Learn Spanish

After two years in Mexico I can now speak passable Spanish. It hasn’t been easy, but living in a Spanish speaking country and having to speak the language is nice. Like anything else in life, you can get a teacher or learn for yourself.

For short periods of time I attended Spanish schools in Mexico, Bolivia, and Ecuador. The best was the week I spent at a professional but cheap school in Guatemala. It´s called CBA Spanish School and I highly recommend it. Before that, years ago I was forced to take boring high school and university classes. If you want to learn on your own, you have to approach it from several fronts.

I study a lot with music. Throw the song on the ipod, download the lyrics, and use an online translator. Don’t translate whole sentences. It will come out as nonsense. Go word by word. Be aware that Spanish has a lot of slang and words with a double meaning. But that’s what you get from songs that you won’t find in a book. There’s a lot of great music in Mexico. Recently I’ve been listening to Los Tigres del Norte – good political stuff.

Another great way to develop your listening ability is to listen to Spanish podcasts. You can listen to real ones, which will be hard for a beginner, or one of the many podcasts specifically made for learning the language. In the iTunes store, change your country to Mexico or Spain or whatever type of Spanish you want and search for podcasts. They are free.

For podcasts about learning Spanish use iTunes U (do you know about this resource? Free university courses). Or do a google search. Many are made by non-native Spanish speakers and have way too much chatting in English. The best I have heard is this one by a Spanish teacher in Spain.

Then get a book and do grammar exercises. Put in the grunt work. One of the hardest things about Spanish – a big difference from English – are the verb conjugations. Verbs change for every person (I, you, she, we, etc.) and every tense (past, present, etc. – including several that don’t exist in English, like imperfect, pluperfect, and the frustrating subjunctive tenses). You’ve got your work cut out for you. The best book I’ve seen is Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish.

¡Click the book!

Finally, most importantly, you’ve got to be speaking. Try to get a language exchange. Or, make a very affordable investment and travel and/or study in Latin America. I’ve traveled a bit in Asia and Europe and a lot in the US and Canada, but I think I love Latin America most of all.

I will write some short articles about studying Spanish on this blog. Check the “categories” menu on the right.

Thanks for reading, and please comment! Do you speak Spanish? Have you studied abroad? Or would you like to?


About Ted Campbell

U.S.-Canadian writer, translator and university teacher in Mexico. Travel stories and practical tips on my blog No Hay Bronca: nohaybronca.wordpress.com Twitter: @NoHayBroncaBlog // Contact: nohaybroncablog (at) gmail.com

Posted on April 8, 2012, in education, Learning Spanish and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Thanks for tips! I have a lot of problems with my Spanish but I could also try to study with music…

  2. wow. LOVE this blog! I live in Oaxaca and went to Roca Blanca Spanish School near Puerto Escondido. It was excellent. I live in a small village and am trying to improve my Spanish by speaking it all day long. It’s still hard, 3 years later, but I think by year 5 I may have it down. As you know, there’s a ton of detail to language learning that goes way beyond comfortable daily communication. People in the village are constantly shortening and combing words, for example, and the cultural piece is huge.
    I have the book you recommended which is also GREAT, but if I remember right the author omitted the “tú” verb conjugation and has you speak to another using “usted”…always. This is acceptable I suppose, but messed me up understanding others, so I had to unlearn-it to speak to my friends (tú) in the same way they speak to me.
    Thanks for this exceptional blog. Sooo interesting!!!

    • Thanks so much for your kind words! I have trouble understanding people in Oaxaca. But living in a small village is the best way to learn Spanish. A book is just backup, a resource.

  3. I also studied Spanish in Guatemala. It was very cheap and the teachers were great. I think back then I paid around 120 USD a week for 5 hour lessons a day and room and board. It was great and I learned a lot.

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