I want to learn that too.
Step 2: Create a cloze card, blank out the chunk.
Now you write the full sentence where you found the chunk on a flashcard, but you blank out the chunk you want to learn. Like this:
Yo soy Lukas, ______________(nice to meet you)
Tip: It's important to add the context of the sentence where you found the chunk. This will help you a lot with memorizing, because your brain remembers better if it has more context. Think of it as more “hooks” to hang the chunk on so it doesn't disappear from your memory.
Step 3: Add the answer to the back
At the back, you write down the full sentence with the chunk included. Like this:
Yo soy Lukas, mucho gusto.
I'm Lukas, nice to meet you.
Step 4: Learn and review the cloze card at set intervals
Your only task now is to make an effort to memorize the cloze card and review it at set intervals so you reinforce the chunk in your memory.
Luckily, you can make the process of learning and reviewing easier by using a flashcard app that helps you schedule your flashcard reviews at set “memorization/forgetting intervals” automatically! It's the easiest way to learn Spanish you can instantly use in conversations, almost on autopilot.
Top flashcard apps for Spaced Repetition (that work with cloze cards):
Takeaway + Task
Make an active effort to imprint chunks on your brain by using cloze cards.
Want to get a head start? Why don't you download a sample flashcard deck?
6: Practice speaking in a low-stress environment
Alright, so if you've incorporated all the previous activities, you're now:
- Listening to Spanish every day (fun! yay!)
- You're looking out for chunks in everything you hear (useful! yay!)
- You're memorizing and reviewing cloze cards with chunks every day (feels like a game! yay!)
If you'd just do these three activities every day, you'd already make massive progress in your Spanish listening skills… and even in your speaking skills!
I know, I know, you haven't said a word in Spanish yet. But that's fine.
Some of the top language learners in the world swear by a “silent period” at the beginning of their studies: a couple of weeks (or months) where they only listen. And learn chunks. They don't say a word.
But of course, at some point, even these “silence addicts” have to get away from their podcasts and tv series, and actually start speaking Spanish with native speakers.
The good news is that (after a small adaptation period), you'll be much better prepared to speak Spanish! After all, you've worked so much on your listening comprehension already so you actually understand what native speakers are saying to you.
AND (more importantly) you've been memorizing all these chunks, so when you try to create sentences you're not worrying about grammar! Full chunks (and full sentences) like mucho gusto, estoy de vacaciones, and much more, are now rolling off the tongue.
That is, if you have native speakers to practice with, which isn't always so easy!
Where to find native speakers to practice your Spanish with
If you want some serious conversation practice, I recommend you look for an online tutor. They're affordable and they'll be focused on helping you speak Spanish.
Just make sure to make it very clear you want to practice speaking skills, not listen to grammar explanations. Most are willing to just chat in Spanish with you (which is great because you can discover even more chunks)! But some might want to stick to their set curriculum they use with every student. In that case, run for the hills. If they're shoving grammar down your throat, they're not a good fit for you 😉
With that being said, here are some good places to find tutors:
Italki is one of the biggest online marketplaces for language tutors. You can find tons and tons of tutors for almost any language. With Spanish being such a popular language, of course you have plenty of options to find someone that's a good match for you. Check it out here:
Verbling is similar to Italki. They have a wide range of tutors for Spanish (and other languages) available. You might want to take a look around there too and see if you find anyone to your liking.
If you're looking for in-person meetings with like-minded language enthusiasts, check out Meetup. It's an app that allows people to organize gatherings around specific interests in their local community. You'll definitely find some meetups related to language learning or learning Spanish. Or maybe there are some Spanish-speaking communities in your city that organize meetups, and you can ask them if you can join?
Language exchange apps
A more “low-key” way of practicing your Spanish is through language exchange apps. In these apps, you create a profile and indicate your mother tongue and that you're learning Spanish, and you get matched with a Spanish native speaker who's learning your mother tongue.
You can then chat with them (text or voice/video chat usually), use the chunks you've learned, and at the same time you help them learn your mother tongue.
You could try Tandem (I've helped them implement a “collect expressions” feature that makes it easier to learn chunks from your chats).
Hellotalk is another one.
Takeaway + Task
You don't have to do this yet if you're just starting out learning Spanish and prefer a “silent period” at the beginning. But if you're ready to start speaking, try to set aside 30 mins – 1 hour this week and find a conversation partner to practice your Spanish. The easiest way is to book a class with a tutor on Italki or Cambly; the most affordable way is to just go out on the street (or to a meetup) and start practicing there.
The most important thing here is that you try to use the chunks you've learned, and to get over your fear of speaking! It'll be awkward at first, but you'll get better and better 🙂
Summary: so what's the best way to learn Spanish?
Here's what you should do every day to learn Spanish as a beginner:
- Listen to Spanish (10-30 minutes)
- Find Chunks (included in 10-30 minutes above)
- Memorize cloze cards with chunks (10 minutes)
- (In a later stage) practice speaking (10 minutes)
Do these things every day and you'll make massive progress.
By the way, this whole process is called “Conversation Based Chunking™”. I've used it myself to learn 5 languages, and I've helped thousands of students learn Spanish, German, French, Italian, English and other languages with it! Here's an overview:
A sample Spanish study plan: learn Spanish in 12 weeks
Back in 2018 when I wrote my book on language learning, I also launched a Challenge for independent language learners who want to learn Spanish on their own (and other languages). I called it the 12-in-12 Challenge. The goal is to focus on 12 “topics” (or units in course) you want to master, and then master these in 12 weeks.
Ever since, I've hosted 12-in-12 Challenges in various forms with thousands of language learners. I've hosted my own challenges, helped some YouTubers to start their own Challenges with chunking too. They work incredibly well, like for Brian:
I highly recommend you do a 12-in-12 Challenge yourself. It might well be the best way to learn Spanish (and oher languages).
The goal is to do daily Exposure Sessions where you mainly listen to Spanish (and maybe read a bit).
You combine this with regular “Focused Study Sessions“, where you find chunks, create cloze cards, memorize cloze cards, a bit of grammar study and (in a later stage) do speaking sessions with a tutor.
You can choose how much Exposure and how much Studying you want to do.
But here's a sample routine that works well:
- 10-20 minutes of pure listening a day (getting input: Exposure)
- 10 minutes of cloze card memorization/review a day
- 3 times a week: a session with an actual Spanish course (preferably dialogue-based but also some limited grammar explanation)
- 2 times a week: a 30-min speaking session with a tutor
Essential resources (you can find them all in this learning guide):
- A fun “input source”: Podcasts, YouTube videos
- A “study course” (dialogue-based)
- A flashcard app
- A conversation partner
Do this for 12 weeks and you'll be amazed at how much your Spanish improves!
Less recommended ways to learn Spanish
Maybe you're not convinced by Conversation Based Chunking Yet. Or you might be wondering about some more traditional options to learn Spanish. That's fine; doing something to learn Spanish will still help you make more progress than doing nothing at all.
Still, I wouldn't really recommend the following options:
Traditional language school
With traditional language classes I mean classes with 10-20 students where you attend class once or twice a week. They usually don't work so well because:
- You're not hearing enough actual Spanish conversation in these classes
- The teacher usually has to follow a set curriculum (which is heavily based on grammar instruction: after all, it's easier to grade someone on verb conjugation drills than on holding an actual conversation in Spanish)
- There are too many people in class. In a 2-hour class you might only get 1 minute of actual speaking time.
Pure grammar-based instruction
If you love grammar, by all means, learn everything there is to learn about Spanish grammar. But if your only goal is speaking Spanish, you won't need to know every single rule in detail. Most of the grammar you'll start using correctly automatically when you listen a lot to Spanish and when you learn chunks (effectively bypassing grammar)
So your goal should be to spend 80% of your time on listening + learning chunks, and 20% on grammar. Not the other way around.
Learning purely through reading
Reading can be useful to expand your vocabulary in Spanish. It can also just be fun. But it's not always the best way to improve your spoken Spanish, because people don't speak the way they write. People usually write much more complex sentences and use more complicated words than when they're speaking. So you won't find many “Spanish speaking chunks” in a newspaper article or a (non-) fiction book.
There are some exceptions: there are some great bilingual readers for Spanish students that contain a lot of dialogues and conversational language. These readers are actually useful.
My favorite one is the “short stories in Spanish” series from my friend Olly Richards. You can get them here:
How long does it take to learn Spanish?
It depends on the method you use and how much time you actually spend listening to the language. Learning chunks also goes much faster than learning grammar. A 12-in-12 Challenge is a great way to get started; after 12 weeks, you'll be able to have your first conversations already for sure.
See this article for some more insight in how long it takes to learn Spanish.
Can I Learn Spanish Online?
Yes, absolutely! You're often better off learning online because you create your own learning environment with the resources you're interested in. There are tons of resources online, more than you could ever find in a library, or in your textbook, or in “real life classes”. You can even find conversation partners online nowadays. My advice? Start with this Free Spanish Beginner Course I've created with my team over at Spring Spanish. You get Spanish videos, lessons with chunks and much more.