Learning Spanish

To my knowledge in learning a language there are four basic skills . . . and a fifth one:

  1. reading
  2. speaking
  3. writing
  4. listening
  5. conversing – I add this as a separate fifth because it requires the skillful combination of real-time listening and speaking. If text messaging, you’ll combine reading and writing, though at a slower pace than live conversation.

You will also need to learn vocabulary (words, verb conjugation, etc.) and grammar (sentence structure).

  • Your vocab will grow as you consume content and learn words with tools like Language ReactorSpanish Dict, and Toucan. You can also use Anki if you want to learn words faster.
  • You can effectively learn grammar with Language Transfer . . . but it’s not like you remember learning grammar in school 😉

The following are the methods I have used to strengthen these skills and grow my knowledge. Farther down you’ll find the resources I’ve used.

Methods / Ways to Study

I have listed the following methods roughly in order of how useful they’ve been to me.

Language Transfer – Learn to Think & Speak in Spanish

This is one of my most valued resources. Big thanks to Mihalis Eleftheriou for the free, high-quality content: Language Transfer. I found it so helpful that I created a blog post about Language Transfer.

  • You can either listen to the lessons online, or download the course to your device like I did.
  • This method is super simple: just listen to the course and do what Mihalis says.
  • Listen to the explanation and question, pause the audio, think it through, answer, and repeat. No writing, no memorizing – The Thinking Method.
  • The more time you invest the more you’ll learn, but I’d suggest spending only as much time during which you can focus well.
  • Consistency is key; 20-30 minutes 6 days a week over 2-3 months will do wonders for your understanding and ability to speak.


If you want to sound Spanish, you have to listen carefully to native speakers and mimic their accent over and over without reservation; but don’t let difficulty in pronunciation keep you from moving forward with the rest of your learning.

Here are a few good resources to help with pronunciation. There are two main ways to improve your accent:

  1. Deliberately practice the Sounds of Spanish by listening to and repeating each sound.
    • Getting feedback from a native speaker is also tremendously valuable, as your ear usually hasn’t yet been trained to discern the nuances.
  2. Listen to content and mimic the accent; music is a favourite of mine.
    • WARNING: you may feel silly at first 😛
    • Speaking another accent can feel like acting, playing another role, pretending to be someone you’re not; that’s just part of the process. Embrace it and step into your Spanish self! Practicing alone or with others you feel comfortable with should assist your boldness.
  • There are many different Spanish accents. It’s useful to pick one and focus on learning it. The major categories are Latin American Spanish and Castilian Spanish from Spain. I’ve focused on learning Latin American Spanish because I’m more interested in travelling Latin America than Spain. Even within Latin American Spanish there are many accents. I enjoy Colombian and Mexican Spanish.
  • Tongue twisters (los trabalenguas) are a fun and challenging way to nail down those tricky sounds.
  • It is helpful to listen to a phrase, pause the audio, and repeat the phrase mimicking the accent as closely as possible; do this over and over (BLB Bible audio and 123 Teach Me are useful resources for this exercise).

Bible Study – Reading & Listening

This is one of my preferred choices for consuming Spanish for two reasons:

  1. The audio and text content available for English and Spanish Bibles is fantastic quality; having micro-control over playing, pausing, and replaying the audio makes this methods feels the most productive for me.
  2. I love the Bible: it gives wisdom, life, and knowledge of salvation.

I use two different approaches to study Spanish with the Bible.

Immediate Translation

This method is very agile and time-flexible with a focus on improving listening comprehension; it works most conveniently with Language Reactor paired with the BLB website audio.

  1. Find and copy the passage you wish to study into Language Reactor.
  2. Find the audio for the passage and place it in a separate window.
  3. Read a phrase in English, then immediately play the corresponding Spanish audio.
  4. Repeat step 3) for the entire passage.
A few tips
  • Reading / listening to small chunks at a time is crucial. You need to be able to store all of what you read in your short-term memory so that when you listen you know what is being said; though you may not understand each word at first, with time this will improve listening comprehension by connecting written meaning to spoken Spanish.
  • Using keyboard shortcuts greatly increases the efficiency of this method. With my mouse I scroll the page and hover over words, and with my keyboard I control the audio. With the audio Bible window selected you can use the following keyboard shortcuts:
    • SPACE – play / pause audio
    • LEFT / RIGHT ARROW – move forward / back 15 seconds (clicking the time bar changes the increments to 4 seconds)
    • ALT+TAB – switches between selected windows
  • Hover over words for a quick translation or click a word for further information.
  • It is helpful to repeat a phrase or entire passage a few times with this method striving to connect the meaning with the sound so you can hear and understand.
  • Another small tip is to force the audio window to stay above (on top of) the text window so it never gets hidden.

Click the image below to see how I set up for this method.

Longer Study
  1. Listen to a passage (e.g. a verse or chapter) in English (read along)
  2. Listen to the same passage in Spanish (also read along best you can)
  3. Read passage in Spanish best you can comparing with the English version and looking up words in a dictionary and listening again. As you slow down to study, reading a verse in English and them immediately reading it in Spanish can help you connect the Spanish words to their meaning more easily without evening needing a dictionary.

I often use the BLB app on my phone to listen to and read English and Spanish in parallel mode due to the convenient interface with built-in audio. Step 3 of reading the Spanish is more efficient on my computer with Language Reactor because it has built-in dictionaries; the BLB website audio is also very convenient for replaying individual verses or phrases you may wish to repeat. Bible Gateway has a great parallel translations feature.

This method will work for any material for which you have Spanish text with matching audio. Learning Spanish with the Bible is very convenient because it is so widely available in many languages likely having audio available. I love to read the Bible anyway; so this is a great way to combine my love of the Bible with learning Spanish.

Language Reactor – Listening & Reading on YouTube

With the Language Reactor plugin installed, almost every Spanish YouTube video becomes an opportunity to practice listening and reading together. You’ll find lots of content in the Listening section below.

  • Select a YouTube video with content of interest to you.
  • Listen and watch the video.
  • Read the subtitles to better understand.
  • Hover over words to learn what they mean.
  • Click any word to hear proper pronunciation.
  • Look up conjugations or definitions via the quick links.
  • Read example sentences of words for more context.

I also really like Language Reactor’s “text” page where you can paste in any text and see a parallel translation in Spanish and English.

Music – Learning Lyrics

Learning Spanish with music is great fun. I can spend hours listening to music and studying lyrics! See my favourite Spanish music.

  • Find a song recording you really like & find the lyrics for it.
    • YouTube is great because often videos have lyrics included on screen, in the description, or in the comments.
    • If you can’t find the lyrics in the video description or comments, you can often find them by searching the internet for ” ‘song name’ letra” (letra=lyrics).
  • If using YouTube with Language Reactor, you can translate words by hovering over or clicking on them.
  • I also like to copy the lyrics into the Language Reactor “text” section and study the translation there.
  • This will help with learning new words, pronunciation, and enjoying the process.
  • To learn what the new words mean you’ll have to pause and actually translate them, most likely before or after listening to the song.
  • Choosing songs you already know in English can help increase your understanding, but I’ve learned a few new songs in Spanish that I love.

123 Teach Me – Listening Comprehension

For this you need to have Spanish text and the matching audio.I have used the audio with transcripts from 123 Teach Me. I learned this method from a wonderful BaseLang teacher, Carlota Pilco.

  1. Listen once all the way through with no text (just listen and get context).
  2. Listen to a part/chunk (a phrase or sentence) without reading the text, and write down everything you understand; repeat 3-5 times.
  3. Listen and read the text and compare all the words you could understand with the original transcript; look up any words you don’t know.
  4. Listen to a chunk, pause the audio, and repeat the chunk copying the accent as closely as possible.
  5. Listen to entire audio again with no text; how much more do you understand?

BAseLang – Conversation Practice

Talking with a native speaker is a great way to test one’s practical/usable speaking and listening skills, or in the case of texting or emailing, one’s reading and writing skills. If you have Spanish speaking friends or live somewhere you can interact with Spanish speakers, great! For those without much access to Spanish speakers, BaseLang is an effective online alternative.

  • They offer unlimited one-on-one classes with native Spanish speakers from Latin America for a monthly subscription of about $200 CAD ($150 USD). They also have an hourly option.
  • Classes are completely flexible. Follow the provided course material, bring your own material, or just chat with your tutor.
  • They have hundreds of teachers! Most of the tutors are capable instructors, but a few manage to set themselves apart; I found a few wonderful, experienced teachers and made a couple good friends.

When learning Spanish, speaking with an experienced, skilled Spanish teacher/tutor is usually more helpful/productive than talking with acquaintances or strangers because tutors understand the students’ needs and can guide the learning process, whereas most people without teaching experience may not know how best to help a student or even have the interest or patience to work with them.

In the beginning stages I don’t find conversing to be as efficient use of time as some other methods listed, but it is a great way to test what you know; if you are motivated to do it, go for it! Reading and listening usually feel more productive to me than conversing because they help me learn more efficiently, but connecting with another person in their language is also rewarding. It is always useful to try to apply whatever Spanish you do know in a conversation; communicate with what you have. It may often be extremely frustrating, but that lack of ability can also be very motivating to keep learning.

Surf the Web

Thanks to web browser plugins and services (such as Language Reactor and Toucan) Spanish web content is very accessible to language learners. There’s two ways I like to consume text-based Spanish content online, either by translating from Spanish or from English.

Spanish to English

Search a topic you are interested in, but in Spanish (you can translate your search terms and results with Spanish Dict if you need help), and select one of the search results. Now that you’ve got your Spanish resource, there’s a couple things you can do. You can:

  1. Translate individual words and phrases using a translation plugin (e.g. Select to Translate) or
  2. Read the whole thing by importing (with copy & paste) the content into a translation service (e.g. Language Reactor).
English to Spanish

Find an English article that interests you. For this method to work you will need to use either a translation plugin or service set to translate from English to Spanish. Toucan makes this very convenient by automatically translating random words to Spanish for you and also letting you easily translate any words by selecting them. This is useful for learning words and phrases, but for reading long-form content to learn natural Spanish sentence structure, it is best to just find Spanish content and translate it to English.

Talk to Yourself

Practice Spanish by talking to yourself, vocalizing your thoughts throughout the day, or describing whatever you happen to be doing. Name objects in Spanish. Try to remember recent words or phrases you heard and say them out loud.


Practice Spanish by writing stories, journaling your thoughts or the events of your day, texting, or emailing.

Anki – Memorizing Vocab

If you want to memorize Spanish, as you learn new words and phrases you can enter them into Anki a spaced repetition flashcard system for daily review. I used Anki faithfully for a few months, but eventually lost motivation to keep it up. From within Anki you can also download pre-made, “shared” Spanish flashcard decks with the most common words. I have moved on to the more interesting methods of consuming meaningful content through reading and listening. Now I accept that I’ll forget a word a few times as it slowly absorbs into my mental library with repeated exposure in various contexts.


These resources are mostly focused on Latin American Spanish because that’s the accent I wanted to learn; I avoided Castilian Spanish so I wouldn’t reinforce undesired habits. In each category I have listed the resources approximately from most to least useful in my estimation.





Writing is something I’ve learned mostly from reading, listening, and learning to speak.


Structured Listening
Other Resource lists


  • BaseLang (one-on-one Spanish tutoring)


Dictionaries & Translators
General Learning
Useful Browser Plugins
  • Language Reactor (translates YouTube subtitles or any text)
  • Toucan (translates some words to Spanish while browsing the web; requires an account)
  • Select to Translate (as the name suggests, select text in the web browser to get a translation)
Other Tools
  • Anki (spaced repetition flashcard system)
Word Lists