If you want to learn Spanish but have absolutely no idea where to start, then you’ve come to the right place!
Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, so it’s little wonder it’s one of the most popular languages to learn.
However, learning any language — Spanish included — usually takes a long time. You need to have a compelling reason to learn, lots of commitment, and a solid plan.
It can also be pretty daunting if you’ve never had much luck learning languages.
Perhaps some of these thoughts have crossed your mind:
- “How do I start learning Spanish?”
- “What are the first things I should learn in Spanish?”
- “Is it really possible to learn Spanish with apps and websites?”
- “What materials and resources do I need to learn Spanish?”
- “Can I really learn Spanish by myself?”
If so, rest easy. In this article, I’ll walk you through the process step-by-step. You’ll discover:
- Common myths about learning Spanish — and why they’re wrong
- What you should focus on when starting to learn Spanish
- The most effective resources to take you from beginner to conversational in Spanish
- A step-by-step plan to build a solid Spanish-learning foundation
Sound good? Then let’s get into it!
This page may contain affiliate links. This means that we may receive a commission for any sign-ups or purchases made, but at no extra cost to you. Learn more
How to start learning Spanish as a beginner
If you’re reading this article, then it stands a chance you want to learn Spanish but you’re not sure where to start.
After all, there are so many apps and courses available nowadays that it can all seem really overwhelming.
Fortunately, for English speakers, Spanish is definitely one of the easiest languages to learn. To my mind there are at least two reasons for this:
- It’s inherently easier than most other languages. Although they’re from different language families, there’s actually a lot of cross-over between Spanish and English in terms of grammar rules and words. The pronunciation isn’t that difficult either (once you figure out how to roll your R’s!).
- There’s loads of high-quality Spanish content readily available, either for free or at a really affordable price.
This should excite you! Whatever your reason for wanting to learn Spanish — whether it’s work, school, vacation, relationships, or just out of curiosity — you can rest assured that it’s now easier than ever to reach a satisfactory conversational level.
But with so many tools and options available it can be difficult to know which ones to use to reach your goals.
Whether to go with just one tool or several.
When to start speaking and where to find people practice with.
Whether you need expensive tuition or whether you can reach your goals with just a couple of mobile apps.
Worry not. We’ll go over all of this very shortly!
But first, just to get you in the right frame of mind, we need to quickly bust some common myths…
Common myths about learning Spanish
As with any language, there are a lot of myths floating around when it comes to learning Spanish.
When I say myths, what I really mean is common self-defeating beliefs. These are ideas that are passed on from person to person basically to justify inaction.
Sure, if you’ve never touched Spanish before, then you’re not going to become conversational overnight. You’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and put in some long hours.
But the reality is learning a language — especially Spanish — is within everyone’s reach.
Some of the most common myths are:
“you can’t learn spanish by yourself”
Wrong. You can learn Spanish by yourself. Well, up to a point.
Language, after all, is a two-way thing. It’s about taking an idea from one person’s mind and transferring it to another. Whether that’s via verbal communication or written.
So, in this respect, it really does take (at least) two to tango.
But when it comes to the learning side of things, it’s not so clear-cut.
Once upon a time, we were dependent on tutors and native speakers to learn a language. But now we have the internet. Apps, websites, fancy software — with the rise of artificial intelligence, it’s never been easier to start learning a language all by yourself.
You can teach yourself to read in Spanish, fine-tune your listening, practice typing things out, and even nail your pronunciation — all by yourself.
That said, at some point, you will want to start actually using the language with other people. This is pretty much essential for the speaking and listening side of things to really bed in.
But in terms of laying the groundwork — getting you ready for real-life communication — this is something you can easily achieve on your own.
“learning spanish is too expensive”
Wrong again. Learning Spanish can be expensive. But it really doesn’t have to be.
Gone are the days when you needed to go to university or hire a fancy tutor to learn Spanish. Now you can learn it easily and affordably from the comfort of your own home — however and whenever you want.
These days some of the best ways to learn Spanish are either free or, at the very least, super affordable, making it more accessible than ever before.
“i’m too old to learn spanish”
Incorrect. You’re never too old to learn Spanish, or any language for that matter.
Research shows that, actually, adults are better equipped to learn languages than children. The idea that children have an easier time is, by and large, a cop-out. Learning a language takes a long time, and most people aren’t willing to put in the necessary effort. So this is their classic excuse.
Steve Kaufmann, a Canadian polyglot, is one of the best examples of why this is so wrong. The guy’s managed to learn over 20 languages to a conversational level, most of which he’s acquired later in life. He’s well into his seventies now (I’m sure he won’t mind me saying!) and he’s STILL learning.
It just goes to show what’s possible with the right tools, attitude and approach.
“it would take too long to become fluent in spanish”
This one depends on a few things. But, generally speaking, this too is a load of baloney.
For English speakers, Spanish is actually one of the easiest languages to learn. Although the two are from different language families, there’s actually a lot of crossover when it comes to words and grammar rules.
Even in the areas Spanish differs, it’s reasonably easy to pick up. The pronunciation isn’t all that difficult once you learn how to roll your R’s, and even the more complicated areas of Spanish are a breeze compared to other European languages (e.g. French, German, Portuguese, Hungarian, Russian etc).
And if you want exact numbers:
According to the US Foreign Service Institute, it takes roughly 600 “class hours” to reach “Professional Working Proficiency” in Spanish.
For our purposes, “class hours” is simply time spent with the language. So if you can commit an hour to Spanish every single day for a year, in theory, you’ll be over halfway towards professional working proficiency.
Which, if you think about it, is pretty good going. At this point, you should be able to hold your own in a variety of conversations, being able to both understand and contribute confidently. Even if you make the odd mistake here and there, you’ll still be getting by in the language.
This is pretty good for just a year of study!
What a beginner should focus on in Spanish
Now we’ve busted some common myths, you should be feeling a bit more confident about your Spanish-learning prospects!
What I’m about to share with you are the two key ingredients to learning Spanish. Actually, these are the two key ingredients for learning ANY language.
Without an equal measure of both, you won’t make the progress you’re hoping for. So it’s really important we find not only the best quality ingredients, but that we also combine them in the right way.
OK then. The two key ingredients for learning Spanish are…
active and passive learning
In a nutshell:
Active learning is the conscious part of learning Spanish. It’s where you deliberately sit down to study it. Think textbooks, language learning apps, flashcards, classrooms, lessons etc.
Passive learning, however, is the unconscious part of learning Spanish. It’s where you immerse yourself in the language without deliberately trying to learn it. It’s basically when you engage with Spanish in day-to-day life. Think conversations, TV shows, music, books etc.
If you want to learn Spanish, it’s no good having one without the other. It’s not enough to spend hours in the classroom if you’re never actually going to use what you learn. It’s in the real-life use of the language that you cement what you learn in the classroom.
Equally, it’s not enough to just sit in front of the TV all day and hope that it just sinks in. You need an equal measure of active learning as well to make sense of it all.
If you want to learn Spanish, therefore, you will need a ‘recipe’ that effectively combines these two key ingredients.
And that is exactly what I’m going to share with you right now!
Active learning tools for Spanish
OK. So now we know that, to learn Spanish, we need both active and passive learning tools. Great. But which ones?
You’ve probably realised by now that the internet is bursting at the seams with Spanish learning materials. While it’s great to have so much choice, it can be a bit overwhelming when trying to figure out which ones to use.
For instance, can you roll with just one active learning tool, or do you need to use several? Which ones are best? Are they all the same, or do they teach Spanish in different ways?
Well, you’ll be relieved to know I’ve narrowed it down to just two.
You’ll want to use both of them together to ensure you’re hitting every area of the Spanish acquisition process, including speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
In my opinion, these two tools are currently the best available in terms of effectiveness, convenience and affordability. When used together, you can definitely reach at least an intermediate level in Spanish (so long as you get enough passive exposure as well, which we’ll get to later!).
The first tool you’ll want to use is…
This one probably comes as no surprise!
I absolutely adore Duolingo. It’s always my first port of call whenever I start learning a new language. With over 40 courses now available for English speakers, you can almost always guarantee Duolingo has the language you’re looking for.
Not only is Spanish one of Duolingo’s best courses, it’s also one of the most well-rounded and engaging Spanish courses on the entire internet.
Better still — it’s 100% free!
Though Duolingo comes in for a bit of stick for its weird sentences and gamified approach, the Spanish course currently has everything you need to reach a B2 level on the CEFR (so long as you use it alongside other materials, which we’ll get to shortly).
The course currently has a whopping 10 units of content, and comes loaded with some neat supplementary features like stories, audio lessons and podcasts. It helps you get comfortable with the nuts and bolts of Spanish grammar, covering things like verb conjugations, verb tenses, prepositions, articles, and use of adjectives and adverbs.
Basically, it exposes you to everything you need to learn Spanish. Duolingo’s also one of the best language learning tools on the market for keeping you motivated, thanks to its streak counter and league system.
That said, it’s definitely not a one-stop shop for learning Spanish. It’s not so great for preparing you for real-world situations, and the grammar materials aren’t readily accessible for review.
This is where the second tool comes in…
For the areas that Duolingo misses, SpanishPod101 has you covered.
As you’ve probably guessed from the name, the SpanishPod curriculum is largely delivered through podcasts. It boasts a massive library ranging from complete beginner all the way to advanced.
But don’t be fooled — SpanishPod is much more than just podcasts. It offers an entire suite of essential Spanish resources — such as grammar packs, cultural insights, pronunciation practice, lesson transcripts and explanations, videos and more.
The SpanishPod curriculum is built from the ground up on the 2,000 most common Spanish words. So, in theory, by the end of the course, you should be able to understand as much as 80% of all Spanish conversations.
This is one of the main reasons you’ll want to use SpanishPod throughout your Spanish-learning journey. As you work your way through the course, you’ll pick up all the essential Spanish expressions and phrases. Most importantly, though, you’ll also come to understand the context behind when to use them as well.
Most of the lessons offer review sessions, so after hearing the presenters play out a scenario in Spanish (e.g. ordering food, checking-in for a flight, asking where the toilets are), you’ll have the opportunity to practice some of the phrases and expressions they use.
why i recommend using duolingo and spanishpod together
If you’re looking for a well-rounded Spanish-learning experience that gives you the best chance of becoming conversational, you’ll want to use Duolingo and SpanishPod simultaneously. Here’s why.
Duolingo and SpanishPod both have their similarities:
- Both offer podcasts and audio lessons in Spanish
- Both offer grammar guides
- Both follow a progressive course
However, on the whole, they’re two very different tools. Duolingo hits areas that SpanishPod misses, and vice versa.
Duolingo is great for visual learning. Reading and writing is very much where it excels. It’s also easier on the eye than SpanishPod and does a better job of keeping you motivated thanks to things like the streak counter and leagues.
However, SpanishPod does a much better job of getting you ready to actually use the language. The podcasts are styled on authentic conversations and scenarios, so from the word go you’re going to pick up decent Spanish vocabulary, phrases and sayings that you’re actually going to use.
SpanishPod also does a better job of explaining the ins and outs of the language and makes the lesson resources easily accessible.
This is why you’ll want to use them both together. Duolingo will bolster your reading and writing, as well as keep you motivated, while SpanishPod will prepare you to actually use the language, so you can feel comfortable speaking from the very beginning.
Passive learning tools for Spanish
Now we’ve covered the two active learning tools you’ll need to learn Spanish, we need to go over the second key ingredient.
Passive learning, in my opinion, is the BEST form of learning. This is where you can actually start using your Spanish for things you enjoy.
In general, the more enjoyable the activity, the better your Spanish will become.
But what are some of the most effective forms of passive learning for Spanish?
Well, below I’ve put together a nice starting point to give you some ideas to get the creative juices flowing. You can get really imaginative with your choices, but just make sure they meet the following criteria:
- You’re exposing yourself to authentic Spanish
- You find it enjoyable, interesting and engaging
So long as your choices tick these two boxes, you’re onto a winner!
In general, the best kinds of passive learning will involve a mix of the following:
- TV shows and movies
- Language exchange apps
Let’s explore them in a bit more detail!
spanish music for beginners
Listening to music is one of the best forms of passive learning. It’s something you can just stick on in the background while you’re going about your daily business.
Even if you don’t fully understand what you hear, the main thing is you’re creating that all-important immersion.
The type of song doesn’t really matter — just so long as it’s in Spanish. Ballads, rap, folk — whatever takes your fancy.
Obviously certain types of Spanish songs will be easier to understand than others. I have a much easier time understanding ballads than I do rap, as ballads aren’t delivered as quickly or with anywhere near the same amount of Spanish slang!
Again, it doesn’t really matter though. So long as you’re exposing yourself to Spanish, you’re good.
where to find spanish music
My go-to service for all my music is Spotify. I’ve been using it for well over a decade now to the point my library is overflowing with music from loads of different languages!
Spotify makes it really easy to find music Spanish, thanks not only to its specially curated Spanish playlists, but also because of its fancy algorithms that figure out your music tastes. Essentially, the more stuff you listen to in Spanish, the more Spanish songs Spotify will find for you.
Before you know it, your library will be filled with awesome Spanish songs to bop along to!
To get you started, consider checking out some of these playlists:
spanish podcasts for beginners
As well as music, you’ll also want to flex your listening skills with some good quality Spanish podcasts.
The good news is you’re already off to a solid start — SpanishPod101 has a whole raft of quality podcasts, and Duolingo has a nice selection as well!
That said, it’s also a good idea to mix things up. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.
All of the podcasts below are free and cater to Spanish of all levels. There’s plenty there to get you started as a beginner, as well as stuff to carry you through to intermediate and beyond.
Also, I’ve gone with Spotify for the podcasts as well, but you’ll probably find they’re also available on other services like Apple and Google Play:
- Duolingo Spanish Podcasts
- Coffee Break Spanish
- Easy Spanish
- Spanish for False Beginners
- Speaking Spanish for Beginners
spanish tv shows and movies for beginners
Who doesn’t enjoy watching TV shows and movies?
Not only is it one of the most enjoyable ways to learn Spanish, it’s also been proven to be one of the most effective ways to learn a language PERIOD.
Obviously this isn’t to say that you can just watch TV and you’ll eventually learn Spanish. You’ve got to do the active learning as well. But in terms of bringing all of that conscious study into your active vocabulary, it’s near enough unrivalled in terms of effectiveness.
Usually, the challenging thing is actually finding stuff to watch. Back when I started learning languages I had absolutely no idea where to look. But nowadays with online streaming services, it’s a piece of cake.
where to find spanish tv shows and movies
If you’ve already got a Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Disney+ subscription then you’re in luck. You already have ready access to some enormous libraries of TV shows and movies that are either originally in Spanish or have Spanish dubbing.
Some of my favourites include:
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine [Spanish audio + subtitles]
- Friends [Spanish audio + subs]
- Money Heist
- Perdida (Stolen Away)
- Made In Mexico
- Bojack Horseman [Spanish audio + subtitles]
- Rick and Morty [Spanish audio + subtitles]
- Getaway Plan
- Como Caido Del Cielo
- Ahi Te Encargo (You’ve Got This)
- Amazon Prime
- The Vineyard
- El Ascensor
- El Candidato
- Yosi – The Regretful Spy
- The Boys [Spanish audio + subtitles]
- Reacher [Spanish audio + subtitles]
- The Terminal List [Spanish audio + subtitles]
Note the above lists are based on what’s currently available in the UK. If you’re in the US, you may find some of the shows aren’t available. That said, you’ll probably have a bigger selection than us, so rest assured you’ll still be able to find some quality Spanish content!
As good as Netflix and Amazon Prime are, though, Disney+ is probably going to be your best bet for Spanish content.
The vast majority of Disney’s animated shows are dubbed in Spanish, so you’ve got a massive selection to keep you entertained. Plus, because most of the shows are aimed at a younger audience, the Spanish isn’t that advanced — meaning you’ll have a much easier time understanding it, as well!
If you don’t have any of the streaming services above, then I’d highly recommend checking out RTVE. It’s a Spanish streaming service boasting tons of quality Spanish content. It’s also free!
However, if you’re trying to stream from outside Spain, then you may find you’ll need a VPN. I use this one from NordVPN. It costs a few dollars a month, but it’s well worth it if you’re a TV-nut!
spanish books for beginners
If you consider yourself a bit of a bookworm then it goes without saying you’ll want to get your hands on some quality Spanish books.
Even if you’re not, reading fiction in Spanish is one of the best ways to boost your vocabulary. Depending on the level, you’ll also find yourself exposed to a whole range of Spanish tenses, which will only deepen your comprehension.
As a beginner, you’ll want to go for books that are both interesting and contain only basic to intermediate vocabulary.
It’s got to be basic enough that you can understand at least a bit of what’s going on, but not so basic that it bores you.
At the same time, you’ll want it to be challenging enough so that you feel as though you’re making progress, but not so challenging that you get frustrated.
Striking this balance to begin with is key — and the following books do just that:
- Short Stories in Spanish for Beginners – Olly Richards
- Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal – J.K. Rowling
- El leon, la bruja y el ropero – C.S. Lewis
If you’re looking for something really easy, then you’ll probably want to consider some of the following books for children:
- Arriba, Abajo y Alrededor – Katherine Ayres
- La Gallinita Roja – Carol Ottolenghi
- Un Pez Dos Peces Pez Rojo Pez Azul – Dr Seuss
- ¿Puede Pedro el Puercoespín controlar su mal genio? – Misty Black
spanish language exchange for beginners
One other really important thing you’ll want to do is start talking to others in Spanish.
Actually, if you’re anything like me, this probably won’t be something you want to do. But if you want to improve and one day become conversational in Spanish, you’ll need to start sooner rather than later!
Sure, it’s scary at first, especially when you’re still finding your feet with the language. But it’s not the sort of thing that will just come to you. Speaking is a skill in its own right, and irrespective of how much reading and listening you do, if you want to be able to speak — then you need to speak!
The best way to do this, in the beginning, is through a language exchange app. These things make it easier than ever to find native Spanish speakers who also want to learn your language. Think of it like a you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours sort of arrangement.
In my opinion, the best one to get you started will be HelloTalk.
All the main features are free and it’s available across multiple platforms. It’s basically WhatsApp for language learners. It has all the basic instant messaging stuff we’re all accustomed to, but it’s been tailored to cater to language learners.
You can also do voice calls if you’re feeling confident enough, which is a great opportunity to get speaking from the outset.
However, if it’s a good teacher you’re looking for (as opposed to some casual chit-chat) then you’ll want to consider italki.
Here you’ll find a raft of Spanish tutors who are eager to get you speaking Spanish. They cater to all levels so you can jump in at any time.
Now, with italki there’s a bit of overlap between active and passive learning. While it’s passive in the sense you’ll be speaking almost entirely in Spanish in most of your sessions (this depends entirely on the tutor), it’s active in the sense that these are Spanish lessons (as opposed to Spanish chats).
So it all depends on your goals and preferences. Pick the one that feels right for you. Just make sure you do pick one and start talking sooner rather than later!
Step-by-step plan for learning Spanish
Now you know what it takes to learn Spanish and you’ve got a bunch of awesome resources to help you. Now it’s time to bring everything together so you can start learning!
Below is a step-by-step plan to get you started. You’ll notice it’s very basic and might not hold your hand as much as you were expecting.
But this is because it doesn’t need to. Once you’ve overcome the first month — in the right way with the right resources — you’ll be equipped with everything you need to carry yourself through to a conversational Spanish level.
The first few weeks are where we really need to focus…
the first two weeks
As a beginner, you’ll want to spend your first couple of weeks familiarising yourself with basic Spanish. In this period you’ll want to focus heavily on Duolingo and SpanishPod101. Work your way through the early skills and units on Duolingo, and at the same time move through the beginner packs on SpanishPod.
During this period, I’d highly recommend taking advantage of SpanishPod’s free trial. This will give you the opportunity to test drive some of SpanishPod’s premium resources so you can make an informed decision on which plan is right for you.
Keep in mind that these first two weeks are very much a foundational period. It’s where you first properly encounter the language and start to make those early connections. The early material on Duolingo and SpanishPod is very basic, so you’ll probably find it super easy.
That said, you’ll want to manage your expectations and avoid making these common mistakes:
It’s really easy to burn yourself out in the beginning, especially on Duolingo.
In the beginning, Spanish is a bit of a novelty. The thought of learning it is really exciting to the point it’s all you can think about sometimes — especially if your reason for learning is super compelling.
And given how easy the early stages of the Duolingo course is, you’ll probably find yourself flying through it at a rate of knots!
While it’s important to spend ample time with the language, you’ll want to avoid spending too much time with it and manage your expectations. It won’t always be this easy. You want to make sure that when it starts to get difficult you won’t throw in the towel.
The same applies to SpanishPod. Try to limit yourself to a couple of lessons a day to start off with and gradually increase it.
After all, learning Spanish is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s so important to pace yourself!
We are what we do repeatedly. If you want to learn Spanish, it’s good practice to show up every single day, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
In the first couple of weeks, it’s really important that you nail down the routine. Missing days here and there may seem OK, but it sets a bad precedent. As things start to get harder, you’ll find yourself skipping days more and more. Before you know it, several months will have passed without you uttering even a word of Spanish.
With this in mind, make sure in the first couple of weeks that you clock up at least one Duolingo lesson and one SpanishPod lesson every single day. This will set a healthy precedent moving forward, to the point that doing Spanish will become a natural and effortless part of your daily routine.
worrying that nothing is sinking in
Spanish isn’t something you need to commit to memory. It’s something that descends upon you after continued exposure.
If you find yourself forgetting seemingly basic words and phrases in the first couple of weeks, don’t stress about it. It doesn’t matter. It just means you need more exposure, which you’ll get over time so long as you nail down your routine.
Again, learning Spanish is a marathon. You’re not supposed to pick it up straight away. This isn’t a process you can rush. You just have to trust that, with enough practice and exposure, you’ll get there eventually.
Resist the temptation to drill everything you learn into your head. Instead, think of every word and phrase like seeds. Once planted, you’ll have to wait at least a few weeks before you see the flowers. Just make sure you keep tending them with adequate care and attention!
weeks 3 to 4
After a couple of weeks of conscious active learning on Duolingo and SpanishPod, you’ll want to start gradually introducing some passive elements to your routine.
At this point, it’s not important to understand everything — or anything — you read/hear/see. The only thing that matters is you begin to immerse yourself in Spanish.
Continue to work through the Duolingo Spanish course and beginner packs on SpanishPod, doing your best to show up for at least 5 minutes every day on each.
Then, start to dip your toe into some of the passive learning options we went over above. At this point, I’d recommend the following:
- Have some Spanish music on in the background while you’re going about your usual activities. Simply select one of the playlists above to get you started, and go from there!
- Start watching some children’s TV shows in Spanish. The best place to find these will be Disney+, but they’re also available on other platforms. You might even be able to find some on YouTube if you do some digging. Ideally, choose something with a Spanish audio option that also comes with English subtitles. If you’re feeling confident, go for Spanish subtitles.
- Consider connecting with native Spanish speakers on HelloTalk. Make sure you set your level to beginner so everyone knows exactly where you’re at. Try your best to strike up some basic text conversations — something like: “¡Hola! ¿Cómo estás?” will do just fine. Nothing fancy. Simply use the greetings and responses you’ve picked up on SpanishPod and go from there.
after your first month
By the end of your first month, you’ll have laid the foundations for a solid Spanish-learning routine. You’ll be well in the habit of learning a little bit of Spanish every day, working all angles of the language, and you should be in a position to start ramping things up.
It’s at this point that your routine should become very much your own. Use Duolingo and SpanishPod as your anchors — continuing to progress your active learning is absolutely essential — and start to cast your net a little wider with your passive learning.
Start to make Spanish a part of your life. If you can achieve that, you’ll be well on your way to reaching your goals!
So there you have it — a comprehensive, effective, and inexpensive guide for learning Spanish for beginners.
How long will it take to become fluent with this plan?
Well, that all depends on your commitment, as well as your definition of fluency. With the tools and approaches in this guide, there’s no reason for you not to reach a conversational, intermediate level after a year and a half of study.
This is contingent, however, on you showing up every day, continuing to progress through the Duolingo and SpanishPod curricula, and ensuring you’re getting an ample amount of passive exposure.
If you only focus on Duolingo and SpanishPod, then I can pretty much guarantee you won’t reach that conversational level.
Similarly, if you only listen to Spanish music without the necessary active learning, then you won’t reach a conversational level either.
Therefore, your success will depend in no small part on your motivation for learning Spanish. So long as you’re clear on what this is and you remind yourself of it every day, you have every chance of succeeding!