Hi guys, my name’s Andrew, and I’ve been teaching myself Spanish on and off for over 3 years now, and in the process of doing so I’ve learned an enormous amount about how to learn a foreign language on your own and Spanish in particular, and of course I’ve accumulated a very large collection of resources that I’ve found to be useful in helping me. I talked about doing a guest post with Jennie because she has expressed an interest in learning Spanish herself and also said she wanted to get more information on Spanish up on her site, and she said that a list of resources (free sites, etc.) that I particularly liked would be great, so that’s what I’ve got for you below. These are only a very small fraction of the sites and tools that I’ve tried at some point, but they’re the best ones.
Tools: Dictionaries and Translators and Conjugators, Oh My!
First and foremost is my overall favorite tool: SpanishDict.com – The dictionary is excellent and works perfectly and everything, but it’s not just that, it’s that plus the translation tool you see there directly below it that, when you enter something in it to translate, runs it through Google Translate and Yahoo!’s Babel Fish and FreeTranslation so you’ve got 3 different translations to choose from (Google’s is almost always the best), plus the verb conjugator they’ve got there that produces what are easily the best organized and easiest-to-read conjugation tables of any conjugation tool I’ve found yet (you can get to it from the main page by hovering over the ‘More’ menu and selecting ‘Conjugation’).
The Spanish dictionary is the best I’ve used, the translator is the best I’ve used, and the conjugator is the best I’ve used, hands down. Awesome tool, and it’s so nice to just have one site that I have to have bookmarked and need to refer to whenever I need to do nearly anything reference-related with Spanish.
If you’re a flashcard person (I am, now that I don’t have to actually deal with the physical ones) then you’ll love Anki: it’s something called an SRS (Spaced Repetition Software) that functions like flashcards but much, much better in that it not only eliminates the actual paper ones but also deals with which card you need to review and when by using a special algorithm that takes into account when you last reviewed it, whether you got it right, how old it is, and how many times you’ve already seen it–you’ll go from initially reviewing a card once a day for a couple sessions quickly (if you get it right) onto once every 3 then 5 then 15 then 30 days then once every couple of months, this way you can have literally thousands of words and phrases that you review, you’re never allowed to forget any of them, and reviewing them only takes 10-30 minutes a day or so depending on how many cards you have (I have about 500 right now and my average review is 15-20 cards that takes all of about 3-5 minutes per day).
Also, in case you hadn’t noticed, Smart.fm is shutting down, so there are now going to be a LOT of people out there in need of a replacement, and I’m certain that Anki will get the lion’s share of them quite easily.
I don’t think I’ve heard this anywhere else, but I will tell you right now that the best source for looking up Spanish slang is…Urban Dictionary. Seriously. Nothing beats it.
Mind you, I’m talking about looking up a slang word that you heard in Spanish–if you want to find out if there’s a Spanish slang for something you know in English then Google is your best bet: “spanish slang for _____”.
Need to know what a “rolo” is? Urban Dictionary’s got your back (it’s a Colombian slang term for someone from Bogotá). How about the oft-heard Mexican slang term “pinche“? Yup. “Majo“? Yup (2nd definition is correct). “Chiflada“? It’s there. See what I mean?
Forvo is a very interesting website, and immensely useful to language-learners. It’s sort of like a dictionary in that it’s got most of the words currently in use in a language (and they’ve got over 180 languages at the moment) but instead of giving the definition for it they give you the pronunciation…in the form of an audio recording that you can listen to instead of that IPA gibberish that no one understands, that way you can actually hear a native speaker pronouncing the word you’re looking up! How awesome is that?
General Learning Resources
My personal favorite that I’ve used forever is Ben and Marina’s Notes in Spanish where you can listen to many, many, many hours of conversation between the two of them about all sorts of interesting things, and what makes it really outstanding is the fact that they’ve got 3 sections based on difficulty: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. I can’t tell you how nice this is, each lesson not only has a conversation in actual colloquial Spanish but they also take time after each one to explain what they were talking about, go over vocab, slang, etc. The Beginner’s level has about 5 minutes of conversation and 10-15 minutes of explanation, and the conversation itself is done slowly using basic grammar and vocabulary, but it’s not textbook or childish, it really just works perfectly, you have to try it to see what I mean.
The audio lessons are completely free and that’s what I’m referring to, they also have worksheets that they charge for: although they’re very helpful, you absolutely do not need the worksheets; all they are, are transcripts of the conversation in Spanish (no English translation–that would make them worth it) with a little vocab afterward.
ChildrensLibrary.org has got 165 children’s books in Spanish available online for you to read. Do I really need to tell you what a fantastic learning tool children’s books in your target language are? They’re at a children’s reading level, they’re fun and far more interesting than a textbook, and they’re free!
Wikipedia’s section on Spanish grammar is probably all you’ll ever need, if that–there isn’t much you can’t find an adequate explanation of in there, however…I do have a Spanish grammar book that I absolutely love, it’s concise, easier to understand than any other explanation of Spanish grammar I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot), small enough to fit in a back pocket, and fairly thin (200 pages): Barron’s Spanish Grammar
The Spanish section of the BBC’s language-learning page is fantastic, tons of free videos, newscasts, radio broadcasts, lessons, etc.
On my own site I’ve got a very long list of websites where you can watch streaming Spanish-language TV for free that I highly recommend–unlike every other list I checked when putting that post together, there isn’t a dead link on there anywhere (that I know of, if you find one let me know in the comments and I’ll fix it) and I’m constantly updating it to remove sites that don’t work any more and add new ones. Most of them are TV stations and they’re all organized by country so you can pick a specific country if you’re especially interested in it. This is, by far, the most comprehensive list of such sites you’ll find anywhere online, I promise you (I know this because I looked at every other such list out there in the process of making this one).
Language exchanges can be very hit-or-miss, but they’re a fantastic (and for some people: only) way to find native speakers to practice with, plus you do it via Skype so you never have to leave the house. The one that I’ve had the best luck with, by a long ways, is The Mixxer. Keep in mind that you’ll have to message 5 or 10 people for every 1 that you manage to get to converse with you on a regular basis, but it’s extremely convenient and entirely free unlike paying for a tutor or something, and a lot of people live in an area where they just can’t find native speakers to practice with face-to-face so this sort of thing is their only option.
Mine!!! Well you knew that was coming, right? I presume that you’re doing this from home, alone, and don’t want to spend much/any money on it. I have published such fascinating and riveting articles as how to learn Spanish from Shakira’s music videos (there are two prior similar posts based on two of her other songs: Suerte and La Tortura that are linked to from that one), and the ever-popular Telenovela Method of learning Spanish.
The blog formerly known as ‘Actualidades’ but currently called Zambombazo (no clue why he did that, but anyway…): this guy is super-active, posting really good quality stuff about 2-5 times per day. What he does is use current pop-culture media like music videos, short clips of TV shows, pictures, news stories etc. that are from a Spanish-speaking culture somewhere (he does a good job of changing up the countries and giving you a good variety) and then turning it into a little mini Spanish-lesson where he has a series of questions that either you or your students are supposed to answer afterward. It’s just one guy doing all of it and the amount of work he puts into this site is just unbelievable, either he’s retired or independently wealthy, there’s no other explanation.
Fluent in 3 Months is a general language-learning blog run by ‘Benny the Irish Polyglot’ and he’s currently in the Philippines and focusing on Tagalog right now, but this is one that anyone learning any language for any reason ought to be subscribed to, Benny puts out awesome stuff and his lifestyle is fascinating and something I hope to somewhat emulate eventually: what he does is move to a new country for 3 months at a time during which he forces himself to get conversationally fluent in the local language (in 3 months, hence the name of the site). So far he’s done Irish, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and German using this particular method (he also speaks Esperanto). Fascinating stuff, good writer, and he’s walked the walk (taught himself multiple languages) and consequently earns the right to talk the talk and be taken very seriously.
I especially liked his post on ‘the smartest decision you will ever make’, which does an excellent job of explaining his philosophy on language-learning.
Spanish Only. Oh this is going to be fun: Benny (above-mentioned) and Ramses (guy who runs Spanish Only) not only use diametrically opposed methods (Benny knows that the correct way is to start speaking a language as soon as possible, Ramses religiously follows the belief that you should go through a ‘silent period’ first where all you do is listen and read) but they’ve also been at each others’ throats a bit recently (watching the back-and-forth cat fight on twitter was genuinely entertaining, haha), so I’m sure they’ll be ecstatic about seeing their sites right next to each other here. He does publish really useful stuff, though, but nowhere near as frequently as Benny (Benny publishes 3-5 times a week, Ramses is more like 2-4 times a month).
Language Fixation is another great language-learning blog that I really like due to his analytical approach and extreme emphasis on numbers, analysis, record keeping, setting very specific goals, and in particular doing a great job of keeping track of his results and then publishing them for other people to see. He’s also of the input-only-to-begin-with school like Ramses but has also published some great advice on how to get speaking practice on your own that I found to be especially insightful and valuable.
Randy over at Yearlyglot is on a similar sort of program as Benny in that he has a set time (one year) to learn each of his languages and then at the end of that year he travels to the country in question to test himself (he’s currently in Italy but has already started on Turkish which is what he’s learning for this year).
And, of course, if you’re not subscribed to Jennie’s blog, you should be (click me!)–she posts great stuff regardless of what language you’re learning.
My personal favorite regardless of what language you’re learning, and probably the biggest language-learning related forum on the internet, is HTLAL (How to Learn Any Language). Keep in mind that people there are very analytical and logical about how they go about doing things, but that has resulted in a level of quality of information that you won’t find anywhere else. I especially recommend people check out Iversen’s ridiculously long ‘Guide to Learning Languages’ (set aside a few days for that one).
Foro de Español is one that I don’t frequent much but that’s only for lack of time. It’s huge and specifically for people trying to learn Spanish (it’s the only one I know of entirely dedicated to Spanish).
Omniglot forum is in a very similar vein to HTLAL except that it’s not quite as big (though it’s still very active).
That’s it, guys. I didn’t want to do an insanely long list of every possible thing that might be useful to someone somewhere, I wanted to only recommend things that I, personally, have used and found to be really useful and valuable resources–the stuff above is probably 10% of what I’ve got in my bookmarks and such, but it’s the best. I hope you find it as valuable as I thought it was.
Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.