How to Learn Spanish by Yourself ?


This site is written in 5 languages (you can confirm this in the home page). Everything is written personally by me in all the five languages.
Two of these languages (Spanish and Italian), I have learned by myself, without going to school (to the other 3 languages, I was exposed during youth, with schools). So now I’m going to share my experience and give you some advices about learning a language on your own and what to expect.

There’s not a magic and fast way to learn a language

Sorry to disappoint you about that. I know that you can find on the Internet a lot of sites promising you to learn a language in just one month thanks to a special method that is better and faster than traditional schools. It’s all bullshit.
Do you really believe that the traditional schools are stupid and not aware of the available teaching methods ?
Learning a new language is a long process and a gradual one. It is something that take years. Of course that you can manage something in just a few months, but it is usually not enough and if you will not continue to learn and practice and be exposed to the language, you will forget everything.
If you don’t believe me, then ask adults around you about the time it took them to learn a new language, it is usually years and not months.
Every language has its own philosophy and its own way to see the world, a translation between languages is not straightforward. It takes some time to get accustomed to a new language and there is also a lot of Vocabulary and Grammar to learn.

Is it possible to learn a new language as an adult ?

Yes, of course. Childs of about 4 years old are very good at learning languages. For adults, it is more difficult but very possible. Don’t be preoccupied about this issue because there’s nothing you can do about getting older, just do your best. You can make yourself some “discounts” about the goals of learning a new language (read the next 3 points).

Forget about having the right accent

People are too obsessed about acquiring the right accent of the new language. It is a mistake in my opinion for two reasons :
  1. It is an unrealistic goal and a very frustrating one.
  2. You don’t really need the right accent, it’s not a priority.
It is better to concentrate on things you can control, like learning the vocabulary and grammar. The accent, on the other hand, is something much more difficult to acquire and even people who immigrated to a new country at the age of 12 years old, they still have their original accent, in most cases.
So, forget about the accent, at least at the beginning. It will be totally OK if you will speak the new language with a foreign accent. People come from different origins, after all.
I am sure that when I speak Italian, people guess that I am not Italian, and it’s fine with me, I can still enjoy Italy and Italian food.

Do you need to speak the new language or just read and write ?

Your answer is probably : I want to be able to speak, read and write in the new language.
I’m raising this point because for most people, it is much easier to read (and write) in a new language than to speak it. It is even truer, if you want to learn the new language by yourself and not by visiting a school where you can practice speaking with people.
Life is full of compromises. It would be foolish to renounce learning a new language, just because you feel uncomfortable speaking it.
Being able to read and write a new language is already a good opening to endless possibilities, like being able to work in some jobs and being exposed to the new culture and read newspapers.
With time, you will also be able to speak the language, but being able to understand and read a new language is also great, so start with something.
Of course that when learning a new language, you practice all aspects of it, including speaking and including pronouncing with the right accent. It's just that you may find that speaking is a more difficult task because in a conversation you need to find the words quickly as opposed to reading where you just need to recognize the words.

Filter what you learn the first year

Vocabulary : If you will look at the dictionary for every word you don't understand in a text, you will soon get annoyed and irritated from the project of learning a new language.
Search only words that seem to repeat themselves frequently and look important. See on this page, how to store these new words and memorize them.
Grammar : See if you can ignore some aspects of the language the first year. For example, in Italian there is the "past simple" tense, which is used mainly in literature and not in everyday conversations, so I ignored it the first year (I could recognize it, but not use it).
Old texts : Avoid sophisticated and old sources of the language. They are complicated and not used in normal conversations. I mean poetry, classic books etc.

Consider going to a language school

Learning by yourself can be fine but a real school has some advantages :
  1. Social interaction
  2. Motivation
  3. Speaking practice
While we are busy with our smartphones, we forget the human interaction in our lives. Learning in a language school can be fun and a good opportunity to meet people. The fact that you need to arrive to the class at certain hours, puts your studies in a framework and partly solves the issue of motivation. You also practice oral speaking at the school, something that is much more problematic when you study by yourself. 

How to find the Motivation for learning a new language ?

Learning a new language requires a lot of efforts and if you will not be motivated somehow, you will probably not succeed to speak the new language.
There are several situations that can keep you motivated :
  1. You feel an attraction to the language (you love it) : This is the most important point in my opinion. I may decide, for example, that it could be useful for me to know Chinese, but I also know that I have little chance to achieve this goal because I am not specially attracted to the language and don’t like to listen to Chinese songs. On the other hand, I succeeded to learn Italian because I like Italian culture and Italian songs, so I could practice (with fun) and learn. If you will not feel attracted to the language, you may have a blockage that will considerably slow your learning. Maybe, (just maybe), an attraction to the country or the people (of the language you want to learn) can be enough as a motivator.
  2. You have a serious goal you want to achieve, like immigrating to a country or work with the specific language.
  3. You are naturally exposed to the language, for example you live in that country.

Learning alone compared to going to a real school - the Motivation issue

People are different and so learning alone may be easy and suitable for some and very difficult to others. In my opinion, if you are not attracted naturally to the language, then it's better to go to a real school where you will be in a suitable environment with a certain structure, the chances of success are much higher. Or, you can combine : start on your own and continue with a school (and vice versa).

So, what is the way to learn a language by yourself ?

The secret is to be constantly exposed to the language (see later how).
You need to be committed to it and do some sacrifices during the daily life.
If you are used to read news and watch TV in your native language, so now you will have to do it in the new language. The available time we have during the day is limited, so you will have to give up on doing some activities in your native language, for a while.
Learning twice a week, for several hours, is not enough in my opinion, especially if you have a bad memory like me. The best is to be immersed all the time into the new language with normal activities like reading news, watching TV and singing songs (yes, you can sing).
You must arrive to a “non return point” with the new language, a point in which you will not give up, anymore. 

Possible ways to be exposed to Spanish and learn by yourself

Luckily, today, thanks to technology, we can be exposed to a language that we want to learn, without living in that country. We can virtually “live” in the country we want. Just 20 years ago, when you were learning a new language  and wanted to taste a little bit of it, you needed to go to a kiosk and buy an expensive foreign newspaper (if it was available at all in your country) but today you can easily read the newspaper on the internet. You can also listen to foreign radios and watch foreign TV channels on the internet. You can do all this on your Smartphone (or laptop), you just need an internet connection.
So here is a list of possible ways to be exposed to Spanish. The important thing is to combine the ways, use whatever keep you busy in the new language. When you are bored with one way, move to another.

1. Using a learning language method

The learning methods come in several forms and they use audio and text (sometimes also video) to teach a language. They also use your microphone to make you repeat what you hear. Some of the methods are better than others, so read the opinion of users, for each product.
Applications for the smartphone
Go to your "Play Store" or "Apple store" and search for "Spanish learning method". Some of the methods are free, at least the basic version. There is an excellent (free) application called Duolingo.
Methods with CDs and Books
Look here on Amazon, especially Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur. Amazon can send this kind of product worldwide. Some of the products have the audio in form of MP3, it's convenient for downloading and using on different devices on the go (smartphone, MP3 player etc), otherwise you need to be near a CD player.
See what features you can expect in a learning method.
Methods online (Internet)
It's the same idea as the CD, but you get access to the material via a website, with a username and password.
On this site (
You will find basic Spanish vocabulary with audio.

2. Going to a real school

Much better than learning alone. Do it if you can, you will meet people.

3. Listening to Songs

This is by far, my preferred method, a very useful one. Songs are something that you get addicted to, it's something that you tend to repeat on and on, then you get curious about specific words and you search their meaning in the dictionary (on the internet, of course).
That's basically how I have learned Italian, by singing.
You can find Spanish songs, on this site, with translation to English.

3. Watching TV

Very easy now via Internet. See the sites page, for links.

4. Reading Internet sites

There are the news site, of course. They are good because the content is updated constantly, so it is not boring and you can read a lot and learn.
Try also to browse into less formal sites, in order to experience every day language used by people. You could read the comments of people on articles, they surely use an every day language. See the sites page, for links to Spanish sites.

5. Reading Books

One advantage I found with books over websites (for learning a language), is when they are written in the "first person" (I did like that, I feel like that...). It is important to get used to the first person because that's what you mostly use in real life for speaking. In websites, on the other hand, the news are written in an abstract way (there was a fire...).
Another advantage is when the book is interesting and it keep you busy with the new language.
Choose books with modern and simple language.

6. Talking with Humans

A good way to practice speaking. Find humans who speak Spanish and pretend you want to be their friend.

7. Writing a diary

This is funnier and easier that making simple exercises for learning a language. With exercises (grammar etc), you may feel like if you are making homework at school, it's difficult to be motivated sometimes.
With a diary, it's different, you are writing for yourself and it forces you to look at the dictionary to search for words.
For better effect write it on real paper instead of a computer, it works better on the memory.
Also writing a blog on the Internet, is an excellent idea for practicing a new language.

8. Talking to yourself

You describe (to an imaginary friend) what you did today or what you are doing now or planning for tomorrow and any general thought about any subject. You can do it while strolling in the nice streets.
It's not easy, it requires a lot of discipline and concentration (beware if you are driving a car). Like when writing a diary or talking to a real person, this is an active phase, you need to find the words. Of course that you will need some assistance from time to time, so you need also a smartphone connected to the Internet and when you are not sure about a word or sentence you use Google translate.

9. Living in a Spanish speaking country (like Spain) for a while

This is great to be in an environment with the language you want to learn, but the learning will not be done by itself. The best is to learn theory in parallel to the stay in Spain (in school or by yourself). Like this, your learning is reinforced, from many angles.
See about Spanish Speaking Countries.

10. Marying a Spanish

This is extreme but it works, you learn Spanish. is not responsible for anything that will happen to you.

Using Internet tools

There are many tools available online (like dictionaries) that can help you learn a language. I want to mention two very useful ones :

Google Translate

You need some experience to get the maximum out of this wonderful tool (link : Google Translate).
You cannot trust at 100 % a translation tool, it cannot always guess what you mean, so you need to "play" with it a little bit in order to get the best results. You need to have some notions in the target language, in order to judge if the result is acceptable. The tool helps you to "remember" things you already should know.
When you do a translation : at the destination language, you can click on the text and you will get alternative translations.
On the source language : try to rephrase the text in other ways, then you will get other translations, and you will choose the one you like. If you know well other languages (except the source and destination), then you can try to write the source in another language, you may receive other translations.
The Audio : There is an icon with a loudspeaker (at the source language and at the target language), so you can listen to the text, very useful for beginners. This feature is not available for all languages, yet.

Google Search

It can help you decide between two language alternatives. Here how :
Let's say you are not sure if the correct form is : "I want to go" or "I wants to go". So Instead of looking for the answer at a grammar book (you need to find the book first and then you need also to find the right section in the book, not easy sometimes), you can use Google search instead.
Do a search in Google (twice, for both sentences) with the quotation mark at the beginning and ending of the phrase.
The quotation mark is important, it tells Google that you want to find only the results with these exact words, in the same order of words.
In the result, Google will tell you how many phrases like this he has found.
Compare the two numbers. The correct phrase should receive the highest number (more people wrote articles with the correct form of the phrase).
This is not exact science, but it is very fast. You may need sometimes also to look at some specific results in the search result in order to be sure your conclusion is the right one.
For example :
For "I want to go"  Google says he found : About 273,000,000 results
For "I wants to go" Google says he found : About 329,000 results
So the first number, is much higher, it is probably the correct form. After I look a little bit at the results I decide that there are 329,000 people in the world who don't know English and the correct form is the first one.

How to store and memorize the new words you learn

If you are a “Smartphone man” :
I found the following method to be good (fast and easy to use):
  1. dictionary exampleCreate a new folder in your photo gallery on your smartphone. Name the new folder “new words”, for example.
  2. While you look in the dictionary (online dictionary) for the meaning of a new word, make a “print screen” (a screenshot). You should look how to do a “print screen” for your specific smartphone (for example, in my android, I have to press simultaneously the power button and the home button).
  3. After you did a “print screen”, a photo is created automatically in your “screenshots” folder.
  4. Move this photo from your “screenshots” folder to the “new words” folder that you have created in step 1.
  5. That’s it. Now you have a folder with the new words (jpg photos) that you encountered during the year. It is very easy to browse these photos. Look at this folder from time to time, in order to memorize the new words.
  6. In addition to making “screenshots of your online dictionary, you can also screenshot a comment you write in the “Memo” utility of your smartphone (the utility where you can write notes). You can write comments regarding grammar rules etc.
  7. You can also use your camera in your smartphone for taking pictures of ads in the city or a sentence in a newspaper that you find interesting and you want to memorize. Move the photo in your“new words” folder.
If you are a “notebook man” :
  1. notebook exampleBuy a nice small notebook from the store.
  2. Draw a Turtle on the cover of the notebook, so that you will fall in love with this notebook and look inside it from time to time (you can draw other animals).
  3. Write in each page a new word that you want to memorize, with its meaning (you look at the dictionary) and the phrase where you found this word (that’s how you will encounter new words that interest you, by reading articles on websites).

What features could exist in an Online learning Method ?

You don't need all of these but varied features can motivate you to practice and learn more, here are some:
  • Audio - Important, choose a method that contains recorded native Spanish people, spelling words and sentences.
  • Video clips - If you like watching videos and it makes you remember better the language, choose a learning method that includes videos, but MP3 audio is more important, you can take it on the go and practice.
  • Interactive Dictionary - As you move the cursor over any text, an English translation is displayed.
  • Exercises and Testing
  • Games - That will include the learnt material
  • Grammar lessons - Some methods will teach you the fundamental Grammar rules of the language but most of them will focus on the vocabulary.
  • Different learning levels - Be aware of the level of studies your learning method is destined for. (the simple categorization is: Beginners. Intermediate, Advanced). Most of the methods are for beginners without any knowledge of the language.
  • Live support - Some methods will include a way to communicate with a teacher in order to assist in the learning. 

Spanish Speaking Countries

There are many countries in which Spanish is the official language like Spain and most of the countries in South America. There are also countries where Spanish is not official but an important part of the population is speaking it, like the United States. There are countries where a dialect of Spanish is spoken (creole).
For a full list of spanish speaking countries with population numbers see here in Wikipedia.

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