In preparation for our South America journey we’ve been learning Spanish for the last six months. As we were saving for our trip we didn’t want to pay out for expensive classes (we’d rather spend the money on lessons here in Buenos Aires) so we used a number of free language learning resources. Most of these tips can apply to all languages, not just Spanish, so if you want to learn a language then why not give these a go?
Pimsleur is actually an expensive course to buy, but we borrowed ours from the local library. It’s a comprehensive audio-only course consisting of three levels each with 30 x 30 minute lessons, one per day. It’s very easy to fit the lessons into your life as you can listen to them while you commute to work, do the washing up, or walk the dog.
The Pimsleur method was created after years of research and is very simple: you just listen and repeat what the native speakers say, and you are then tested while having a conversation with them. The vocabulary is repeated in a way that you learn it naturally in context, rather than having to memorise lists of words.
We found the Pimsleur course an easy way to learn Spanish and going through each of the three levels has given us a good basis in the language. Even if you are just going somewhere for a short holiday, spending the month beforehand doing Level 1 will give you the basics to get by. Read here for a full review of the Pimsleur courses.
NOTE: We have since discovered a much better beginner/intermediate Spanish course called Bueno Entonces. It’s very entertaining and teaches you Spanish the way it is really spoken in Latin America. Read our full review here.
If you are learning or want to learn a language then definitely check out the Fluent in 3 Months website. Benny the Irish Polyglot speaks eight languages, even though he wasn’t good at languages in school. Now every three months he moves to a new country to learn the language – Czech, Portuguese and Thai have been his missions so far. His blog posts are always amusing and are packed full of useful language learning tips.
Benny has a very positive attitude towards learning languages. He thinks everyone can do it and shares his secrets including how to make time if you are busy, memory techniques and using couchsurfing to practice with natives in your own home. His biggest tip for reaching fluency quickly is not speaking English, which is something we’ll have to try in South America.
A good starting point is his post How to Speak a Language Pretty Well Starting From Scratch in Just Two Months , but I recommend subscribing to the site for regular free inspiration and motivation.
Note: Benny has now released the very useful Language Hacking Guide.
After completing Pimsleur Level 2 Spanish I was looking for more listening practice. Show Time Spanish is a series of 40 x 25 minute intermediate level podcasts. Act 1 features a conversation between the two presenters at normal speaking speed, and Act 2 is in English and looks at grammar points used in the conversation. In between there are a number of other tips to take your Spanish to the next level. Each lesson is entertaining and useful, and I’ve found that it really does push my skills.
The podcasts are free but I was tempted by the extra study materials you can buy. If you are a beginner, there are 80 short lessons in the Coffee Break Spanish course. Like Pimsleur, the audio content means you can fit your learning easily around your life.
Although you do learn grammar in the Pimsleur lessons, you do it naturally without knowing the reasons why. Some extra grammar work is needed to reach fluency. Practice Makes Perfect Spanish Verb Tenses is a practical grammar exercise book by Dorothy Richmond. She explains the formation and usage of each of the tenses in an easy to understand way and gives you plenty of exercises to practice them. You even learn new vocabulary along the way. This popular but inexpensive book is essential for a Spanish learner.
Breaking Out of Beginner’s Spanish by Joseph J Keenan is a book we borrowed from the library, but would definitely have considered buying it if we weren’t leaving. If you have basic Spanish this book features hundreds of tips to help you speak more fluently and colloquially, like a native speaker. It’s fun to read and includes an introduction to slang and swearing as well as verb usage, common mistakes, snappy phrases and comebacks. It focuses on Latin American Spanish which was perfect for us. I would recommend this book if you want to take your Spanish to a new level of fluency.
Another inexpensive and fun way to study Spanish is to listen to your favourite Spanish language music, find the lyrics on the internet (google is your friend) and try singing along. You can even try translating them although this is tricky for beginners. My favourites are Ojos de Brujo and Lila Downs.
Note: We have now written a detailed post about using singing to learn Spanish.
Other Free Resources
We haven’t used these yet but you could also try:
- BBC Languages has a range of resources, mainly aimed at beginners.
- Live Mocha offer various course levels both free and paid for in 35 languages, and has a social media element where you can interact with native speakers.
- Open Culture lists free podcasts in many different languages.
Don’t miss Part 2: More Cheap & Useful Resources for Learning Spanish.
See our favourite resources page for the best tools and gear to help you plan your trip.
What are your favourite language learning resources? Leave a comment and let us know.