Monthly Archives: July 2013

Italki Review: How Italki is Helping Me Learn Spanish

There is only way to learn to speak a language: speak it, speak it, and speak it some more.

While the easiest way to immerse yourself in a language is to travel – or, better yet, move – to a country where the language is spoken, all is not lost for those of us who can’t do that just yet. Thanks to the wonders of Skype and free websites like, we can immerse ourselves in any language from the comfort of our living room couches! (Actually, in my case, it’s the dining room table. I still haven’t quite mastered the art of using a laptop on my actual lap.)

If you’re looking to ramp up your language learning, then you might want to consider signing up for italki.

* Please note: this review is very long. I can’t help it. I’m full of words. Believe it or not, I actually cut out a good quarter of each post before I actually publish it. If you don’t like posts with a lot of words – well, you probably won’t like this blog. Sorry.


First of all, it’s important to point out that italki itself isn’t a language program. It won’t teach you grammar, or provide you with video lessons, or offer you with step-by-step how-to-learn-any-language instructions. What it will do is provide you with access to a much more valuable resource: actual, thinking, communicating human beings. 

Registration on italki is free. Once you’ve registered, you’ll set up your profile, including which languages you speak and which languages you’re learning. There’s lots of “social stuff” on italki: upvoting, friending/following, discussion threads and so on. While some people might love the social media stuff, I don’t bother much with most of it. My goal is to connect directly with Spanish speakers who can help me, or with French speakers who need my help.

In my opinion, these are the five best ways that italki is helping me learn Spanish:

1. Find a language partner

A language partner is someone who speaks the language that you’re learning, and who is learning the language that you speak. If you click on “Language Partners” at the top of your italki screen, you can search for someone to connect with, being as specific as you like.


My specific search – female Spanish-speakers learning French – brought back dozens and dozens of results.

Once you have a list of results, you can read people’s profiles and find someone who seems interesting. When I first signed on to italki, I followed people and they followed me back, but nothing ever came of it. My “followers” count went up, so I suppose I might have looked a bit more popular, but it wasn’t actually helping me learn Spanish.

I’m much more specific now. After clicking the “follow” button on someone’s profile, I send them a note requesting that they follow me back, spelling out exactly what I’m looking for. I include time zones in three major Spanish-speaking cities. This might seem a bit too straightforward for some people, but I don’t want to waste lots of back-and-forth time. As lovely as a person might be, if our schedules don’t mesh, then she isn’t the language partner I’m looking for.


I send very specific follow requests on italki. Yes, I realize that I accidentally typed “who” twice.

Once I connect with a language partner whose schedule matches mine, we set up an initial Skype meeting. From there, we can decide if we would like to meet regularly for practice sessions. So far, I’ve had nothing but good luck with language partners. I meet weekly with five fun, encouraging, friendly women – a different one every weekday. 

I use a webcam for all of my language exchanges – I like to see a person when I’m talking to her. I know, though, that some people prefer not to use webcams at all. If you’re not comfortable with video, make that clear from the beginning, and you should be able to find someone to talk to using audio only.

2. Hire a professional teacher or a community tutor

If money is tight, or if you’re happy with your progress, then language partners might more than meet your needs. I wanted to progress more quickly, so I decided to hire a professional teacher to help me learn.

On italki, you can choose between two types of paid lessons: professional lessons and informal tutoring. Teachers offering professional lessons have to have some kind of certification, whereas informal tutors don’t. Teachers are generally more expensive than informal tutors, but many of them are very reasonably priced. Some of them are so inexpensive, in fact, that the language teacher in me feels a bit bad about how low their rates are.

Many teachers and tutors offer trial sessions, lower-priced half-hour sessions for new students. Some of these trial sessions can cost as little as 10 credits, or one dollar. This lets you “sample” a teacher to make sure that your styles and personalities mesh well. Each student is only allowed to take three trial sessions, perhaps to discourage people from taking trials without committing to any teacher. (I personally disagree with the three-trial policy, but it is what it is.) 

One great thing about the italki booking system is that there’s no back-and-forth needed. You access the teacher’s schedule, click on an available time, and send a session request. Best of all, the schedule is automatically converted to your time zone, so you don’t even have to figure out what time your session actually starts. I booked two trial sessions, with the idea that I would take two weekly lessons with the teacher that I clicked best with. Then I clicked with both of them. Rather than choosing between them, I decided to do one weekly session with each of them.


My fantastic italki Spanish teachers, Mati and Auri.

Connecting with Skype tutors ended up being one of the best things that I’ve done to speed up my language learning. Between my conversation partners and my tutors, I’m spending a whopping seven hours on Skype every week, five and a half of which are in Spanish. While this might seem like a lot, the time flies by, and I credit Skype conversations for 80% of my progress.

3. Write a notebook entry

The best place to seek out corrections is in your written work. While a patient and encouraging teacher or language teacher will correct you at times when you’re speaking, it would be counterproductive to expect them to correct every single mistake. Too many interruptions would break the flow of conversation, which is the whole point of doing a language exchange.

In a notebook entry, though, you’re laying down your work with the understanding that native speakers will correct it, change it, and point out your mistakes.


One of my notebook entries, with corrections suggested by a native Spanish-speaker.

Don’t forget to return the favour and try to correct other people’s work as well. There are always notebook entries that go without corrections, which must be very disappointing for the writer. When choosing notebook entries to correct, it’s best to stick to your own language or to a language that you know very well. I’ve seen corrections made by a non-native speakers that were very inaccurate.

 4. Find a penpal

I connected with one potential language partner, but no matter how hard we tried, we just couldn’t schedule a Skype meeting. Instead, we decided to be penpals. We write to each other using the italki private message system two or three times a week. Eva writes to me in English, and I send her message back to her with a few corrections and suggestions. Then I respond to her message in Spanish, and she corrects my work.

I struggle with writing in Spanish. A lot. I’m surprised by how helpful it is to have a penpal! I appreciate being able to take the time to think about what I want to say, and to really dig in to the corrections that Eva makes on my work. I also like having a penpal because – unlike with notebook entries – we can develop a relationship and have longer and more personal conversations.

5. Ask, answer and read questions

I click on this feature when I have a few spare minutes and want to help other learners. People post brief questions in any language, and native speakers answer them. You can look at all of the questions, or sort them by language. I try to answer as many French questions as I can, focusing first on the ones that haven’t been answered yet.

Reading questions and answers in the language that you’re learning can help you clear up understanding, build vocabulary, and learn expressions.


A few Spanish questions on italki.

Out of the five components that I mentioned in this post, I think that asking and answering questions is the one that I use the least. Still, it can be a very useful way to interact with native speakers without much of a time commitment.

What I would like to see at italki

Of course, no review is complete without a mention of what’s lacking. Here are a few things that I would like to see at italki:

  • a live chat feature that would allow you to exchange messages back-and-forth with a native speaker.
  • three trial sessions allowed for each language being learned, rather than three trial sessions total per student.
  • a way to connect with community tutors without setting an appointment in advance. Sometimes I have 30 spare minutes that I’d like to spend in conversation. It would be nice if community tutors could sign up for “drop-in” sessions. Potential students could message them and, if they’re available, the session could start immediately instead of being booked 24 hours in advance. 

If you aren’t regularly talking to people in the language that you’re learning, then you’re missing a huge piece of the language learning puzzle.

Sites like italki can help you find that puzzle piece. Once you start talking to real, live, unpredictable human beings, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your ability to speak progresses!

Go ahead and sign up for italki. Find a partner. Write a notebook entry. Start actually communicating with people. After all, human communication is the reason that languages even exist in the first place!

A few final notes:

This is a completely unbiased review. Italki does have a referral program that allows referrers to earn credits, but the link that I posted in this review is not an affiliate link. The only thing that I’m hoping to get from anyone who decides to join italki is the satisfaction that one more person is seeking out native speakers to communicate with! If, however, you would like to support me by providing me with one free lesson (at no cost to you) when and if you buy any credits, you can use this referral link when signing up for italki.

I’m not looking for any more language exchange partners at this point. But if you’re an intermediate or advanced Spanish-speaker and you want to practice for half an hour every week or two (just Spanish – no French or English), please contact me!

How I Self Study Spanish: Don’t Overcomplicate Things

Update: this page gets a lot of Google visitors looking for information on self-studying Spanish. I put up a very detailed Spanish self-study guide (from absolute beginner to advanced) in July 2014.

I live in the middle of nowhere.

All right, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But I do live in a village of under 2000 people. My house is walking distance from the hardware store, the grocery store and a Tim Horton’s, so I figure that puts me right downtown. The closest thing that we get to a traffic jam is when 20 cars pile up behind an extra-wide tractor moving at 25 km/h.

There are no Spanish classes here.

Thanks to the wonders of the interwebs, though, it turns out that that’s not really a problem. In fact, I think that being in a class would hold me back. As it stands, I’m advancing at my own pace, which is much quicker than I originally thought it would be.

Using a variety of free online resources – and a couple of cheap-but-not-quite-free ones – I’ve put together a Spanish learning program that I feel is working very well for me. I spend about two hours per day working on Spanish, but very little of it feels like actual work.

Now, at first, I got all caught up in creating complicated schedules for myself. I’d do x on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; y on Tuesdays and every second Thursday; and z on Saturdays that fell on an even-numbered date. But setting up, trying to follow, and modifying those schedules was starting to take up more time than my actual learning!

After a few months of trial and error, I’ve settled into a much less complicated approach to learning. I focus on things that I enjoy, and I do at least one thing that falls into each of these categories every day:


1. Talk to someone every day

I credit Skype conversations for 80% of my progress. I talk to a native speaker every weekday in a language exchange. We speak Spanish for the first half of the hour and English or French for the second half, which means that we both get to practice the language that we’re learning. In addition to this, I meet with two Spanish tutors on Skype, for an hour each. They’re both experienced and well-qualified, and their lessons are engaging, helpful and 100% Spanish. I highly recommend looking into one-on-one tutoring if you want to progress quickly.

I’ll put up a post on Wednesday about where and how I find those Skype partners and tutors.

In addition to talking to native speakers on Skype, I also babble to myself pretty much constantly. I narrate my actions out loud as I do them. I announce what I’m doing to my husband (who is now brushing up on his Spanish through osmosis). I even talk to my dog in Spanish. It didn’t take him long to learn the word galleta, but for some reason he hasn’t figured out ven yet.

2. Listen to something every day

Of course, Skype exchanges are the best listening practice for my goal: being conversationally fluent in Spanish. But I also try to listen to at least one other form of media every day. I might watch an episode of Destinos, watch a short Spanish Youtube video, or listen to a podcast. I also sing along to Spanish-language music every day.

3. Read something every day

I’m a bookworm, so this was easy to incorporate into my daily routine. I’m currently reading Charlie y la fábrica de chocolate by Roald Dahl. I know this children’s novel well in English, so I’m finding it really easy to understand in Spanish. When I read a novel, I read extensively rather than intensively – I don’t stop to look up words or puzzle through verb tenses. I just read for pleasure, for about 15 minutes every night. I’m amazed at how much vocabulary I’m picking up and retaining.

I also read an article every week in preparation for one of my tutoring sessions. I read the articles more intensively than the novel, going over them more than once for a different purpose each time.

4. Write something every day

I write to an email penpal in Spanish a few times a week. She corrects my work, and then responds in English. This is quick, easy writing work that I don’t put a ton of time into, but it’s good practice. I also write and post a text online once or twice a week so that I can get it corrected by native speakers. I use an inexpensive grammar workbook, Practice Makes Perfect, a few times a week to work on verb tenses and sentence structure.

5. Practice vocabulary every day

Like many other language learners, I use anki to practice vocabulary. Anki uses a spaced repetition system, organizing your practice so that you review difficult words more often. I have two anki decks, both of which I made myself and add to regularly. One has vocabulary from all over the place – Skype conversations, articles, videos, duolingo, words that I find myself lacking when I want to explain something. The other anki deck is for grammar study, based almost exclusively on the exercises from the Practice Makes Perfect workbooks.

I’ve read online that some people use anki for an hour or more each day. While everyone has to figure out what works for them, that’s way too intense for me! My anki practice usually takes me 10 minutes in the morning, over a cup of coffee.

I also play on duolingo three or four times a week. Duolingo is a fun site if you like gamified language study. It’s not the cornerstone of my language learning by any means, but I enjoy doing it and I do find that it increases my active vocabulary.

SpanishDict has a great word of the day that you can get in your inbox every morning.

So what does all of that look like in practice?

A typical Monday might look something like this:

30 minutes over coffee in the morning: run through my anki decks, listen to a song once or twice, write a quick email to my penpal Eva

20 minutes after lunch: read through an article twice, the first time on my own for general understanding and the second time while listening to the audio. Tomorrow, I’ll read it a third time with my highlighter in hand so that I can add new words, expressions and grammar structures to anki.

30 minutes in the afternoon: watch an episode of Destinos

60 minutes in the evening: meet on Skype with Cristina, my lovely conversation partner from Argentina (30 minutes of Spanish)

15 minutes before bed: read a chapter of my novel

That adds up to a total of 125 minutes of Spanish study. Out of those two hours, only 20 minutes feel anything like ”work”: the time that I put into reading and understanding the article. Articles are tricky for me and require a lot of concentration. Still, I enjoy puzzling through a new text. I just keep it to one per week for now so that I don’t get burnt out. On a daily basis, I try to spend no more than 20-30 minutes doing Spanish ”work” like reading articles or working through grammar exercises.

Since I’m a teacher currently on summer holidays, I can usually dedicate a good chuck of time to Spanish. On an extremely busy day, I might have not have as much time – or any at all – but I still try to hit all five of those categories.

A hypothetical don’t-have-a-minute-to-breathe-let-alone-study day:

  • talk to someone – talk to my dog in Spanish as I take him for a walk
  • listen to something – sing along to a Spanish song while I get ready to go
  • read something – take a quick glance at my Spanish twitter feed on my phone
  • write something – send someone a text – even if they can’t read Spanish
  • practice vocabulary – read the word of the day from SpanishDict, say it out loud, try to use it in a sentence

Most of what I do in Spanish – talking to a friend on Skype, watching a TV show, reading a book – are things that I love doing in English or French. I think that that’s really the key for anyone self-studying a language: find activities that you enjoy doing in your own language, and then commit to doing them in the language that you’re learning.

And try not to overcomplicate things.

Song of the Week : La Tortura – Shakira y Sanz

I love music.

I sing in the shower. I sing in the car. I sing while walking the dog – although I do try not to sing too loud, so that I don’t make my neighbours nervous.

So it seemed logical that I should learn Spanish through songs.

Music fits perfectly into any language study schedule, regardless of how much or how little time you have to practice each day. Every week, I choose a Spanish-language song. I spend a few minutes on the first day working my way through the lyrics, and then I just listen to it twice every day for the rest of the week. It takes about five to ten minutes per day, and by the end of the week, I’m singing in the shower in Spanish.

If you don’t already use music in your language study, then you might want to start! Every Friday, I’ll post a youtube video of a Spanish song, along with the lyrics in both Spanish and English. I try to listen to a wide variety of styles, so if you don’t like this song, come back next Friday to listen to something else.

latortura* Please note: Actually translating the song (using a combination of the words in my head, translations that I find online, Google translate and a Spanish-English dictionary) is a big part of my learning. I’m a student of Spanish, and a fairly new one at that. This is ongoing work, so I hope that you’ll correct any errors or share any insight into the meaning of the original song. Or if you want to translate it yourself, I’d love to compare our versions!

La Tortura – Shakira y Alejandro Sanz

Sanz Ay payita mía, guardate la poesía
Guardate la alegría pa’ti
Baby, keep your poetry
Keep your joy to yourself
Shakira No pido que todos los días sean de sol
No pido que todos los viernes sean de fiesta
Tampoco te pido que vuelvas rogando perdón
Si lloras con los ojos secos
Y hablando de ella
Ay amor me duele tanto
I don’t ask that there be sun every day
I don’t ask that there be a party every Friday
Nor do I ask that you come beg me for forgiveness
If you’re crying with dry eyes
And talking about her
Oh my love, it hurts me so much
Sanz Me duele tanto It hurts me so much
Shakira Que te fueras sin decir a dónde
Ay amor fue una tortura
That you left without saying where
Oh my love, it was like torture
Losing you
Sanz Yo sé que no he sido un santo
Pero lo puedo arreglar, amor
I know that I haven’t been a saint
But I can fix it, my love
Shakira No sólo de pan vive el hombre
Y no de excusas vivo yo
Man doesn’t live on bread alone
and I don’t live on excuses
Sanz Sólo de errores se aprende
Y hoy sé que es tuyo mi corazón
We only learn from our mistakes
And now I know that my heart is yours
Shakira Mejor te guardas todo eso
A otro perro con ese hueso
Y nos decimos adios
No puedo pedir que el invierno perdone a un rosal
No puedo pedir a los olmos que entreguen peras
No puedo pedirle lo eterno a un simple mortal
Y andar arrojando a los cerdos miles de perlas
You’re best to keep all that to yourself
Give that bone to another dog
and let’s say good-bye
I can’t ask that winter give a rosebush
I can’t ask that an elm bear pears
I can’t ask the eternal from a mere mortal
And walk about casting thousands of pearls before the swine
Sanz Ay amor me duele tanto
Me duele tanto
Que no creas más en mis promesas
Oh my love, it hurts me so much
It hurts me so much
That you no longer believe my promises
Shakira Ay amor Oh my love
Sanz Es una tortura It’s like torture
Shakira Perderte Losing you
Sanz Yo sé que no he sido un santo
Pero lo puedo arreglar, amor
I know that I haven’t been a saint
But I can fix it, my love
Shakira No sólo de pan vive el hombre
Y no de excusas vivo yo
Man doesn’t live on bread alone
and I don’t live on excuses
Sanz Sólo de errores se aprende
Y hoy sé que es tuyo mi corazón
We only learn from our mistakes
And now I know that my heart is yours
Shakira Mejor te guardas todo eso
A otro perro con ese hueso
Y nos decimos adios
You’re best to keep all that to yourself
Give that bone to another dog
and let’s say good-bye
Sanz No te bajes, no te bajes
Oye negrita mira, no te rajes
De lunes a viernes tienes mi amor
Déjame el sábado a mi que es mejor
Oye mi negra no me castigues más
Porque allá afuera sin ti no tengo paz
Yo solo soy un hombre muy arrepentido
Soy como el ave que vuelve a su nido
Yo sé que no he sido un santo
Es que no estoy hecho de cartón
Don’t go, don’t go
Listen baby, look, don’t back down
From Monday to Friday you have my love
Give me Saturday, it will be best
Listen baby, don’t punish me anymore
Because out there without you I have no peace
I’m only a very repentant man
I’m like the bird that returns to its nest
I know that I haven’t been a saint
But I’m not made of stone (cardboard)
Shakira No solo de pan vive el hombre
Y no de excusas vivo yo
Man doesn’t live on bread alone
and I don’t live on excuses
Sanz Solo de errores se aprende
Y hoy sé que es tuyo mi corazón
We only learn from our mistakes
And now I know that my heart is yours
Shakira Todo lo que he hecho por tí
Fue una tortura perderte
Me duele tanto que sea así
Sigue llorando perdón
Yo ya no voy a llorar por tí
Everything that I did for you
It was like torture losing you
It hurts me so much that it’s like this
Keep crying for forgiveness
I won’t cry for you anymore


A few notes:

I apologize for the old-school html table with small font. It’s not very visually appealing. Is there an easier way to make tables in wordpress that I don’t know about? If you want to print the lyrics in Spanish and English (in a more readable font and in a much prettier table), you can download the pdf here: latortura

The words “negra” and “negrita” were jarring to me when I first read them. According to the ever-trusty Google, it seems that in Columbia and other parts of Latin America, they’re often used as terms of endearment – like “baby” or “sweetheart”.

There’s a part of this song that I simply can not sing, no matter how often I try. The bit about the dog and the bone is fast.

Do you know any great Spanish songs that I should add to my list? I’m always looking for new music!

Destinos Review: How I’m Learning Spanish With Cheesy Dialogue, Big Hair and Shoulder Pads

There are lots of shiny, spangly, new resources out there, but I’m not going to start with them. No, instead I’m going to start with a decidedly low-tech Spanish language learning tool that’s over 20 years old: Destinos.

Why? Because it’s great, that’s why.

What is Destinos?

destinosDestinos – by Annenberg Media – is an entire language program built around a ridiculously cheesy telenovela from the early 1990s. While the original program included a textbook, workbooks and tapes (hey, it was the early 90s!), what really matters is the soap opera itself: 52 30-minute episodes that help you build vocabulary and train your ear to understand spoken Spanish. And you can watch all of them online for free!

Don Fernando (he’s the guy in the picture – see how sad and serious he looks?) reveals his deepest, darkest secret to his family: he was married once before and he may have another child. The family hires Raquel Rodriguez, a Spanish-speaking lawyer from California, to find them before the ailing Don Fernando dies. She travels the world, seeking answers:

  • What’s in the letter?
  • Where is Rosario?
  • What happened to the child?
  • Should she buy the red shirt or the blue one?
  • How does one fit so many shoulder pads into one suitcase? (Actually, this is one mystery that will never be solved.)

¡Corre, Raquel!

Add in pregnant pauses, overdramatic facial expressions, cheesy romantic subplots and clothes that would have made even the 80s cringe, and you’ve got Destinos.

Why I love Destinos

OK, so the story is a bit silly – but isn’t that true for all soap operas?

What matters is that it works.

It introduces vocabulary in context. Rather than studying disconnected vocabulary lists, watching Destinos allows you to learn food vocab while people are eating, colours while Raquel is shopping for new clothes, and numbers in the context of phone numbers, addresses and room numbers. Yes, sometimes the context is a bit forced – for example, when Raquel ends up in a pet market so that we can learn the words for “dog”, “cat” and “bird” – but it’s never completely unrelated. Because words are used in context, they’re much easier to learn and retain.

It uses very little English. One of the things that disappoints me the most with resources for beginner learners is just how much English they tend to include. Some of them have more English than Spanish! This is not true for Destinos. The vast majority of each 30-minute program is fully in Spanish. Because it’s a telenovela, it’s a very visual medium. If you don’t understand something, you can use picture cues to help you figure it out.

It uses different speeds of speech to help develop listening skills. The narrator speaks in slow, clearly enunciated Spanish. Raquel also speaks slowly and clearly at the end of each episode, when she’s thinking back on what happened. In between, though, there’s lots of conversation at a “normal” pace. OK, it’s probably a bit slower and definitely with less slang than a truly normal conversation, but it’s still a challenge!

It introduces different Spanish accents. Throughout the story, Raquel visits Spain, Argentina, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Each region has its own accent and speech patterns. I was starting to feel a bit smug after nine episodes in Spain. This is easy. I’m good. Then we went to Argentina, and I felt like I was starting all over again for the first few episodes. I love having the opportunity to train my ear using a variety of accents. The show also includes snapshots of history and culture for each region.

It includes closed captioning – in Spanish. You can turn the subtitles on and off by clicking on the CC button at the bottom of the screen. While I try not to use the closed captions, I do switch them on now and then, especially if someone is speaking with an accent that’s new to me. In addition to Spanish subtitles, the show also sometimes includes Spanish words and sentences written on the screen, especially when going over new learning at the end of each episode.

It’s fun. Let’s not forget the most important part of language learning: you have to want to do it. And – despite the drawn-out storyline and the ridiculous overacting – I like Destinos. It’s fun. It’s funny – even when it isn’t trying to be. It makes me feel like I’m actually getting better at Spanish.

How I use Destinos to learn Spanish

At first, I watched an episode every day, but that became a bit tiresome. Now, I generally watch four episodes per week, which is often enough to stay immersed in the story – but not so often that I stop listening during the recaps.

When I first began, I tried to write down all of the vocabulary that I was learning, but that quickly headed down the road of “not fun”. Since I already use other methods and resources to learn vocabulary, I decided to simply watch Destinos without madly scribbling down every new word. My main goal here is to develop my ear so that I can understand spoken Spanish, and the best way to do that is to listen. I do write down some of the vocabulary when Raquel is doing her recaps at the end of each episode.

If I get really stuck during a conversation, I’ll watch it with the Spanish captions turned on, and then go back and watch it again without the subtitles.

The site also includes a few language, grammar and vocabulary activities to help practice what you’re learning. These include fill-in-the-blanks, multiple choice, drag-and-drop, reading comprehension and other worksheet-type activities. I do some of these, but only if I feel like it. I don’t think that they’re all that helpful overall, but they’re quick to do and some of them are worthwhile.


a drag and drop vocabulary activity from Destinos

Do I think that Destinos is worth watching?

Yes, absolutely! For people new to Spanish, it’s a great way to learn in context. The story – while a bit silly and slow-moving – is engaging. While you will spend a lot of time laughing and rolling your eyes, you’ll be surprised to find that you actually do care what happens next! And it’s very motivating to see how quickly your listening skills improve.

Destinos definitely wouldn’t stand on its own as a true telenovela. I think of it more as a kind of kindergarten for Spanish-language television. I plan on sticking with it until the end, and then I’ll graduate to a real telenovela.

While it won’t make a person fluent in Spanish on its own, Destinos is fun, and it’s a great tool for developing listening skills. In fact, I think I’ll go watch an episode right now!


To Destinos!

You can access all 52 episodes of Destinos for free here.

Why Spanish? Why now?

Next year, I’ll be walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain with my dad. We’ll be doing the 800 km trek over six weeks, starting in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in mid-March and finishing in Santiago at the end of April.

After deciding that I would go, I spent a month obsessing over packing lists. And I do mean obsessing. I bought a digital scale so that I could weigh my liner socks. (In case you’re curious – 31 grams per pair.) 

Then I realized that there was something that I want to do even more than cut my bag weight down by another 10%: want to learn Spanish before going. I don’t want to just pick up enough Spanish to pay for a bed or order a coffee. I want to be able to communicate, far beyond surface-level tourist talk.

I started learning Spanish two months ago. I have eight more months to become fully functional.

I’m a language teacher, so you’d think this would be an easy task, right? Well, yes and no. It can be difficult to take off my teacher hat and put on my student hat. Even though the teacher-me always tells my students that you can’t rush learning, the student-me wants to know everything now. And then there’s the task of sifting through the multitude of online Spanish-learning resources, looking for stuff that’s fun and stuff that’s educationally sound. Sadly, the two categories don’t always overlap.

Oh yeah, and any resource that I use has to be free or available from the library.

Through trial and error, I’m finding that happy middle of the language learning Venn diagram: resources and methods that will help me learn Spanish and have fun.


In this blog, you’ll find musings on language learning, mostly from a student’s perspective – although sometimes my teacher alter-ego might sneak out. I’ll try to control her, but teachers can be so bossy. I’ll share what’s working for me – and what isn’t. I’ll also post in-depth reviews of all of the free resources that I’ve tried so far.

Oh, and there will be music on Fridays. Everyone likes music, right? So you should probably come back.

All right, let’s learn some Spanish. ¡Vámonos!

Camino de Santiago image via Fresco Tours on flickr.