How to Teach Yourself Spanish
Here's the general advice:
Subject your brain to as much Spanish as possible, in all forms.
But let's get more specific:
Music helps immensely. When listening to Spanish music, do yourself the favor of reading the lyrics and looking up words you don't know until you are sure about what the song says. Then listen as usual and enjoy!
You can find lyrics online for most songs, just google for the song name with the word "letras".
Some artists with clear lyrics (plus Wikipedia info and music videos on YouTube):
- Jarebe de Palo (Wikipedia, YouTube)
- Jorge Drexler (Wikipedia, YouTube)
- Manu Chao (Wikipedia, YouTube)
- Julieta Venegas (Wikipedia, YouTube)
- Lila Downs (Wikipedia, YouTube)
- Fonseca (Wikipedia, YouTube)
- Amaral (Wikipedia, YouTube)
- Shakira (Wikipedia, YouTube)
Read a novel in Spanish, but do not use a dictionary. Reading with a dictionary is tedious and boring, and you'll be tired after a few pages.
Keep reading, even if you don't feel like you are understanding anything. Look up an occasional word if it is used repeatedly or seems really important.
If you can, stop yourself from translating to English in your head, and instead sound the words out in your best Spanish accent.
Easy-reading fiction is best, the kind you'd take on vacation. A book that you've already read in English is a great choice. Also, don't be afraid to read childrens books at first.
Read a few novels this way, and your comprehension will improve tremendously.
You may want to underline the words that you don't know as you read. It makes it easier to go back and find previous uses of hard words.
TV and Movies
- Watch in English with Spanish subtitles.
- Watch in Spanish with English subtitles.
- Watch in Spanish with Spanish subtitles.
Most DVDs and many TVs have these options. Even a boring movie can be interesting as a learning experience.
A great tool called WordChamp Web Reader lets you read Spanish-language websites with English definitions available for every word in popups.
openphrasebook.org collects country-specific Spanish phrases, colloquialisms, and idioms, including audio recordings of native speakers. Check it out, and contribute localisms in your native language.
Use software in Spanish
Set your computer's interface, your web mail, your cell phone, your television's menu to Spanish. It's an easy way to improve vocabulary.
Improve your writing with Google
When writing Spanish, you can use Google to figure out correct grammar. Just search for a short phrase in quotations and look at the total number of results.
For example, which is correct: "tengo ganas a", "tengo ganes en", or "tengo ganas de"?
Try each in Google, and note the total results (in the upper right corner):
It's not foolproof, but in this case it's clear which is correct, no?
Practice reading and writing in Spanish Chat Rooms
Conversations on Instant Messenger and Internet Chat (IRC) are easier than live conversations. They are usually slower, you get to read instead of listen, and you can use a dictionary without boring the other person to death.
As a bonus, you can keep a log of everything said and review it later.
One site for finding chat partners is espanglishchat.com.
Desde el Baño from Argentina (female) about Spanish.
Viajero del Mundo from Spain (male) about travel.
Podcastellano lists Spanish-language podcasts.
Spanish Courses on CD
Spanish Courses on CD can't hurt, but they are overpriced and won't make you conversational. The best I've heard is Michel Thomas.
Tips for Talking
Most people are too polite to point out your errors. But if you're lucky, they will repeat what you said, in correct form, as a question. You may be tempted to say 'si', but repeating your original sentence the correct way will help you remember it. Always give them visual feedback (smile, nod) to indicate that you are happy for the help (even when you just feel frustrated!).
While it's tempting to answer sentences that you didn't quite understand with "Que?" (or the more polite "Como?"), try to ask specific questions instead, using as much of the information as you caught.
Don't try to speak as fast as natives speak. Be aware that natives can get away with more corner-cutting in their speech than you. It's OK to speak more slowly and more "by the book" than them. A side benefit is that they may respond by speaking slower.