Learning Spanish #2

This is the second Learning Spanish post of Ters Mevsim. In the first one, I wrote about the general features of the Spanish language, different dialects in different countries and the Spanish courses in Argentina. You can see the post here. On the other hand, this post is more about self-learning and language learning activities that can be done at home.

After moving to Argentina I went to Spanish courses at UBA for half a year. Although the courses were very helpful, after a while I felt like it wasn’t enough and I didn’t enjoy it anymore. So I decided to drop UBA and focus on my own efforts. So, in this post, I will share with you all the tips and tools I used to improve my Spanish.

Note: While some of the activities I will talk about may be useful at the beginning level, some may require a better language level.

Applications I Use

Dictionaries

There are many applications that you can download on your phone to learn languages. The most obvious ones are dictionary applications. There are three different applications that I use as a dictionary.

  • Word Reference: The best one in my opinion. There are many options you can choose in Word Reference. I use English-Spanish, Spanish Verbs (Spanish verb) and Spanish Definition (Spanish-Spanish) dictionary options.
  • Spanishdict: What I like about this app is that it can be used offline too. I also like the word of the day “palabra del dia” option.
  • Google Translate: It is a fact that Google’s translations are not always very good. However, Google has recently improved its translations. I use Google when I need a translation for a whole sentence or a paragraph.  Also, the above two applications only serve English-Spanish dictionary, so, when I need a direct Turkish-Spanish translation I consult to Google.

Other Applications

Apart from dictionaries, there are now lots of language learning applications. I only used Duolingo and Memrise. At first, I tried both applications to not to forget Dutch. Then I used them for Spanish too. Both times, I eventually quit because I thought it wasn’t helping much. Personally, I prefer podcasts which I will talk about under the next heading. Nevertheless, there are many people who use and enjoy these applications. For that reason, I suggest you try them yourselves.

Update: I want to share with you an application that I recently discovered. Quizlet is a studying app that you can prepare flashcards and study them any time you want. It helps me a lot with vocabulary and I’m really enjoying it.

Podcasts

When I discovered language podcasts, I couldn’t believe what I was missing until that point. I think podcasts are a great option for those who want to learn a new language. They are really instructive and you get used to hearing the language. It helps a lot in terms of vocabulary and pronunciation in the long term. There are two sites I regularly use:

  • Coffee Break Spanish:

You can find podcasts on each level on the website. They are divided into seasons.  Coffee Break Spanish is broadcasted from Scotland. The podcasts are in English and Spanish. Each podcast is quite instructive just like a language lesson. You can find the site here.

  • Hoy Hablamos:

This podcast is broadcasted only in Spanish. This podcast series is not divided into different seasons like Coffee Break Spanish. Starting with the first podcast, the level progressively increases. Unfortunately, you are not informed when the level goes up. New podcasts are added every Monday and Friday. Right now (2018) they are publishing advanced podcasts. You can reach the site from here.

  • Slow News in Spanish:

This is a very nice podcast to practice listening for daily life matters. They speak really slow so it is quite easy to understand what they are talking about. There are 2 versions of Slow News podcast: Slow News in Spanish – Spain and Slow News in Spanish – Latino. I listen to the Latino one, which is recorded in Mexico. Consequently, the presenters have a Mexican accent.

I think Coffee Break Spanish is very useful at every level. On the other hand, Hoy Hablamos and Slow News might not very good options when you are only a beginner. Though, once you learn the basic grammar, these sites will be very beneficial too. All these sites have premium membership options. If you purchase a membership, you can also access podcast texts, grammatical explanations, and exercises. If you prefer the free version you cannot get these extra materials. Also, Slow News have longer episodes for their premium members. If you are using Spotify, you can find the free versions of Coffee Break Spanish and Slow News on Spotify Podcasts.

How to Find a Practice Buddy

The hardest part of learning a language is actually speaking it! Speaking is the hardest part while learning a new language and sometimes it can be very difficult to find someone to practice. So, how can you find one?

Solution 1: go to a Spanish-speaking country

In this post, I said I would talk about activities that can be done at home, and I know that this title does not meet my promise. However, it is impossible to skip the most stereotypical answer one can hear while trying to learn a language. Yes, it is right, the most effective way to learn a language is to go to a native-speaking country.

Although I will not mention this a lot because it does not quite match the goal of this post, I have 2 things to say. The first one is, if you are curious about the language schools in Argentina, you can check the first Learning Spanish post. The second thing is, don’t go to those expensive summer schools or language institutions abroad. Yes, they are the easiest way to find a language course abroad. And they arrange accommodation which is usually the hardest part. But let’s be honest: when you go to Spain with a group of fellow citizens, you are not going to speak Spanish. And when you are not using the language and interacting with the locals, what difference does it have from the course you go in your hometown?

Personal opinion, I think rather than paying a lot of money on these courses, it’s better to spend your money on your own travel plans. In fact, if you go on a trip alone, I bet you will use the language much more since you have to communicate at certain times. (when purchasing a ticket, asking for the restrooms, ordering food, asking directions …).

Solution 2: Speech groups

Many institutions have Spanish speaking groups. You can apply for language courses in your city, cultural foundations, even embassies. Usually, it is easier to find such groups in large cities. If you don’t have these opportunities, check the third solution.

Solution 3: Find a language partner on the Internet

Let’s say you can not use the above options. Do not give up now! We live in the technological era, use the internet! You can find foreign friends through social media. There are many Facebook groups for these purposes. And there are some applications specifically designed for finding language partners.

Swap Language is one of the apps I know, but when it moved to Argentina, it started to work very poorly. It is a Danish-based application, you can try it. It was serving great in Europe. Another common option is HelloTalk.

I use a website called Conversation Exchange. Especially here in Argentina, it works quite well. Thanks to this site, I have met 3 people up to now. It’s easy; you meet online, decide a language date, meet up, speak English first then Spanish (or vice versa). Win-win! I especially love this site because I found a Mexican friend who is learning Turkish which is great for me to find somebody who wants to learn my mother tongue. So we mail in both Turkish and Spanish.

I recently received another website recommendation similar to the Conversation Exchange: Interpals. I didn’t try it yet. Later, I can update this part according to my experience. 🙂

Reading Books

This is one of my favorite activities. I enjoy reading a lot, and I think it is very useful. When I first started to read books in English, I realized great improvement in my English level. I hope to see the same in Spanish as well.
I started after reading books after I managed to pass to the intermediate level. Before, a friend of mine lent me some baby books, but unfortunately, I could not show patience to read them. Because, you know, they are baby books, they are a little boring… So I decided to wait a little longer and then read the children’s books that I already like. 

I found the Spanish e-books online. You can easily purchase Spanish books on Amazon. I am still reading Charlie’s Chocolate Factory which is the first book I started. At first, I was reading a page every day so that I won’t bore myself. Then it got easier since I learned some keywords in the story and I started reading two pages every day. If there are huge pictures on the page then I read three or four pages. When I’m done with this one, I’m will switch to Alice in Wonderland. The key is to choose the books that you will enjoy. For example, my goal is to be able to read the complete Harry Potter in Spanish one day!

My small Turkish-Spanish dictionary.

Dictionary Reading

Yes, I read a dictionary. When my husband first told me to read a dictionary, my reaction was: ” What? I won’t read a dictionary! How am I supposed to read a  dictionary? It’s booorriiing!” I have made millions of complaints for months.

I was wrong and I regret it.

Yes, reading a dictionary can be a bit boring, yet it is a very useful activity. Because unconsciously you learn a lot when you look at the dictionary. I am one of those, and I carry the little dictionary you see above. I’m trying to read a page every day. (I just passed to the letter B…) Or if it’s not urgent, I search for the words in the dictionary, not the phone application. Because when you look for a word in the dictionary, you see all the other words too. You learn more than you ever notice.

Writing a Diary

This is an activity I don’t do every day. I actually tried to do it every day for a while, but then my sentences started to repeat itself. I would get bored, and start cheating from the day before. Although not regularly, I try to write the diary as much as I feel like needed. Because I think it’s incredibly helpful. In fact, this is the one activity I see the effects very quickly.

What I mean is, writing a diary makes it easier for me to talk. For example, if I wrote about the last trip I went to my diary, later when I’m talking with an Argentine friend I find it much easier to talk about it.

Normally, when I want to talk about something I get stuck trying to remember the vocabulary. But if I wrote about the topic before in my diary, it gets so easy because I have already thought about what I want to say and I have searched and learned all the necessary words!

Listening to Music & Watching Movies

I kept the most common activities to the end because 1) it is very obvious, 2) even though they are common, these two activities I don’t do a lot. To be honest, it would be a huge lie if I told you that I listen to music for learning purposes.

If I approach more objectively: Movies and songs are very effective resources for learning new words, understanding the meaning by the content, understanding the general theme, and developing familiarity with the language. Especially listening to a song with its lyrics at hand and watching a movie in its original language with subtitles can make a great contribution to the learning process.

Personal Choices

As you can see there are many activities to do on your own. It’s up to you to decide which ones to do. I think it’s absolutely personal. 

Here the confession comes: I personally do not do apply the last heading. For once I do not like watching television (ever). Even if I watch it, there are no Spanish subtitles because we have Argentine Cable Tv. The best I can do is the CSI series or The Simpsons in English language and Spanish subtitles. And I listen to music only for my own pleasure. Yes, every once in a while I search for a word I heard in a song but that’s all. I prefer to just listen and enjoy the song. 

On the other hand reading a book, listening to the podcasts are very fun for me. So I prefer those activities instead. Also, I don’t like mobile language applications much, but I do like the convenience of mobile dictionaries. 

Make Your Own Plan

In order to ensure continuity and not to lose your motivation, you should make a study plan according to your own interests. Nevertheless, there are a few things to keep in mind while you’re preparing your plan.

  • Try to include each area (reading, writing, and listening) in your plan. If Spanish movies are not your favorite, listen to music. If you do not like to read books, try to find small news on the internet and read them. If it’s hard to write a diary, try to find yourself a chat buddy. Anyway, try to spare time for every activity. (In other words, I don’t rule out an area because you don’t like it. )
  • Do not forget to practice speaking. After all, our main goal in learning a new language is to be able to speak that language.
  • It’s also important how often you practice. Practicing a little bit every day will make a great contribution to you, but it can be difficult for you to arrange such time. However, in order to ensure learning, it is necessary not to go below a certain limit. I think it’s crucial to spend some time to practice at least once a week. Anything less might cause you to forget what you have learned repeat yourself over and over again, which might cause a decrease in your motivation.

Is there anything you do by yourself to learn Spanish? Or any other languages? What kind of methods do you use? If you have different ideas and methods, please share with me in the comments!


About this post:

Original publishing date: 20 July 2018

Last update date: 13 July 2019