​Learn Spanish On Your Own

Why study another language?  In addition to the obvious cross cultural benefits, knowing another language makes us smarter, makes our brains more plastic (more able to make new neural connections) and staves off dementia (if you live long enough this last one will be important to you!)

Here I present some ideas for improving your Spanish on your own, without the benefit (or the burden) of attending a Spanish class.  The primary focus of your endeavor will be to develop your ability to understand native spoken and written Spanish and to enable you to express yourself in basic situations.

Listening comprehension and reading are the bases for the acquisition of a new language.  Remember that as child learning your first language, you had lots of time to listen before you attempted to speak.  And before anyone ever attempted to teach you to read at age 5 or 6 you already had a recognition vocabulary of between 5,0000 and 10,0000 words!  (That is the vocabulary range of a 6 year old in their native language.) Don't be impatient with yourself when you find that you can understand far more than you can produce, that is natural; your speaking and writing abilities will always lag slightly behind your ability to understand. 

You cannot expect to acquire native-like competence in a foreign language in one to two years, even if you live in the country where it is spoken. You can expect to be able to communicate with native speakers of Spanish even though you make mistakes.  Your goal should be communicative competence not grammatical perfection.  Be patient with yourself and use the activities described below to develop a working vocabulary of at least 5000 words.

Basic Language Practice

·    This site http://lingolex.com/spanish.htm has helpful lists of vocabulary and some grammar pages.  It also has many links to other sites and links to chatrooms.  Scroll down to the bottom of the homepage where it says “Friendly interactions with native Speakers”.  Several of my motivated students like this site a lot.

·    This website http://www.digitaldialects.com/Spanish.htm has vocabulary games and verb conjugation practice.  It is fairly simple but good for beginners.

·    Don Quijote is a commercial site that offers Spanish language study at over 20 Don Quijote schools in both Spain and Latin America.  The site also includes graded lessons in Spanish, Spanish word of the day, verb conjugators, games in Spanish and more. http://www.donquijote.org/spanishlanguage/

Practice with Spanish verbs and More

·         Maestro Spanish  https://maestrospanish.com/index has an easy to customize game for practicing verbs in Spanish, in any tense.  There are also numerous other resources on this site. 

Oral/Aural Practice

·    Watch TV news in Spanish...news is the easiest because it is usually somewhat familiar to informed adults.  If you are a baseball or soccer fan, watch those sports in Spanish.  Don't leave when the ads come on...that is Spanish too.

·    This free website from the University of Texas, Austin is similar to Yabla on page 3 below, but is free.  Go to http://www.laits.utexas.edu/spe/ and click on site index.  There you will find varying levels of interviews with native speakers.  There is a script available, which you can use to aid in comprehension.

·    Use this link https://learner.org/series/destinos/watch/ to watch Destinos, a Public Television series of 52 episodes that follows the lives and fortunes of a wealthy Mexican family with a secret.  This series starts in Mexico and the US and the plot takes viewers to Spain, Argentina and Puerto Rico.

·    Sign up for a local Meet-up where you can practice Spanish with both native speakers and other learners.  There are several meet-ups for Spanish conversation in Southern California .  Click here to see a partial list https://www.meetup.com/find/?allMeetups=false&keywords=Spanish+Language&radius=25&userFreeform=iRVINE&mcId=c92602&mcName=Irvine%2C+CA&sort=default

·    Use HablamosToday https://www.hablamostoday.com to listen to podcasts in slow Spanish and to access conversation sessions with native speakers from Nicaragua.  This site has very reasonable prices, as low as $2.50 for a 25-minute session.

·    Use iTalki   https://www.italki.com/home.   This site connects language learners with both native speaker teachers and conversation partners across the globe. There are three "tiers" of iTalki: 1) professional teachers, who are required to show teaching certifications. These teachers take a more curriculum-based approach, but are more expensive. 2) casual language partners are normal people looking to meet new people and earn some money. 3) Language exchanges. In these, you pair up with someone trying to learn your language, then spend half of each session in each language. These are free, but in exchange you must help someone learn English.

·    Buy CDs in Spanish or download music.  CDs often have the lyrics on the liner notes or you can find lyrics online.  Listen to the songs over and over and over and over.  Read the lyrics, teach yourself to sing along.  I recommend José Luis Orozco’s http://www.joseluisorozco.com many CDs of children’s music because the lyrics are easy, but any kind of music that you enjoy and are willing to learn the lyrics to will be beneficial.  The website for Del Sol Books, www.delsolbooks.com has both children’s literature and children’s music from three well known children’s authors: Alma Flor Ada, Isabel Campoy and Suni Paz.   If children’s music does not interest you then find music that does, and teach yourself the lyrics.  Hint: music for adults is poetry put to melody and is often quite hard.  The advantage of music for children is that it is repetitive and includes vocabulary that all native speakers know but that is rarely taught in a Spanish class for adult learners, the sort of vocabulary we all learn as children and that is part of the collective knowledge of native speakers.

Reading/Writing Practice

Reading is one of the best ways to broaden your vocabulary range and effortlessly absorb grammar.

·         You can read non-copyrighted fables, fairy tales and traditional stories online at

o   https://www.chiquipedia.com/cuentos-infantiles-cortos.

o   Large selection of poems and short stories at e-Stoies.org http://www.e-stories.org/short-stories.php.

o   You can also find animated children’s stories on YouTube.  Type in Cuentos infantiles

o   If you want to read short stories written by well-known critically acclaimed writers go to Biblioteca Digital Cuidad Seva http://ciudadseva.com/biblioteca/  This site has thousands of short stories and poems uploaded by one of Puerto Rico’s most prolific writers, Luis López Nieves

o   Newsela https://newsela.com/articles/#/rule/spanish is a site that provides current news articles written in    English and Spanish. Click on Library and then select Spanish . Each article can be read at six different levels and includes a post-reading quiz.  Articles are updated weekly. 

·    Buy La Opinión, http://www.laopinion.com the oldest Spanish language newspaper in the US.  It is available at various restaurants and fast food establishments in Orange County.  It is better that the translated version the Register puts out, called Excelsior.  Do not feel obligated to finish an article...just browse.  Classified ads are good because they are short...although these will have more "Spanglish."  The opinion section is high quality...with correspondents from all over the Spanish-speaking world.

·    Read Spanish language newspapers online.  Go to this site, Prensa Escrita  www.prensaescrita.com  for an extensive list of online newspapers from all over the Spanish speaking world.

·    Read short adapted novels in Spanish.  Leer en español is a series of these easy-to-read novels published in Spanish by Santillana.  These novels are both original works and adapted pieces of literature and many are mysteries or historical fiction.  You can access their catalog at www.santillanaele.com.  Click on “Catálogo”, then click on “Lecturas graduadas”.  Here you will see two categories: “Leer en español, adultos” and “Leer en español, primeros lectores”.   Click on a level and various titles with an accompanying synopsis will come up.  You can then search these titles on Amazon or another (used) online book source.

·    Check out the easy graded novels written by Paco Ardit.  Mr. Ardit is a Spanish professor from Spain who lives and teaches in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  He has written a series of graded novels using the A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 C2 system of levels common in Europe.  On Amazon you will be able to browse several pages to see if a novel is at a level that is right for you.  These short novels use mystery, romance and adventure for their themes. https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_10?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=paco+ardit&sprefix=pACO+aRDIT%2Cstripbooks%2C228&crid=T7SOQXYN3CGC&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Apaco+ardit

Audio Magazine Subscriptions

·    http://www.newsinslowspanish.com/ News in Slow Spanish is a weekly online news program done in audio format.  $25 a month gives you unlimited access to all their podcasts.  This is a very well done program, with high interest level.

·    http://www.thinklanguage.com/spanish/  produces and audio magazine titled Think Spanish for students at the high beginning to intermediate level. Read it online or download the print the pdf pages and then listen to the mp3 recording in your car.  A one-year subscription is $149 per year but they frequently have sales and you can get a year subscription for $99.

·    Punto y coma is a bimonthly audio magazine for high intermediate to advanced learners.  https://www.languages-direct.com/audio-magazines  Read the printed version and then listen to the mp3 or CD.  Cost £99 per year. This same site has many audio books in Spanish for advanced learners.

·    Get a subscription to Yabla, https://spanish.yabla.com/,  where for $10.00 a month you have access to hundreds of shorts and video promos in a unique software system that allows you to see the script as you listen and watch, see the English if you need it, and then play a comprehension game afterwards.  Each video is rated for difficulty.  

More ideas

·    If your child seems motivated to learn another language, check out LangoKids. They offer many levels of Spanish instruction for ages 2 to 12. http://www.langokids.com/parent/kids-language-immersion.  Here is the website for the Irvine affiliate of LangoKids. http://www.langokidsirvine.com/  There are many Spanish language internet sites that have games to play in Spanish.  Just type in Spanish language games and you will find lots.

·    Hire a native speaker (not a teacher...they want to correct you all the time!) and meet once a week for coffee and conversation.  Tell them that their job is to talk to you in Spanish at your level; perhaps that will be the level of a 2 or 3 year old.  You will typically have to tell native speakers to slow down, slow way down.  Collect photos from magazines or from the Internet and use those photos to get the native speaker to talk to you in Spanish.  Take “field trips” with them to the grocery store, to the park and have them teach you the names of as many items as they can.  Do not allow them to translate or use Spanglish with you.  If you cannot afford a tutor then arrange a trade with someone who wants to improve their English.  Spend one hour only in Spanish and then one hour only in English.

·    Above all, flood yourself with spoken and print Spanish, make it a part of your daily routine; spend 30 minutes to an hour a day on Spanish.

·    Volunteer somewhere where services are provides to immigrants, like Share Our Selves (SOS) in Costa Mesa or Catholic Relief Services or a free clinic in Santa Ana, anywhere where the clientele is mostly Spanish speaking.

Remember that learning a language is not a destination, but a journey.  We continue to learn words in our native languages all of our lives, so accept the fact that learning this new language is a lifelong endeavor.  Keep your ego out of the process; be willing to be a child again.  Make mistakes, laugh at yourself, but keep trying.  To be successful at acquiring other languages you have to have what Buddhists call “beginner mind”: the openness of a child to new information.

Remember learning a language, even our native one, is a life-long pursuit. Enjoy the journey!

Contact Jeanne Egasse
Professor of Spanish and Languages
Life-Long Language Student
Irvine Valley College



Brooke Bui, PhD
Dean, Languages & Learning Resources

O: LA 209

Erika Arendts
Sr. Admin. Assistant, Languages & Learning Resources

O: LA 207