30th September, 2020
The best ways to learn Spanish online
Whether you’re looking to learn Spanish for work, spending time in Spanish speaking countries or just as a hobby, there are a multitude of ways to study one of the world’s most widely spoken languages online. What’s more, many of them are free or low-cost. But with so many options, it can be difficult to know where to start. Here’s our rundown of some of the best online resources for Spanish learners.
Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:
Online Spanish courses
Even if you can’t take an in-person course in Spain or elsewhere, many language schools offer distance learning, using ‘virtual classrooms’ and videoconferencing software so you can learn online. Some schools launched these programmes as a direct response to the global coronavirus pandemic.
If you’d like to start learning in a structured way with direct interaction with a qualified teacher and other students, an online course may be your best bet. It’s also a good approach if you’ve studied some Spanish in the past but are unsure what level you’re at, as you can take a test before being assigned to a class. Under the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), there are six levels, ranging from A1 (beginner) through to C2 (proficient).
How to find an online Spanish course
If you’re looking for a high-quality online course provider, a good place to start is the Cervantes Institute, an organisation created by the Spanish government to promote learning and appreciation of the Spanish language. The institute carries out quality assurance on language courses, and you can find a list of its officially accredited language schools in Spain here. The institute also offers its own online courses via its partner AVE.
Should you want to get an official qualification to show for all your hard work, the Cervantes Institute also grants the internationally recognised DELE Spanish language diplomas on behalf of the Spanish Ministry of Education. You’ll also find a helpful list of frequently asked questions about the DELE exams on their website. The exams are not currently available to sit via online means, but you can take a short online course in order to prepare for them.
Costs of taking an online Spanish course
The costs of online courses vary depending on factors like class size and location, and many offer reduced rates if you sign up for longer courses. Here are some examples from Spain-based language schools:*
● AIL Madrid in Madrid offers twice-weekly online evening classes in small groups from €95 for four weeks. It also offers private classes from €35 per class.
● Spaneasy, also in the Spanish capital, offers an intensive online Spanish class (20 classes per week) from €152.
● Speakeasy in Barcelona offers online group classes from €52 per week for six hours of classes.
If you’re based in the UK and don’t have a Spanish bank account, you can use the PagoFX money transfer service to pay for course fees in Spain with your UK debit card – regardless of the bank you use.
Backed by Santander, PagoFX is available as a mobile app for iOS and Android as well as via PagoFX.com, and provides the security and backing of a high-street bank with the ease and low costs of a fintech (financial technology) company. With a transparent service and no hidden fees, you will know exactly how much you’re paying and how much your recipient will receive.
Best apps for learning Spanish
If you don’t have much spare time and would like the flexibility to learn at your own pace, smartphone apps can help you with everything from picking up basic Spanish in a few minutes a day to boosting your vocabulary and grammar. While these arguably won’t make you fluent if used in isolation, they can make sure you regularly flex those language-learning muscles. Here are some of the best on the market.
Best for overall learning
Launched in 2012 and now with 300 million users worldwide, Duolingo is popular for its “gamification” approach. The app uses a combination of reading, listening and speaking exercises, and encourages you to maintain a streak of consecutive days of use.
One thing worth noting is that it includes Spanish vocabulary that is more typical of Latin American rather than ‘Castilian’ Spanish. Duolingo has a free version, which includes advertising, or you can pay a monthly subscription to go ad-free. The paid version has other features such as being able to download the contents of the app to use it offline.
Best for perfecting your grammar
When it comes to learning the ins and outs of Spanish grammar, unfortunately there are no shortcuts – some things just come down to learning by rote. If the thought of writing out endless verb tables doesn’t appeal, Ella Verbs is an app that takes the pain out memorising grammar through a series of interactive quizzes dedicated solely to verb conjugations.
One of the app’s handiest features is the smart quiz function, which determines which verb forms you’re struggling with the most and offers bespoke quizzes to help you improve. The app is free to download but requires a small one-off payment to unlock content beyond the first few levels.
Best for building your vocabulary
If you’re forever writing down new words or phrases that you’ve learned or overheard, a flashcards app like AnkiApp could be just what you need to incorporate them into your learning process. Instead of physically making flashcards, you can create them digitally and store them in the app, meaning you can test your knowledge whenever you have a few minutes to spare.
You can also download pre-created flashcards. The basic app is free, but you can upgrade for an annual fee of £9.49 or a one-off lifetime purchase of £23.99*, both of which give you access to the web service.
Best for using on the go
Google Translate, either as an app or in its online browser form, is an extremely useful service to have in your pocket. The scan-and-translate function in the app, which uses your phone camera, is great for things like decoding menus and signs.
As an educational resource, though, it’s best not to rely too much on Google Translate, as it’s powered by machine learning and prone to occasional translation glitches. It’s a good idea to download a dictionary app like Wordreference, which is powered by the Wordreference.com online dictionary database, to use as an interactive dictionary on the go.
Best podcasts for learning Spanish
The great thing about podcasts is that you can listen to them while doing other activities, which means you can be improving your Spanish listening skills while commuting to work, going for a stroll or doing chores around the home.
Best for ‘real’ Spanish
Ben Curtis and Marina Diez are the Madrid-based couple behind Notes in Spanish, which has several different podcasts aimed at difficulty levels from beginner to advanced. The duo pride themselves on giving language learners examples of everyday Spanish that you’ll hear spoken in the street. The podcasts are free, but they come with (optional) downloadable worksheets that can be purchased on their website.
Best for listening comprehension
In addition to its app, Duolingo produces a high-quality free podcast for intermediate Spanish speakers, in the form of first-person stories from native speakers around the Spanish-speaking world. Each episode is around 20 minutes long, and the podcast’s host Martina Castro “chimes in for context” in English throughout, a useful way of checking that you’re keeping up with the story.
Like the Duolingo app, the focus is on Latin American Spanish, though there are occasional episodes set in Spain. Transcripts of all the episodes are available on the Duolingo website.
Best for quick lessons
Learning a new language can be time-consuming, but it’s still possible to make progress when time is short. Among the many podcasts that are in the style of ‘snackable’ short lessons, one of the most comprehensive is Coffee Break Spanish, which has over 250 episodes available online with content ranging from Spanish for beginners to advanced level. It covers a wide range of subjects, from how to order food in a restaurant to the workings of Spanish grammar.
Learning Spanish with videos and TV
As your Spanish becomes more advanced, watching TV shows in Spanish is a great way to improve your comprehension and develop an ear for the language.
One option is to subscribe to an on-demand, online streaming service like Netflix, which has popular Spanish-language shows such as crime drama La Casa de Papel (also known as Money Heist), or the Madrid-set period drama Cable Girls. If you find it hard to keep up with the dialogue, turning on the subtitles (in either English or Spanish, if available) can help.
If you’re looking for a free option, the website of the Spanish national broadcaster RTVE is a fantastic resource, and available for users outside Spain. One example is the long-running family drama Cuentame Como Paso, which features real-life historical events – making it a great way to learn about Spanish history from the late 1960s to today while you improve your Spanish. As well as dramas, you can watch a wide range of other content including game and reality shows, movies, news and documentaries.
Practicing your Spanish online
At some point in your Spanish language journey you’ll need to be having regular conversations in order to put all your learning into practice. “Intercambios de idiomas”, or language exchanges, are a time-honoured way for language learners to get together and practice. In these meetups, which typically take place in groups or in pairs, native English and native Spanish speakers take turns chatting in each other’s language, with the idea that both get a chance to practice their conversational skills.
Intercambios typically take place in any town or city with a good number of both speakers – London and Madrid are two examples of cities with many intercambio groups – but the global coronavirus pandemic has caused many of them to go online. That’s good news for long-distance learners, as you can join an intercambio group and chat to Spanish speakers all over the world with videoconferencing programmes such as Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts.
A good way to find an Intercambio group is through the Meetup app, while you can search for a one-to-one language exchange partner through websites like Italki.com and ConversationExchange.com and apps like HelloTalk.
* All figures correct as of 9 August 2020
This article is provided as general information purposes only, and is not intended to cover all aspects of the topic. We recommend that you take professional and specialised advice before taking, or refraining from, any action based on the content of this publication, as this article is not intended to constitute expert advice. We do not guarantee, explicitly or implicitly, that the content of this article is accurate, complete or up-to-date. The information in this article does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from PagoFX or its affiliates.