“Joanna, do you think I can learn Spanish on my own?” – I honestly can’t remember how many times I have heard this question since I became a teacher over 20 years ago.
If you ask yourself the same thing, you’ll be happy to find out that the answer is yes.
Self-teaching a foreign language is never easy, mind you, but it most definitely is possible.
Learning Spanish by yourself – essential tips:
First of all, congrats on deciding to learn Spanish. There are so many reasons why you should!
Now, if you are entertaining the idea of learning Spanish without any formal classes, there are a few things I would like you to keep in mind:
- be kind to yourself
- slow and steady wins the race
- all the minutes add up
- grammar is a friend, not an enemy
- the Internet is filled with useful resources
- self-teaching doesn’t mean studying alone
- you can learn even when you don’t study
- language is like a table – it needs four legs
Keep reading if you want me to explain these ideas in more detail.
1. Spanish learning without a teacher – how not to get discouraged
When you endeavor to learn a new skill – whether it is playing guitar, coding, typing with all ten fingers, or speaking Spanish – you need to understand it is a process. You won’t master a complex skill in a matter of hours or days; it takes a lot of time: months, maybe years.
In the beginning, it might even feel like you are not making any progress. It is so easy to give up!
To make sure you won’t fail before reaching your goal, be realistic with your expectations, patient with your progress, and kind with yourself.
Turn “I can do it” into your new mantra.
2. Persistence and regularity is the key.
If you’ve never studied a foreign language, you might be asking yourself how much time you should dedicate to Spanish.
The answer is quite intuitive: the more, the better—ideally, a couple of hours every day.
However, I realize that in today’s fast-moving and busy world, it’s not always realistic, and there will be days you’ll find almost no time for Spanish.
It is crucial for you to remember, though, that learning a foreign language requires a hefty dose of regularity. This is why I strongly suggest you set yourself to study every day, even if it is only 15 or 20 minutes, hopefully an hour.
Trust me, frequent Spanish sessions, even if not very long, will bring you better results than studying only once a week for several hours.
Plus, if you aim at shorter study times, it’s more likely you’ll stick to your plan, stop making excuses and form a habit of daily contact with Spanish.
3. Make the best use of the time you have
Why do you want to learn Spanish on your own? One of the top answers I get when I ask this question is:
“My schedule is so irregular I couldn’t possibly commit to classes.”
It is a perfectly valid reason, and I have seen students reluctantly miss their classes because of work and family obligations.
What I want you to remember, however, is that no matter how hectic your day is, you can always squeeze in a little Spanish.
Do you commute by bus or by train? Instead of scrolling your WhatsApp messages, do some language exercises.
Are you waiting in the car for your kids to come out of school? Practice your pronunciation.
Are you queueing at the supermarket cash desk? Learn a few new Spanish words. Apps such as langkick are perfect for this.
All these extra minutes add up and help.
4. Self-teaching Spanish – how to form a strong foundation
If Spanish is the first foreign language you are learning, it might be quite challenging to wrap your mind around it and decide on a good studying strategy.
This is why I would – at least at the lower levels – recommend you to follow a course that will help you understand the drill of learning a language and the skills to be developed.
Nowadays, there are so many coursebooks and online courses available (for Latin Spanish or European Spanish) that you’ll indeed find something you like.
Don’t be afraid of grammar books either. They might be boring, I admit, but they DO clarify lots of doubts and questions you’d otherwise drag with you along the way.
Learning Spanish is like building a house – once you have strong foundations, you’re good to start adding everything else.
5. Take advantage of a variety of resources
It is much easier to learn a foreign language today than it was, let’s say 30 years ago. Back then, students would rely only on printed books, cassettes with listening exercises, perhaps language study magazines, and little more.
Home computers were scarce; the Internet was still crawling.
The technological leap that has been made since then has opened a whole world of new possibilities for Spanish learners.
The amount of resources you now have to learn Spanish by yourself is incomparably more generous.
Language apps and software, podcasts, Spanish forums or blogs, e-books, youtube tutorials with English subtitles – you name it. The internet is packed with useful resources, and many of them are entirely free.
Tips from experienced teachers or fellow students, advice on the Instagram, pronunciation, and vocabulary practice from native speakers – everything you need to succeed is at your fingertips.
The better advantage you take of all these resources, the faster you’ll speak Spanish.
6. Studying Spanish by yourself? Find a partner!
Why is it that you want to learn Spanish? Are you planning a holiday in a Spanish-speaking country? Or perhaps your business partners or clients speak this language?
No matter what a specific reason is, language learning, unlike other subjects, is almost always about communication.
When you study with a Spanish teacher, it is them you communicate with: you exchange questions, improvise dialogues, exchange ideas for a project, and such. This is how the language you gradually acquire fulfills its ultimate goal.
But what if you decide to study by yourself? Who do you communicate with?
Having a study partner or study group makes Spanish learning much more effective, which is why I am a huge advocate of finding one.
You don’t know anybody who wants to speak this language? Don’t panic.
There are plenty of ways.
- Facebook – look for Spanish learning groups in your country or your city; I’m sure you’ll find at least one. Some of them even organize real meetings where they practice their language skills in an informal context.
- Reddit – it has several Spanish learning communities where ideas and tips are exchanged daily.
- Language exchange – a win-win deal. All you have to do is to find a native Spanish speaker or someone who knows the language well and wishes to improve his or her English. You can either meet in person or online.
Apart from the communicational advantage of studying Spanish with a partner, it will also be a fantastic opportunity to motivate each other, set common goals, and learn from one another. And it is more fun too!
7. Learning Spanish effortlessly
The greatest thing about acquiring a foreign language is that you can learn it without even studying.
By “studying,” I mean those traditional concepts like attending classes, doing homework, and other activities that we commonly associate with tedious and tiresome.
How is that possible?
Think of the way children learn the language. Without ever doing as much as a single grammar exercise, most of them can communicate in simple sentences by the age of three.
What is their learning process?
Of course, learning a foreign language as an adult is much more complicated, but imitation still plays a relevant role.
An excellent source of new vocabulary, grammar structures, correct intonation, and pronunciation are movies, series, and songs.
Modern online streaming services like Netflix have made it possible for their subscribers to watch international movies and series in their original versions.
Isn’t it an excellent tool for someone who is learning Spanish by themselves?
Entertained by the plot, you will hardly notice you are practicing your listening comprehension and learning tons of new “real-life” vocabulary.
Learning Spanish through music is even more fun! Lyrics are packed with useful phrases and words, and as you listen to them over and over again, they simply stick in your memory.
8. Make sure to practice all the necessary Spanish skills
When learning a foreign language, it is imperative to balance your study time among four skills that will later reflect your proficiency.
These skills are:
- listening comprehension
- reading comprehension
I realize it is tempting to focus only on speaking, which – as my students tend to believe – is the most “useful” skill. You should understand, however, that there is no fluent speaking without good listening comprehension skills.
By neglecting reading in Spanish you deprive yourself of one of the greatest vocabulary-learning tools. Even beginners can read books in Spanish!
Not knowing what words in this language actually look like, how they spell, you will only make it harder for you to progress.
Besides, if you ever wish to certify your level of Spanish through an international test, mastering all the four skills is a must.