As long as I have to stay in all of the time In the Year of the Plague, why not do something productive, like learn a language? I decided to do just that, and since there is a whole lot of Latin America that I have not seen (I have spent one day in Mexico), I thought I should learn Spanish so that I could talk to people when I can resume tourism. I am trying to spend one hour each day on this, and I have found some tools that I like and find helpful. Some are free, some are paid for, and some have a free level and a paid level. For those latter, I can use them at the free level until I know whether I would spend the money. The tools come in four forms:
- Smartphone apps
- Web sites
- YouTube Channels
Now, in many cases they overlap, like a web site or smartphone app that also has a podcast, but here is what I have been using. Please note that I am not saying these are the best, just that they are ones I found and use. So your mileage may vary here.
A note on dialects and pronunciation: Spanish is spoken in a large part of the world, but spoken somewhat differently in different countries. Latin American Spanish is different from what is spoken in Spain, and different countries in Latin America may speak slightly differently. I am mostly looking to learn Spanish as it is spoken in Mexico. This is just something you need to be aware of when studying, since some learning tools may use the Spanish of Spain, and others the Spanish of Latin America.
I have an Android phone so these are apps from the Android App store, but I would be very surprised if at least most of them are not also on the iPhone app store.
Web site: https://www.babbel.com/
Babbel is a program I paid for, and they offer subscriptions from monthly up to annual, with annual being the most affordable at $83.40, though you can get discounts if you look around for places where they advertise. I actually paid 22.15 for a 6 month subscription using a link from SciShow, where Babbel advertises. I plan to renew for a full year in January since I like what I am getting.
To see what you get included, go to https://support.babbel.com/hc/en-us/articles/360037580132 for a breakdown.
Now to my personal take: For me Babbel works well. I get nagged every day, which you might not like, but for me it gets me on to the next lesson very regularly. Each lesson does not take all that long, but it combines vocabulary, pronunciation, spelling, and sentences. For the spelling part, they have a keyboard that you can hold down letters to get special characters like the tilde-n (enya) and the accents in vowels. This is usually the first thing I do in my hour of Spanish every day.
Web site: https://www.duolingo.com/
This app can be used for free if you receive ads, but in my case I used a free trial period for a few weeks, then signed up for one year to Duolingo Plus for 83.99. This was Apple’s 2013 App of the Year.
This as a very gamified app gives you a lot of cheer-leading encouragement. That may or may not be to your taste, but I don’t object to it. As with Babbel, I get daily nags that it is time for a lesson, and as with Babbel, I like that. As Woody Allen said, 90% of success is just showing up, and if I do that every day I will learn the language.
Web site: https://www.memrise.com/apps/
This app uses the “Freemium” model just like Duolingo. There is good content for free, but you can get a premium subscription. Right now I am using the paid version, for which I got introductory offer of $44.99 for one year, with renewals at $89.99 per year, which I can cancel at any time.
This is more of a flashcard app to help you memorize words and phrases. The interesting wrinkle here is that it is mostly crowd-sourced. This is the third of my daily apps, and like the others it gives me daily nags to take another lesson.
This app is paired with a Web site, and I actually find the Web site more useful. Another Freemium model here, I did try the basic subscription (lowest paid level) at $72 for two years, which on an annual basis is less than the others.
Web site: https://www.spanishpod101.com/
This app focuses on the spoken language, and while it has some uses, as I said I tend to use the Web site more. The main downside is that they relentlessly try to upsell you. Right now I am more inclined to not renew in two years, but maybe I’ll change my mind. Having an app on my phone means I can get in a quick lesson anywhere at any time.
Spanish Words Learn Español
This is a free app on Google Play, which focuses on audio flashcards. There aren’t the bells and whistles of Babbel or Duolingo, but then you don’t have to pay for it, and that counts for something. It first shows you a list of words, then drills you to see if you remember what you learned, sometimes by spelling out the Spanish equivalent to an English word, or by selecting the English equivalent from a group of 4 when given the Spanish word.
Web site: https://www.speaktribe.com/
This is another free app I downloaded from Google Play Store, and it is one of the ones I tend to check out every day.
This is another gamified system where you accumulate points needed to move to the next level. There are 5 levels, and each one has lessons that combine written and spoken Spanish
Learn Spanish Offline
This is an ad-supported app, so expect a pre-roll ad every time you open it. It is, however, free, so that’s the trade-off here.
You get lists of words, phrases, and sentences in various categories (e.g. Greetings, General Conversation, Numbers, Time and Date). On each list just click on a word or phrase in English, and hear the translated Spanish equivalent. Useful as a supplement to other tools, but not sufficient by itself since it won’t cover any of the grammar, for instance.
Right now there are two Web sites I tend to check in to every day.
Web site: https://www.spanishpod101.com/
See above for reviews
As I mentioned above, I also have the Android app, but I prefer what I find on the Web site. It is well designed, with short lessons that start by giving you some vocabulary which you can click on to hear in Spanish, then there is a downloadable “Lesson Notes” that that discuss some aspects of grammar and some cultural insights. Then there is dialogue which you can download in MP3 format and a downloadable transcript. I tend to download both and play the dialogue while reading along with the transcript. You can also sign up to get a daily e-mail for the Word of the Day, which will take you to a page where you can hear the word spoken both by itself and as part of a few sentences. The main downside is what I mentioned before, the relentless upsell you get. I receive an e-mail at least every other day urging me to upgrade my subscription. Right now I am inclined to not renew when my subscription runs out, but I have 2 years to think about it.
Web site: https://spanishobsessed.com
This is also a great podcast, but a number of these tools cross over different media.
So you could just download the MP3 files and listen to them on your MP3 player like any other podcast, and in fact I do that as well. But the reason I like to go to the Web site is that I can read along with them as the audio plays. Like many other learning Spanish podcasts, this combines a native English speaker with a native Spanish speaker. You can also download both the MP3 file and the transcript from the Web site.
Listen to the audio version of this post on Hacker Public Radio!