Linguistics

Learn Spanish

Learn Spanish with these resources

To learn Spanish, you’re going need a way to learn correct pronunciation, a frequency dictionary to form your base vocabulary, and a good grammar book. You’ll also benefit from a thematic vocabulary book for specialized vocabulary and maybe a book or two, once you learn your first 1000 words. Make sure you read the Method sections of the website, then check out some of these recommended resources (pictures are links):

Pronunciation

Note: As a faster (and more effective) alternative to the following pronunciation resources, check out my Kickstarter project. It will make the first steps of Spanish much easier for you, because it takes advantage of how your brain works (and how to re-wire it) in a way that traditional tools just can’t.
 
First off, get a feel for how pronunciation works in English. The video tutorials here should help.

Once you understand that, start working on Spanish. The Pronounce it Perfectly series comes with Audio CDs, all the pronunciation rules, and I’ve yet to see one that wasn’t excellent. (Note: The Spanish version of Pronounce It Perfectly appears to be out of print and very hard to get nowadays. At the moment, our best recommendation is to use our trainers, but let us know if there’s an additional resource we can recommend and we’ll add it!) If you want to jump to free internet resources, check out the Spanish Pronunciation Wikibook, Wikipedia’s Spanish Phonology page and StudySpanish.com’s pronunciation guide with recordings.

There are also some useful Anki flashcards for Spanish to improve your pronunciation, such as the Spanish alphabet, Spanish IPA and other useful goodies.

If you’re a native English speaker, you’ll need to learn to hear and pronounce these consonants: β (bebé), ɣ (trigo), ʝ (ayuno), x (jamón), ʎ (pollo), ɲ (cabaña), r (carro), and ɾ (caro). You’ll have a pretty easy time with the vowels. There are basically only 5 of them: a (azahar), e (vehemente), i (dimitir), o (boscoso), u (cucurucho). You’ll need to get rid of your English diphthongs for “o” and “e” (we don’t really say “o”; we go “oh-uu”), and you’ll need a brighter “a.” All three of these issues show up in French, too. I discuss them in the French vowel video, so at least until I make a video series on Spanish, just watch the French stuff and ignore the blabbering about nasal vowels, since you don’t need those. All of the other sounds in the language should be familiar to your ears and your mouth.(*note we’re looking for new resources here as ‘Pronounce it Perfectly in Spanish’ is now currently $200 used–if you run across a good alternative let us know!)

 

Your base vocabulary

I’ve made a base vocabulary list of words to start you off! As I talk about in that article, I find it easiest to translate those words using the short dictionaries at the end of a Lonely Planet Phrasebook; they’re cheap, short and give you good, standard translations for your words (just ignore the ridiculous pronunciation guides). Later, when you’re ready for sentences, you can go back to your phrasebook and grab some. After that, try some of these resources: Routledge Spanish Frequency Dictionary

The Routledge Frequency dictionary series is excellent, with example uses and everything. Get this at the beginning to direct your vocabulary work!

Mastering Spanish Vocabulary

The Mastering Vocabulary series is a wonderful set of books that contain core vocab for just about any field/topic you can think of. They’re great for adding to your vocab once you get your first 1000 or 2000 words from a frequency list. In terms of free resources, Wordsgalore has a decent list with translations of the top 1000 with mp3 recordings. They’re not in frequency order, but that’s not a big deal; you should know at least the top 1000 anyways.

You can also get a hold of Spanish Anki decks to improve your Spanish vocabulary, such as the Spanish alphabet, Spanish numbers, Spanish Top 100 Words among many other flashcard decks.

Online, you should be able to find neat set of sentences which are ranked based upon how frequently the words within those sentences show up within the language, then created Anki decks to store them, with Text-to-Speech recordings of each sentence and translations. They’re a nice resource to mine for useful content; I’d suggest finishing the 625, then looking through them in order for new words or new grammatical constructions, and then learning those new chunks via New Word cards, New Word Form cards and Word Order cards.
Practical Spanish Grammar

Grammar book

There are a lot of options here; so far, my pick would be Practical Spanish Grammar. (Note: Though I recommend the book, it does have some errors. One of our Forum users told us that a list of its errors can be found here.)

Harry Potter in Spanish

Book-type book

You can read anything that you enjoy. I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter series in translation, especially if you can find an audiobook version to listen to at the same time as reading.

Other Resources

Typing

You’ll need to be able to type a few new characters (á, é, í, ó, ú, ü, ñ, ¿ and ¡). There’s a great, straightforward article on this at Spanishdict.com, with instructions for Macs and PCs.

Monolingual Dictionary

Once you learn enough Spanish, move to a monolingual dictionary. RAE’s Diccionario de la Lengua Española is free and excellent. Linguee is a lovely dictionary resource, in that it shows you multiple example sentences for each word and tells you about each word’s relative frequency in the language. (Currently in English, Spanish, German, French and Portuguese)
Assimil Spanish with Ease

Assimil

The Assimil series is a sort of special language learning resource that I discuss in a blog post here. It doesn’t quite fit into any of the categories above, and I think it works best as a sort of supplemental source of Spanish input. Here’s the beginner Spanish version with CDs.

Dictionarist

Dictionarist provides translations, example sentences, conjugations, and synonyms for a number of languages including Spanish.

Spanish IPA

Sometimes when languages are very phonetic and regular, they just assume that writing out the spellings is adequate for everyone’s needs. Thankfully, languages with really regular phonetics lend themselves well to computer programs, so often you can find a Spelling -> IPA converter for those, and there IS one for Spanish.

Just plug in your word and you should get IPA for whatever you need. If you’re doing multiple words, be aware that the converter will assume you’re writing a sentence and change the IPA accordingly (so “grande” is [gˈɾande], but if it’s in a sentence, it will typically turn into [ˈɣɾande], since that “g” is surrounded by voiced sounds on both sides).

There’s also a great Spanish IPA deck for Anki that you can use so that you familiarize yourself with all the unique IPA and the sounds of Spanish, according to their letter combinations in Spanish words.

Speaking Practice

Spanish Language Immersion Programs

We have information on language immersion programs on this page. For Spanish, specifically, there is a tremendous thread about immersion programs in Latin America up at Reddit. Check that out. The first suggestion is pretty awesome, at $750 for an entire month of private lessons and lodging in Costa Rica. Also this program in Peru is pretty neat. They’re an NGO that teach single mothers how to be Spanish teachers. In general, you’re looking at ~$7.50-9.50/hour for private classes, $90/week for homestays (food included), which works out to around $1000/month for 20 hours of weekly private classes, food and lodging. (See this post for details) Also check out the Escuelas Oficiales de Idiomas in Spain. Every little community has its own and they’re public (i.e., cheap). Eventually, it’d be nice to have reviews of each little school. If you’ve been to one (or know someone who has), let me know and I’ll add it here!

rae.es has minimal etymology information

 

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