If you’re planning a trip to Mexico (or any other Spanish speaking country), knowing the language is sure to help you have a better experience. Not only will it make it easier for you to navigate your travels but you’ll be able to build better connections and learn about the culture on a deeper level.
Whether you’re hoping to pick up a second language or just need a functional understanding for travel, there are tons of ways to learn Spanish for free. No boring university lectures are necessary!
Below I’ve summarized a series of helpful tips or hacks to help you learn Spanish on your own. They don’t all apply to every level of Spanish learner, but you’re sure to find some of them useful. Incorporate as many of these Spanish language learning tips into your lifestyle as possible ahead of your travels. They’re sure to make a difference!
Best Ways to Learn Spanish for Free
1. Label Everything in Your House
Developing a robust vocabulary is one of the most important parts of learning any language. After all, even if you don’t know your verb conjugations you can still manage to communicate using a combination of hand gestures and keywords. If you already happen to have a decent handle on grammar, increasing your vocabulary will only help you have better conversations.
When I first learned Spanish I could conjugate verbs like nobody’s business but my repertoire of vocab was limited to fruits, vegetables, and professions. As you can imagine, it didn’t prove particularly useful when I was out and about in Mexico.
Fortunately, learning new words is pretty easy. A good way to start is by labeling everything you can think of in your house. Use scrap paper and tape to stick vocab reminders throughout your casa and in no time you’ll have a solid knowledge of everyday items that you use. Sure, you’ll come off a little eccentric when visitors come over, but it’s a small price to pay!
2. Watch Spanish Movies and TV Shows
Hearing Spanish regularly will not only help improve your understanding of vocabulary and grammar but it will also train your ear to the language and help with your pronunciation. Remember, there’s a big difference between the way your Spanish instructor speaks and how someone speaks Spanish in everyday conversations.
Watching movies in Spanish will help you improve your listening comprehension skills. This will be harder if you’re closer to the beginning of your Spanish language learning journey, but it will still be helpful. In the beginning, use English subtitles to help you pick up the vocabulary you don’t know. If you’re an intermediate Spanish learner you may be able to rely on Spanish subtitles, which will help you understand sentence structure at the same time.
Jane the Virgin
is one of my favorite bilingual TV shows. It’s a good option for beginner Spanish speakers as only one of the characters speaks consistently in Spanish, while the others speak English. I also find that the Spanish spoken is quite clear and easy to understand.
If you’re up for a challenge, Club de Cuervos
is a hilarious Mexican Netflix series that is solely in Spanish. It’s responsible for teaching me most of my Mexican slang. The characters speak really quickly so it’s a good intro to what you’ll encounter along your travels in Mexico.
3. Listen to Spanish Podcasts
Again, your Spanish listening skills are just as important as your speaking abilities. Especially when it comes to traveling. It’s all well and good if you can ask where the library is, but you should also be able to interpret the directions!
Fortunately, there are tons of podcasts available in Spanish that will help you train your ear. Some podcasts are even tailored to help Spanish learners improve their skills. These are perfect for listening to during your commute or before you go to bed at night.
If you’re a beginner, try Coffee Break Spanish
, which consists of 10 to 20-minute episodes structured as lessons. The podcast is available through Spotify and iTunes. The episodes increase in difficulty as they go on, so it’s probably best to start from the beginning.
If you’re an intermediate or advanced Spanish student you might prefer Doorway to Mexico
, which focuses on improving your Spanish conversation and listening skills, rather than general grammar. Again, you can find the episodes on Spotify or iTunes.
This podcast is especially helpful because the host of the podcast is a native Spanish speaker from Mexico City. Each episode features a conversation between English speaking travelers and a native speaker. After the conversation, the host of the podcast speaks with her students to analyze the language and grammar used in the conversation. The episodes do a great job of explaining the idiosyncrasies of Spanish, and Mexican Spanish above all.
4. Look for Spanish YouTube Videos
YouTube is another great resource for learning Spanish for free. You can find instructional videos or basically any type of video you would ordinarily watch but in Spanish!
Consuming this type of content is especially valuable for intermediate and advanced Spanish learners who want to immerse themselves in the language. To make the process as helpful as possible, try to find videos by creators who speak Mexican Spanish (or Spanish from whichever country you’re planning to travel to). This way you’ll be exposed to regional vocabulary, slang, and accents from your intended destination.
A couple of my favorite YouTube channels in Spanish are Spanish and Go and Alan X El Mundo.
Spanish and Go
is a language-learning channel hosted by Jim and May. They are a married couple, and Jim is from the US while May is from Colima in Mexico. Together they share Spanish learning lessons and tips as well as travel inspiration. This channel is excellent for beginner Spanish speakers as they speak both English and Spanish in the videos. Jim and May speak very clearly and add visuals to highlight key phrases they want to teach you as they go.
My other favorite channel is Alan X El Mundo
. Alan is a travel vlogger from Mexico City who is constantly traveling the world and sharing incredible videos about his experiences. His channel is purely travel-oriented and not focused on teaching Spanish. He speaks very clearly, but also very quickly, which means listening to him is great practice for visiting Mexico!
5. Listen to Music in Spanish
Listening to music can help you learn Spanish by osmosis. The more you are exposed to the language, the better. With this in mind, try to build some Spanish music into your daily rotation of songs. Soon you’ll be able to start picking out individual words and phrases that you may not have known before.
I’m a big fan of Natalia Lafourcade
, a prominent Mexican indie musician. Perhaps you’ll like her too!
6. Journal in Spanish
Writing is a really great way to challenge your Spanish skills. Even just writing a few sentences each day will help you practice your grammar and spelling. It will force you to look up new words and verb conjugations that you may not be familiar with.
Of course, it might be tough to notice any errors you make, but I still think putting your thoughts down in Spanish is a useful exercise. Plus, your early Spanish journals might be a fun memento to look back on as you continue to learn!
Keep a Spanish dictionary handy as you journal to make it easy to look up words you don’t know. I love the SpanishDict website
because it shows verb conjugations. There is an app you can download for quick reference.
7. Find a Spanish Conversation Buddy
Naturally, the best way to learn conversational Spanish is through conversation! It might be nerve-wracking at first, but speaking Spanish regularly will improve your skills exponentially.
For me, this was one of my biggest hurdles when it came to learning Spanish. It also led to my biggest breakthrough. After studying Spanish in school for so many years, speaking in real life was stressful. I was embarrassed by my pronunciation, I stumbled over verb conjugations and constantly mixed up my masculine and feminine nouns.
It was so hard in the beginning. But eventually, I stopped worrying about my inevitable mistakes. With consistent practice and corrections from my conversation partners, I’ve managed to achieve confidence and fluency, and I know you can too.
Try to find a native (or advanced) Spanish speaker to practice with so they can help correct your mistakes. You might be able to find a friend online, or join a local Spanish conversation group so you can practice a few times per week.
There are also paid services that will help you focus solely on your conversation skills. iTalki is a website that you can use to find a Spanish tutor or conversation partner
. Rates vary depending on the teacher’s experience and are very reasonable. If you’re interested in visiting Mexico I recommend choosing a Spanish tutor who is from here, so you can adjust to the accent.
8. Read Spanish Books
Reading in a second language is challenging, but it will inevitably expose you to vocabulary and sentence structures that you’re unfamiliar with. Plus, if you’re an avid reader, you’ll probably find it really enjoyable.
There are all kinds of incredible writers in Spanish, from Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Jorge Luis Borges, and beyond. However, reading their works may prove challenging if you’re a beginner or intermediate Spanish speaker. Start with some easier books or short stories
and take on the harder stuff when you’re more confident in your abilities.
Check out my book recommendations for beginner Spanish readers (Coming Soon)
9. Practice Writing Out Your Verb Conjugations
For most of us, studying grammar is the exact opposite of a good time, but it’s still worth doing! It may sound super boring, but writing out verb conjugations and using them in sentences is the best way to reinforce them in your memory.
I highly recommend studying the essential Spanish verbs until you have them down. You don’t need to know every verb tense, but try to learn the rules for present and preterite at minimum. This is sure to help you immensely in your travels.
Unlike English, the grammar rules and verb conjugations in Spanish have few exceptions, so once you learn the principles you’ll be able to apply them even to verbs you’re unfamiliar with.
So, practice writing out past and present tense sentences using some of these essential verbs each day until you’ve mastered the conjugations.
10. Study with Duolingo
There are all kinds of online Spanish courses that will help you brush up your skills (surely you’ve heard of Rosetta Stone, and Rocket Languages). If you have the funds available, investing in a program is a great idea. However, you may prefer to allocate that money to your travel budget instead.
If that’s the case, Duolingo
has an awesome free program. It consists of quick, straight-forward exercises to help you gradually build your Spanish knowledge. There are lessons to practice your grammar, spelling, reading comprehension, listening skills, and more! You can access the lessons through the website or using the Duolingo app.
11. Immerse Yourself in a Spanish Speaking Environment
Immersion is without a doubt the best way to learn any language. Being surrounded by the language day in and day out is the fastest way to pick it up. Plus, it will help you learn colloquialisms, slang, and cultural intricacies that you just won’t pick up any other way.
If you have the chance to spend an extended time in a Spanish speaking country, take advantage of it. You’ll learn so much faster and have a lot more fun than if you learn solely from books.
Remember, you get out of the experience what you put in. If you have a chance to immerse yourself make sure you take full advantage of it. Converse with people in Spanish every day. Engage with people. Ask questions. Make mistakes and learn from them. It’s all part of the adventure!
Have you tried any of these tips for learning Spanish? What has worked best for you? Do you have any Spanish learning resources you recommend? Let me know in the comments!
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