Learning Spanish Before Going to Spain

Naturally, the number one thing I’m doing to prepare myself for teaching English in Spanish is improving my level of Spanish before jetting off to the Iberian peninsula. I would venture to guess that most prospective auxiliares de conversación with low to moderate Spanish skills have questioned whether their language skills were up to snuff with what’s needed to teach in Spain. It’s definitely valid concern that I know I have thought about given my own Spanish abilities.

I would say that I’m at an intermediate level right now, but the goal is to improve upon that before I arrive. In 2010, I studied abroad for a semester in Granada, Spain, which dramatically improved my español. However, since returning to the U.S. I have rarely used my Spanish. As with anyone who was not fluent in a language and moved away from a place where it was the native language, my vocabulary began to disappear, verb tenses faded away, and the speed at which I could speak slowed. A goal of mine is to get back to the level I was at in Granada before I return to Spain to teach English. So, what resources are there to help me learn Spanish before going (back) to Spain?

Notes in Spanish – This is a free podcast created by couple María Díaz and Ben Curtis. María is a Madrileña, and Ben is from England. They do an excellent job teaching you the basics as well as new phrases. There are 3 levels – beginner, intermediate, and advanced – each adds more and quicker Spanish on top of the next.

Ben and María from Notes in Spanish (Source)

Ben and María from Notes in Spanish (Source)

DuolingoIt is a free mobile app that allows you to learn Spanish, amongst other languages – French, German, Italian, English, and Portuguese. You build experience points as you work through different exercises of translation, listening, speaking, and fill-in-the-blank. You can skip levels and try to test out of them if you already know them. To me, it’s a fun app that I can use to boost my Spanish skills during my down time. It was also Apple’s choice for App of the Year in 2013.

Community classes – Although not necessarily free, community Spanish classes through your local Parks and Recreation Department can be a less expensive and time consuming alternative to taking a college course. Depending on the instructor and levels of Spanish offered, some courses may be more beneficial than others, but this gives you a great option to learn Spanish and be able to speak it with other learners as well.

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 8.06.27 AM

Watching movies – When I studied abroad, my host mom had a whole slew of movies in Spanish that I would watch, and watching them with, then without subtitles, really helped my Spanish. The streaming version of Netflix doesn’t really have Spanish movies other than Casa de mi Padre, starring Will Ferrell. However, your local library should have some  Spanish movies you can rent for free. Otherwise, there are Spanish movies probably available online somewhere.

YouTube videos – Personally, I am not a huge user of YouTube videos, at least not now. Many of these are geared towards absolute beginners, while others are more advanced. Since I am not actively using YouTube videos to learn Spanish, I’ll leave you with a list from another website, FluentU.

Blogs – There are a plethora of blogs out there that have tips for learning languages or Spanish in particular. Benny Lewis at Fluent in 3 Months has an entire blog dedicated to language learning and a book about how to be Fluent in 3 Months. Trevor Huxham of A Texan in Spain has multiple Spanish learning posts about 5 Ways to Speak Like a Spaniard and 10 Tips for Rolling the Spanish R. Will Peach of My Spanish Adventure has videos following his Spanish learning progress of his (first) 26 weeks teaching English in Spain.

Ultimately, there are an unlimited amount of resources out there that will help you learn and brush up on your Spanish. Obviously, nothing can replace being immersed in the culture of a Spanish speaking country, but these other ways can help you improve your Spanish level before getting to that point.

Are there other ways in which you recommend learning Spanish? Please leave them below in the comments!

26 responses to “Learning Spanish Before Going to Spain

  1. Duolingo is amazing! I am currently using it to stop myself from forgetting Spanish and to learn Italian.
    Also there are plenty of websites where you can watch tele novellas. Watching tv programmes or films definitely help! 🙂

    • I really love Duolingo, especially because it’s free! Watching television shows and movies helped me more than I could imagine.

  2. Good luck! When I was learning English, it helped me to read books for babies/kids, especially when I started. If your Spanish is good enough, watching movies is great but it might be too hard for those who don’t know the basics.

    • Thank you, Antonio! I can read lower level books pretty well, but it’s comprehending what people are saying that is most difficult. That’s where the movies help! Books are definitely something I’d recommend to beginners learning Spanish, or any language for that matter.

  3. Great post! Notes in Spanish is one of my favorites. I also used iTalki which connects me to Spanish speakers wanting to learn English. We do language exchange through Skype and it has been super helpful with understanding different accents.

  4. This is a great plan of attack, Mike (and thanks for the shout-outs!). Can’t recommend the Notes in Spanish podcast enough, especially since you’ll be in Spain. As far as YouTube goes, a (British) friend I made down south last year and I both love KikilloVlogs—an almeriense living in Madrid who makes funny vlogs in Spanish that, despite being in a thick andalú accent, I can understand. Check him out! http://www.youtube.com/user/kikilloVlogs/videos

    • You’re welcome, Trevor! I’ll look into KikilloVlogs and report back. I’ve been looking for something on YouTube, but haven’t found anything quite as helpful as Notes in Spanish.

  5. Great job. I’m sure you’ll pick it up again when you move to Spain. I was working in Venezuela for a while and studied Spanish- I loved it so much and it’s definitely the favourite of all the languages I’ve attempted to study. I found I learnt it really quickly while I was living and then travelling in South America. I enjoyed it so much that, when we moved back to Korea, I found a Spanish tutor in Seoul! I’m in Beijing now so I’ve been learning Mandarin. I enjoy it and I think it’s important to learn, but it’s much harder and I’d love to go back to studying Spanish (unfortunately I’ve forgotten most of my Spanish now!).

    • Thank you for the encouragement, Joella! I haven’t spoken Spanish for nearly 4 years, but, to my surprise, it’s coming back rather quickly, other than some vocal words. I’m jealous you’re studying Mandarin in Beijing. Korean and Mandarin have always peaked my interest, but I’ve just stuck to Spanish and a little Italian for now!

    • I saw your blog on my Bloglovin’ shortly after I wrote this. I swear I didn’t know you wrote your’s before I wrote mine!

  6. I definitely recommend following Spanish newspapers. You can watch their videos too, which are aimed at natives so they’re not as simplistic as YouTube videos for foreigners.

    I have listened to ALL of the Notes in Spanish podcasts, and I love them. They’re really good, even if I now have a rather higher level than what they produce.

  7. Glad to hear you’re off to SPAIN this year. Congrats!
    Everyone keeps mentioning Duolingo but it seemed to simple too me. It’s annoying how everyone raves about it… but maybe I need to give it another shot. Never saw different level options!

    I’m currently in a Spanish class but it’s not pushing me further along so I often get nostalgic for Spain and so wish I could have taken classes while in Spain but bureaucracy got in the way!

    I have Spanish newspapers apps on my phone… Also try to read books in Spanish to keep my level up!

    • Duolingo isn’t my favorite nor do I think it would be successful being a lone language learning tool. I like it because it helps me practice Spanish while I’m at work, even if it’s at a basic level.

  8. Yeah, I love Fluentin3Months! Benny has some awesome language hacks that really get people SPEAKING and using the language! And I think he just came out with a new book? That might be pretty helpful! Good luck with learning Spanish before you leave!

    Also: have you heard of Fluenz? They cost a pretty penny but they have a GREAT teaching method! It’s really interesting, you can learn a language pretty fast, and it may be something you’re looking for? 🙂

    • Thanks Erika! I’ll take a look into Fluenz. You’re right about Benny’s new book. I haven’t purchased it yet, but am planning on it!

  9. I learned a lot at home with two things. One’s fun, and one’s just boring verb work.

    There’s an excellent verb book called “Practice Makes Perfect: Spanish Verb Tenses” that was really helpful for me.

    And the fun part is watching movies…but use Spanish subtitles, not English ones. That way, you get different types of input – listening, reading, and watching. English subtitles aren’t always great translations anyway, and with the Spanish ones you can pick up on the expressions they use as well.

    • Thanks for the helpful advice, Jessica! I’ll have to check that book out as verb tenses are something I need help with. I’ve been watching movies and shows with Spanish subtitles, and I feel like it’s helping quite a bit.

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  11. I have an app on my phone for RNE (radio nacional de Espana) that I try to listen to every night. It helps to hear Spanish spoken and I can understand most of what is said. and it’s right from Spain!! Music to my ears 🙂

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