How To Learn Spanish

The best way to learn Spanish effectively requires you to find a way to learn correct pronunciation, a frequency dictionary to form your base vocabulary, and a good grammar book. You’ll also benefit from a thematic vocabulary book for specialized vocabulary, and maybe a book or two, once you learn your first 1,000 words. Make sure you read our Method articles for top advice and tips, then check out some of these recommended resources (pictures are links).

Learn Spanish with these resources

1. Pronunciation

Note: As a faster (and more effective) alternative to the following pronunciation resources, check out my Kickstarter project. It will make the first steps of Spanish much easier for you because it takes advantage of how your brain works (and how to re-wire it) in a way that traditional tools just can’t.  

Pronounce It Perfectly in Spanish book cover

First off, get a feel for how pronunciation works in English. The video tutorials here should help.

Once you understand that, start working on Spanish. The Pronounce It Perfectly series comes with audio CDs and all the pronunciation rules, and I’ve yet to see one that wasn’t excellent. (Note: The Spanish version appears to be out of print and very hard to get nowadays. Pronounce It Perfectly in Spanish is currently $200 used. At the moment, our best recommendation is to use our trainers, but let us know if there’s an additional resource we can recommend and we’ll add it!)

If you want to jump to free internet resources, check out the Spanish Pronunciation Wikibook, Wikipedia’s Spanish Phonology page, and StudySpanish.com’s pronunciation guide with recordings.

There are also some Anki flashcards for Spanish to improve your pronunciation, such as the Spanish alphabet, Spanish IPA, and other useful goodies.

If you’re a native English speaker, you’ll need to learn to hear and pronounce these consonants: β (bebé), ɣ (trigo), ʝ (ayuno), x (jamón), ʎ (pollo), ɲ (cabaña), r (carro), and ɾ (caro). You’ll have a pretty easy time with the vowels. There are basically only 5 of them: a (azahar), e (vehemente), i (dimitir), o (boscoso), u (cucurucho). You’ll need to get rid of your English diphthongs for “o” and “e” (we don’t really say “o”; we go “oh-uu”), and you’ll need a brighter “a.” All three of these issues show up in French, too. I discuss them in the French vowel video, so at least until I make a video series on Spanish, just watch the French stuff and ignore the blabbering about nasal vowels, since you don’t need those. All of the other sounds in the language should be familiar to your ears and your mouth.

If you have more questions about Anki and learning Spanish, there’s also the Anki language learners community on Reddit. You can even check out this Anki language learning blog for other Anki tips and tricks for learning Spanish.

2. Your base vocabulary

Frequency Dictionaries: Spanish book cover

I’ve made a base vocabulary list of words to start you off! As I talk about in that article, I find it easiest to translate those words using the short dictionaries at the end of a Lonely Planet phrasebook: they’re cheap, short, and they give you good, standard translations for your words (just ignore the ridiculous pronunciation guides). Later, when you’re ready for sentences, you can go back to your phrasebook and grab some. After that, try some of these resources:

The Routledge Frequency Dictionaries series is excellent, with example uses and everything. Get this at the beginning to direct your vocabulary work!

Mastering Spanish Vocabulary book cover

The Mastering Vocabulary series is a wonderful set of books that contain core vocab for just about any field/topic you can think of. They’re great for adding to your vocab once you get your first 1,000 or 2,000 words from a frequency list. In terms of free resources, Wordsgalore has a decent list with translations of the top 1,000 with mp3 recordings. They’re not in frequency order, but that’s not a big deal. You should know at least the top 1,000 anyways.

You can also get a hold of Spanish Anki decks to improve your Spanish vocabulary, such as the Spanish alphabet and Spanish Top 2000 Words, among many other flashcard decks.

Practical Spanish Grammar book cover

Online, you should be able to find a neat set of sentences that are ranked based upon how frequently the words within those sentences show up within the language, then create Anki decks to store them, with Text-to-Speech recordings of each sentence and translations. They’re a nice resource to mine for useful content. I’d suggest finishing the 625, then looking through them in order for new words or new grammatical constructions, and then learning those new chunks via New Word cards, New Word Form cards, and Word Order cards.

3. Grammar book

There are a lot of options here and, so far, my pick would be Practical Spanish Grammar. (Note: Though I recommend the book, it does have some errors.)

4. Book-type book

You can read anything that you enjoy. I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter series in translation, especially if you can find an audiobook version to listen to at the same time as reading.

Harry Potter y la piedra filosofa book cover

5. Other resources

Typing

You’ll need to be able to type a few new characters (á, é, í, ó, ú, ü, ñ, ¿ and ¡). There’s a great, straightforward article on this at Spanishdict.com, with instructions for Macs and PCs.

Monolingual dictionary

Assimil Spanish book cover

Once you learn enough Spanish, move to a monolingual dictionary. RAE’s Diccionario de la Lengua Española is free and excellent. Linguee is a lovely dictionary resource, in that it shows you multiple example sentences for each word and tells you about each word’s relative frequency in the language. (This is currently available in English, Spanish, German, French, and Portuguese.)

Assimil

The Assimil series is a sort of special language learning resource that I discuss in this blog post. It doesn’t quite fit into any of the categories above, and I think it works best as a sort of supplemental source of Spanish input. Here’s the beginner Spanish version with CDs.

Dictionarist

Dictionarist provides translations, example sentences, conjugations, and synonyms for a number of languages including Spanish.

Spanish IPA

Sometimes, when languages are very phonetic and regular, they just assume that writing out the spellings is adequate for everyone’s needs. Thankfully, languages with really regular phonetics lend themselves well to computer programs, so often you can find a spelling to IPA converter for those, and there IS one for Spanish.

Just plug in your word and you should get IPA for whatever you need. If you’re doing multiple words, be aware that the converter will assume you’re writing a sentence and change the IPA accordingly (so “grande” is [gˈɾande], but if it’s in a sentence, it will typically turn into [ˈɣɾande], since that “g” is surrounded by voiced sounds on both sides).

There’s also a great Spanish IPA deck for Anki that you can use to familiarize yourself with all the unique IPA and the sounds of Spanish, according to their letter combinations in Spanish words.

6. Speaking practice

Spanish language immersion programs

We have information on language immersion programs on this page. For Spanish specifically, there is a tremendous thread about immersion programs in Latin America up at Reddit, so check that out. The first suggestion is pretty awesome at $750 for an entire month of private lessons and lodging in Costa Rica. Also, this program in Peru is pretty neat. It’s run by an NGO that teaches single mothers how to be Spanish teachers. In general, you’re looking at ~$7.50-9.50/hour for private classes, and $90/week for homestays (food included), which works out to around $1,000/month for 20 hours of weekly private classes, food, and lodging (see this post for details). Also check out the Escuelas Oficiales de Idiomas in Spain. Every little community has its own school and they’re public (i.e., cheap). Eventually, it’d be nice to have reviews of each little school. If you’ve been to one (or know someone who has), let me know and I’ll add it here!

rae.es has minimal etymology information.

7. Try the Fluent Forever app

By the way, did you know the book is now an app? You can check out the Fluent Forever app right here to give your Spanish language learning a boost.

Discover our immersive method rooted in neuroscience, designed to take you to fluency in < 30 minutes a day through four steps:

  1. Train your ears with pronunciation lessons
  2. Learn vocabulary through images instead of translations
  3. Learn grammar naturally through stories relevant to you
  4. Practice your speech to fluency with native tutors

Ready to start your journey to Spanish fluency? Download our Fluent Forever app right now!