This past September (2019) I decided I would make a commitment to making language learning a daily part of my life. As it so happened, my job also changed around this time, increasing my commute time and therefore bringing a new opportunity to use this time wisely. Since then, I have completed all five levels of Pimsleur Spanish and coupled my study with several other programs. My approach seems to be working at lease for me currently and my goal is to reach B1 proficiency by September 2020. This write up is to share my some of the success I’ve had with various language learning resources and communities that have informed and guided my studies. These are just my own opinions and experiences, I in no way claim to be an expert on language learning.
Language Learning Communities
Over the years, have frequented several language learning communities to pick up tips and to read about others experiences in learning a new language. The first community I came across was the very informative How To Learn Any Language site, which seems to have in later years been superseded by the newer Language Learners forum. Both of these sites hold a lot of threads of information around the various techniques people would use and supporting language learning programs. One of the more interesting aspects has been the use of language learning logs, whereby community members would share their experiences as they worked towards completing a program or reaching a proficiency goal. I remember reading about different peoples progress and thinking I should try to get myself motivated to do something similar. More recently I joined a few excellent Reddit language communities including r/languagelearning, r/learnspanish, and r/Spanish and I have come to appreciate the excellent content provided by these YouTubers:
There are many more channels on YouTube and language learning communities, which I am not going to cover here, however on of the great things about learning a new language I have found is that there are many people out there that can offer tips, resources, and support (often at little or no cost).
I have looked at various different language learning programs over the years, however the one program that got me started and enabled me to quickly progress to more advanced material was the Pimsleur program. I already mentioned, Pimsleur is based primarily on audio speaking and listening and leverages spaced repetition to ensure what you learn sticks. It also provides an entry for anyone who has never uttered a word of their target language as it assumes no pre-requisites and does a very good job of slowly introducing the language to you. When I first discovered Pimsleur Spanish, it came in three volumes and a later ‘plus’ version was released. Today Pimsleur Spanish comes in five complete volumes and they also now include reading exercises (however I have not used these as I rely on other programs for reading and writing). You can purchase the volumes directly from Audible using your membership credits (5 credits per level), or alternatively you can sign up for a Pimsleur membership at their website and get access to everything for a monthly fee. I’ll be honest, without Pimsleur Spanish, I probably would never have made it this far in my language learning journey and highly recommend this to anyone interested in picking up a new language!
FSI Basic Spanish
FSI Spanish Basic is a program that was developed in the 1960s and is in the public domain, so it is completely free to use. It is a more advanced program than Pimsleur and relies heavily on the audio-lingual method of drills. The ‘Basic’ part of the title of this program could easily throw you off. The program is anything but basic and was written to supplement classes taken by diplomats in the Foreign Service Institute. Even though it was designed for class use, the program can be used for self-study if you have some prerequisite knowledge of the program. I would strongly advise against going into this program with no background of the language as it will be extremely difficult to follow unless you are very motivated. The program can be very off-putting due to its dated materials and heavy emphasis on the use of practice drills, however if you put in the effort, it does a great job of building structure, automaticity, and an overall better understanding of the language. If you have no experience (or are a beginner), I highly recommend completing Pimsleur Spanish first before considering FSI. Once I completed all five levels of Pimsleur, I jumped into unit 3 of FSI because the first two units are very different from the rest of the program, focusing on intonations and pronunciation on words that do not even provide translations. If you don’t want to be confused, just start at unit 3! I am currently on unit 11 of FSI and have found putting in average of 5-7 hours per lesson has helped me build automaticity and really gained a much deeper appreciation of the language.
I am not a huge fan of language learning apps as I’ve never been able to make the content stick. I have found two exceptions to this. The first app I’ve had success with is Lingvist. Lingvist is essentially a flashcard app, similar to the commonly used Anki program that many language learners recommend using. Lingvist comes with a vocabulary of nearly 6000 words and uses machine learning spaced repetition to improve memorization of new words. The company was founded by Mait Müntel, who was part of the Higgs boson discovery team at CERN. The secret of success with Lingvist (as with many language programs) is a commitment to completing daily study. I use Lingvist daily and try to complete two sets which equates to 100 flashcards. To date I’ve learned over 2000 new words with this app.
The second app I have found invaluable in my studies is ConjuGato, available for both iOS and Android. Conjugato is a great tool for improving your understanding of Spanish verb conjugations and for building your verbs vocabulary. The app contains the top 1000 verbs in Spanish and gives you a full breakdown of all the indicative and subjunctive conjugations in a nice easy to view table breakdown. The big draw with ConjuGato is its ‘practice’ mode that allows you to define what group of verbs you want to test yourself on as well as the various conjugations you want to include. The app recommends study of fifty verbs per day and allows to to either review or fill in the blanks (similar to Lingvist). I have found the real power with ConjuGato to have a quick reference available at any time to browse to a verb I want to look up and see the various conjugations I need. For me, ConguGato has been a must in my language learning studies.
Assimil Spanish with Ease
The Assimil series of courses are well known in the language learning community. I really enjoy the approach which involves both a passive and active phase in the course. Each unit or lesson provides a brief conversation in Spanish along with the English translation on the opposite page. The real power behind the Assimil method is to introduce you to various grammatical concepts through conversations, so you’re not actually studying grammar directly, but instead acquiring it through what they describe as ‘intuitive assimilation’. I use Assimil in a more passive way as I have time and have made it to lesson 40. I enjoy the humorous conversations and stories in each lesson, however I do find it more difficult to stay motivated with this approach of learning. As with the FSI program you need to remain very motivated to get through the lessons, however I find Assimil more difficult to measure my progress. With FSI I know I’m doing well when I can respond to all of the drills immediately with little or no errors. With Assimil I try to gauge my progress through understanding the narrative and answering the exercises. The second phase of Assimil (the active phase) may make this more obvious once I get there, which involves not only completing the lessons, but going back and reviewing the english versions of the narratives and attempting to translate back into Spanish. Overall, I highly recommend this addition to your language learning resources.
One of the key factors in learning any language is immersion and reading can go a long way to helping with this, especially if you are like me and not living in the country of the target language you are trying to acquire. LingQ provides an excellent way to listen to, watch, and read authentic content in your target language. It also lets you import text and provides an interface for understanding the content. What this essentially means is that you can target your language learning around the content that interests you directly, be it books, videos, or otherwise. I have not spent as much time with LingQ as I should, however I will definitely continue to use the platform as my acquisition skills increase and it helps me towards mastery of the language. I highly recommend this app for anyone wanting to have more control over their language learning journey!
There are a few additional resources I’d like to call out in conclusion to this list. These are just some of the courses and books I’ve dabbled with successfully and would recommend adding to your language learning arsenal:
- Practice Makes Perfect: Spanish Verb Tenses
- Madrigal’s Magic Key to Spanish: A Creative and Proven Approach
- Spanish for Reading
- First Spanish Reader: A Beginner’s Dual-Language Book
- Ultimate Spanish Review and Practice