Category Archives: free Spanish resources

Learning Spanish from Scratch – a Self-Study Guide

I get a lot of emails asking me how I learned Spanish. The truth is that I just jumped in without any direction at all, using a variety of different programs and resources, adding them and dropping them as I figured out what worked for me.

I’m not an expert, just a learner like you. I’m not suggesting that my way is the way, and there are almost certainly more efficient learning paths out there. But when I was starting out, I would have loved to have seen a detailed self-study plan that had actually worked for someone.

And so, dear blog reader, I’m making one just for you!

(As I’ve learned more about language-learning, I’ve also heard great things about programs like Assimil and Teach Yourself. However, this post is aimed at people who, like me, are interested in learning Spanish from home using free resources.) learnspanish

Based on my experiences over the past year, this is what I would suggest to learners wanting to self-study Spanish using free resources.

This post is divided into three parts:


spanishabsolutebeginnerYour very first month…

OK, so you’re a complete beginner. You know nothing. Nothing.

No hay problema, friend!

Just start. Don’t wait or research programs or try to calculate how long, exactly, it will take until you’re able to speak Spanish. Pick a resource and just start.

Recommended resources:

I really like Pimsleur as an introductory language course. It’s 100% oral/auditory, and you’ll be able to verbalize simple requests and statements within the first half hour. It’s an amazing feeling! Pimsleur works well for establishing a good accent right from the start.

Pimsleur is not a free program, but I have never and will never pay for a Pimsleur course. I think that they’re grossly overpriced. However, if my library – a small library in a town of 1800 people – was able to get it for me, then I’m sure you can get it from most libraries. I think that the full 3-part Pimsleur course has 90 lessons, but my library only had the first 16 lessons. I found them very valuable.

edited on August 25th to add a new resource: I’ve heard nothing but good things about Language Transfer, a free audio introduction to Spanish modelled on Michel Thomas. I’ve listened to parts of it, and it seems to build very logically and surprisingly quickly.

Mi Vida Loca is a fun, simple introduction to the Spanish language for absolute beginners. It’s an interactive video course with a story that unfolds over 24 episodes. I started it too far into my Spanish journey, and found it too easy, so I never finished it. But if I were starting over, I would use it from day one. The story is engaging, the production value is high, and there are full transcripts available.

Duolingo is in no way a standalone language course, no matter what anyone might say. But it’s a fun, addictive, gamified approach to learning languages. It’s good for learning vocabulary, gender and basic sentence structures. (read my review of Duolingo here)

I think that it’s important to study vocabulary explicitly, especially at the beginning stage of learning a language. You have to decide what works best for you: paper flashcards, electronic flashcards, word lists, spaced repetition software. I use anki, a free spaced repetition program. Whatever approach you choose, I recommend that you create your own decks or lists from day one, adding the vocabulary that you learn through your various resources. Downloading pre-made decks doesn’t provide the same rich learning experience.

I also recommend listening to music from day one. It’s a nice way to immerse yourself in the culture right from the start.

Come on in, the water's fine! source: taoty / freedigitalphotos.net

Absolute beginner? Come on in, the water’s fine!
source: taoty / freedigitalphotos.net

What an hour a day might look like at this level:

  • 30 minutes Pimsleur or Language Transfer
  • 10 minutes vocabulary practice
  • 20 minutes alternating Mi Vida Loca and Duolingo

What an hour and a half a day might look like at this level:

  • 30 minutes Pimsleur or Language Transfer
  • 15 minutes vocabulary practice
  • 25 minutes Mi Vida Loca
  • 15 minutes Duolingo
  • 5 minutes singing along to a Spanish song

Extra “free” Spanish: listen to Spanish music in the background while going about your daily life


spanishbeginnerintermediateBeginner / High Beginner / Low Intermediate:

Now you’ve got a bit of basic Spanish under your belt. You might not be able to express everything that you think, and you don’t understand everything that you hear, but you’re well on your way! The road from beginner to intermediate can take some time. Don’t rush it; just enjoy the journey.

General advice for this level:

Build your momentum. Use a variety of resources so that you come across the same vocabulary and sentence structures in multiple contexts. Don’t spend hours trying to come up with the “perfect” plan; just choose a few resources that interest you and commit to them.

Create a simulated immersion environment:

  • switch your phone and computer to Spanish
  • listen to Spanish radio and music in the background
  • make a Spanish news site your homepage
  • follow Spanish speakers on Twitter or other social media (I have a Spanish twitter list here, if you’re looking for people to follow).

Get into the habit of thinking in Spanish. Narrate your actions internally as you go about your day-to-day life. Make a quick note of any vocabulary that you’re missing so that you can look it up and add it to your vocabulary study later.

Plan on at least two weekly conversations with native speakers. Try to write a text and have it corrected by native speakers at least twice a week. Take note of important vocabulary – the words that you lack when speaking or writing are the ones that you personally need the most.

Keep growing your vocabulary, using whatever approach works best for you. Whether you use flashcards, SRS or word lists, remember that vocabulary study is meant to support your Spanish learning, not to overwhelm it. Fifteen minutes per day is my upper limit for anki; any more than that, and I start getting restless.

At this stage, I highly recommend making an effort to hit all four language skills daily: listening, speaking, reading and writing. I posted a description of how that looked for me about two months into my own Spanish learning adventure. howtolearnalanguage

Recommended resources:

Listening

Destinos is one of the best resources that I used as a beginner. While it’s a whole language course, with workbooks, textbooks and additional audio, the only part that I used was the video, which is available for free online. The story is dated and a little bit cheesy, but you’ll be amazed at how much your listening comprehension will improve over the course of 52 episodes. (read my review of Destinos here)

I’ve also heard very good things about Extr@, a 13-episode sitcom (complete with laugh track) for Spanish learners. I previewed one episode, and the actors speak very clearly. The story is silly, and the laugh track is annoying, but the show seems charming.

Notes in Spanish is an excellent podcast for Spanish learners. Marina and Ben, the hosts, are entertaining and very pleasant to listen to. The beginner podcast has quite a bit of English in it, but it has some interesting expressions and good cultural insight. The intermediate podcast – which is where I started, towards the end of Destinos – is all in Spanish and gave a real boost to my listening comprehension.

Keep listening to music. It’s also a good idea to listen to Spanish radio or watch Spanish movies and TV shows with English subtitles. Native material will probably still be beyond your listening ability at this point, but it will help you to internalize the rhythm and music of the language.

Speaking

It’s time to find a language partner! Yes, you’re probably a bit nervous. But it’s ok. The only way to learn to speak a language is by speaking it – and you’ll improve quickly once you start! I did all of my language exchanges over Skype, 30 minutes of Spanish followed by 30 minutes of French or English. I found my language partners for free on italki and on Conversation Exchange. If you have more money than time, you might consider getting a tutor instead of a language partner; Spanish tutors on italki are very affordable.

You can read my in-depth review of italki here, and my tips on language exchanges here.

Reading

VeinteMundos is a digital magazine that also happens to be one of the best websites out there for Spanish learners. Every two weeks they put up a new article from somewhere in the Spanish speaking world. The text has a mouseover dictionary, and there’s full audio to accompany it. The reader’s voice is pleasant and slow enough to follow along. The stories are interesting, and include links to related video and websites. (read my review of VeinteMundos here)

I think that the upper-beginner level is the perfect time to read your first novel. I recommend starting with a children’s novel that you’ve already read in your own language. If you own a copy in both languages or if you have access to the audiobook, even better!

The first children’s novel that I read in Spanish was Charlie y la Fábrica de Chocolate by Roald Dahl. After that, I read (in order): Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, Charlie y el Gran Ascensor de Cristal by Roald Dahl, and Las Brujas by Roald Dahl. While many language learners want to start with Harry Potter, I found it very difficult as a beginner. It was much more accessible after first tackling four simpler children’s novels.

Writing

Writing short texts is a great way to consolidate what you’re learning. Lang-8 and italki both provide platforms where you can post a text and have it corrected by native speakers. Shorter texts tend to get corrected more quickly and more comprehensively.

I know that some people think that grammar is a bad word. Personally I like grammar – not because I like grammar in and of itself, but because I like Spanish. Learning grammar helps me speak Spanish more clearly and correctly, so I like it!

I used the Practice Makes Perfect Verb Tense book. I used a gift card to buy it, so it wasn’t free, but at less than 15 dollars it was very affordable. It’s a very US-centric resource, with lots of pop culture references, but it explains concepts well and moves along at a steady pace. You could also try the About Spanish site, which is free and comprehensive, but plastered in obnoxious ads.

Duolingo (which I mentioned in the section for absolute beginners) is very useful for basic sentence structure and verb tenses – although I think that it’s less useful after you’ve finished the first 3/4 of the skill tree.

Really looking to go far?

FSI Basic Spanish (edited to correct broken link – March 2016) is probably the most comprehensive free Spanish course available. It was created in the 1960s for American foreign service workers, and it’s now in the public domain. FSI Spanish Basic is a full course, with downloadable audio and textbooks, including dialogues and lots of different drills. It’s dated, and it can be dry at times, but it works. I think that FSI is best started at a high beginner or low intermediate level; it might be too overwhelming as a complete beginner. (read my review of FSI Spanish here)

Soon you'll be swimming without a flotation device. source: anekoho / freedigitalphotos.net

Soon you’ll be swimming without a flotation device.
source: anekoho / freedigitalphotos.net

What an hour a day might look like at this level:

  • 15 minutes reading a novel or an article
  • 10 minutes vocabulary practice
  • 25 minutes watching Destinos, intensively listening to Notes in Spanish or having a Skype conversation
  • 10 minutes writing or grammar study

What an hour and a half a day might look like at this level:

  • 20 minutes reading a novel or an article
  • 15 minutes vocabulary practice
  • 30 minutes watching Destinos, intensively listening to Notes in Spanish or having a Skype conversation
  • 15 minutes writing or grammar study
  • 10 minutes Duolingo, singing along to Spanish songs, or reading a Spanish twitter feed

Extra “free” Spanish: listen to Spanish music or podcasts in the background while going about your daily life; listen to podcasts or FSI while going for a walk; watch Spanish movies and TV with subtitles


spanishintermediateadvancedUpper Intermediate / Advanced:

This is where Spanish gets really fun!

At this level, you’re moving from learning the language to actually using it.

At an upper intermediate or advanced level, you need lots and lots of input from native material: books, TV shows, movies, podcasts. “Levelling up” feels infinitesimally slow when you’re at a higher level, but luckily the stuff that you get to do with the language should be fun enough to keep you motivated.

General advice for this level:

As much as possible, live your life in Spanish. The focus at this level should be less on formal study and more on massive exposure and input. That said, it’s important to keep pushing yourself. Aim for more complex conversation topics, take note of important vocabulary, and write out your thoughts.

Talk.

Keep up with regular conversations (either in-person or over Skype), which will get more and more interesting as your level improves. If you’ve been working with the same language partner or tutor for a long period of time, you might need to make an effort to push yourself by discussing more complex subjects.

Read.

Read lots and lots. I think that reading is the best way to build vocabulary, internalize sentence structure and strengthen grammar in any language. I generally prefer novels over shorter texts like articles or blog posts, although I do read those as well. I’m currently reading series for children and young adults. I’m on the fifth and final book of the Percy Jackson series, and then I’ll move on to the third Harry Potter book. I do plan on reading adult literature originally written in Spanish before the end of 2014.

Listen.

Lots of input is important at this level. Notes in Spanish Advanced and Gold serve as a good bridge between resources for Spanish-learners and native Spanish audio, but there’s still quite a jump from one to the other. With practice, it gets easier.

I’ve become a podcast addict lately! I like listening to talk radio shows with lots of visual imagery and interesting topics. RTVE (Spanish Public Radio) offers a wide variety of high-quality podcasts. Some of my favourites are Nómadas, Fallo de Sistema and Futuro Abierto. I listed more of my favourite podcasts and shared more details about them here.

Get your news in Spanish. 

While I still take a quick glance at CBC / Radio Canada to stay up to date with what’s happening in Canada, I get the bulk of my news in Spanish now. I listen to the daily podcast Buenos Días América while walking the dog. I read Democracy Now or Amnistía Internacional with audio and full transcript a few times a week. I read articles on BBC Mundo, Voz de América or El País. I listen to Spanish talk radio while doing stuff around the house. I don’t watch the news on TV, but if I did, I’d almost certainly do it in Spanish.

Watch. 

While I love movies, I find that – from a language-learning perspective – television series can be more effective, especially when you’re just starting out with native audio/video. There’s more repetition, and you have more time to get used to the actors’ voices and mannerisms.

Watching a dubbed show that you’ve already seen in your own language can be a very powerful learning tool. I’m currently watching my way through my box sets of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Spanish. At the beginning, the dialogue seemed impossibly fast. But after a full season, I’m finding it much easier to follow along. When I have a few free minutes in the evening, I might also watch an episode of The Simpsons online.

Original Spanish television is also a great resource for learners, since it includes not only words but also body language and cultural references – both of which are key for truly understanding a language. Drama Fever is an excellent source of original Spanish television with English subtitles can easily be turned on or off. A few of my favourite shows on Drama Fever are Isabel, DesaparecidaFrágiles and El Tiempo Entre Costuras. Unfortunately, I think that Drama Fever only works in North America.

RTVE is another very good source of free Spanish television without subtitles.

A note on grammar:

At the upper intermediate and advanced levels, you’ll probably find yourself wanting to use advanced verbal constructions (“If I’d known that you were going to be there, then I would have come.“). Practice Makes Perfect and FSI (both of which I mentioned in the section for beginners and intermediate learners) include grammar appropriate for advanced learners. Reading helps internalize complex structures, but I think that it’s also important to explicitly practice them in conversation or in writing in order to truly make them yours.

The world is your ocean! source: Gualberto107 / freedigitalphotos.net

The world is your ocean!
Gualberto107 / freedigitalphotos.net

What a typical day looks like for me at this level:

  • 15 minutes checking out the news over breakfast
  • 10 minutes vocabulary practice (anki)
  • 30-60 minutes listening to podcasts (I do this while walking my dog)
  • 30 minutes reading a novel (I read every night before bed)

You’ll notice that – except for vocabulary study, which I do on my phone in blocks of 2-3 minutes throughout the day – none of this is actually time-consuming “study”. I’ve just replaced activities that I used to do in English with the same activities in Spanish.

Other Spanish activities that I do throughout the week:

  • at least once a week (although I aim for twice a week when I can): hour-long conversation on Skype with my tutor
  • at least twice a week (more often if my schedule allows): watch an episode of a TV show
  • once every week (or two): write a text using some of the complex grammatical structures that I’ve been practicing in conversation
  • once every week (or two): intensively read an article, reading it multiple times and digging through it for new words and turns of phrases

So there you have it: my step-by-step approach to learning Spanish. There are lots of other great resources out there, and I’m always keeping my eyes open for new stuff. But this is what worked – and what’s still working – for me!

If you’re self-studying Spanish, I’d love to hear about your experiences! What works for you? What do you struggle with? What do you enjoy?

Five Spanish Podcasts Worth a Listen

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately. We’re getting ready to move halfway across the country, so there’s a ridiculous amount cleaning and organizing to be done. A good podcast makes the boring housework go faster and it lets me squeeze in a bit more Spanish. Win!

Listening is one of the most important things that you can do to improve your language skills, especially when you’re hovering in that seemingly interminable stretch between intermediate and advanced. Words – hours and hours and hours of words – can help you bridge that gap.

So here are some of the many words that I’ve been listening to over the past month:

ID-100165861. Nómadas

This weekly RTVE podcast – one of the best I’ve listened to in any language – takes listeners on an audio adventure to a different part of the world every week.

Music, nature sounds, interviews, virtual tours, stories, history, snippets of conversation in the local language, city sounds, current affairs – this podcast is the next best thing to actually being there. I particularly like that the podcasts often include interviews with locals who speak Spanish as a second language. It’s interesting to hear Spanish spoken with so many different accents!

A few interesting episodes: Limerick, faro cultural del oeste (Limerick, Ireland) and Papúa Nueva Guinea, paraíso vulnerable (Papua New Guinea).

ID-100250942. Fallo de Sistema

This weekly RTVE podcast lives at the intersection of science and science fiction.

All things geek – comic books, video games, science fiction and fantasy movies and novels – are interspersed with  debates and interviews with authors, scientists and even philosophers. There are usually several dialogue clips from a movie or a video games, and generally at least one interesting song. You’re never quite sure what to expect with Fallo de Sistema!

A few interesting episodesDesmontando a Kurzweil (artificial intelligence and the Turing test) and Buscando a Sherlock (Sherlock Holmes’ many incarnations in movies, books and video games).

ID-100123153. A Hombros de Gigantes

This weekly RTVE podcast (are you sensing a pattern here? What can I say…I really love Spanish public radio) is all about science.

A Hombros de Gigantes features debates and interview, reports on recent discoveries, and snippets on the history of science – all in accessible language. Each weekly podcast starts with a particular theme, but also includes information and stories about other news in science.

A few interesting episodes: los mecanismos cerebrales (memories, learning and the human mind) and el universo se expande (the rapidly expanding universe).

ID-1001595584. Futuro Abierto

This weekly RTVE podcast (yes, another one) focuses on questions and concerns that affect society in general.

Each week, Futuro Abierto chooses a different theme to focus on, digging into the topic with an interesting mix of interviews, debates and reports. Each podcast also includes short interviews with people on the street, presenting a wide variety of opinions from average people.

A few interesting episodes: mi última dieta (healthy living and weight loss) and los antidisturbios y el derecho de reunión (demonstrations and public protests).

ID-100114955. Buenos Días América

Finally, something that isn’t from Spanish Public Radio!

This daily half-hour news broadcast focuses on current events in the United States and throughout Latin America. Buenos Días América is my daily dose of Latin American Spanish. It tends to revisit the same story multiple times throughout the week, as news reports generally do, which makes it great for people making the move from using “learn to speak Spanish” resources to actually using Spanish in real life.

And, just in case none of these podcasts catch your fancy…

…here are three more promising podcasts. I haven’t listened to them often enough yet to give an honest and informed opinion, but they’re definitely on my list!

Please note: all of the podcasts in this post are aimed at native speakers, so don’t feel frustrated if you’re a beginner and you find them hard to follow. If you’re looking for podcasts for beginners or intermediate learners, check out Notes in Spanish (podcasts free, transcripts for sale – excellent for any level, including advanced) or News in Slow Spanish (shorter version of podcast available for free here, full version with transcripts available to paying members only). Absolute beginners who are taking the very first steps of their language-learning journey might also be interested in Coffee Break Spanish.

Have any other podcasts to suggest? Please share them in the comments! Happy listening!

All images in this post are by Salvatore Vuono on freedigitalphotos.net.

Talk Like a Diplomat From 1961: How I Use FSI Spanish

So, you’re learning Spanish. If you’re like me, you’re drawn to music, conversation, books, movies – real world stuff. Language is a creative, living, messy thing, and it should be fun.

Why kill the joy with repetitive drills and grammar practice, right?

Well, despite the fact that I have both feet firmly planted in the if-it’s-not-fun-I-won’t-do-it camp, I’ve found myself doing exactly that – repetitive drills and grammar practice – almost every day for the past few months. And what’s more, those drills are helping me have more fun with all of the other stuff that I really like to do in Spanish.

Enter FSI Basic Spanish. (edited to correct broken link – March 2016)

fsispanish
FSI Basic Spanish is a public domain (i.e. free and legal) resource created by the US Foreign Service Institute in the early 60s. At the time it was aimed at future diplomats and foreign service workers; now, it’s available to any language learner with an internet connection. It includes hours of audio and an entire textbook.

First the good…

  • Absolutely, completely, no-holds-barred free. Hours and hours of free audio. Don’t let anyone try to sell you this material. It’s public domain. It belongs to everyone – which means that anyone can package it up and slap a hefty price tag on it.
  • Has a huge impact on automaticity. It can help you attain instant recall of super-exciting things like verb tenses, sentence structure, and pronouns.
  • Comprehensive. Think 55 units, each with at least 45 minutes of audio and dozens of pages of text.
  • Don’t want to learn Spanish? Well, you could always try Swahili, Greek or Cambodian! There are resources available for dozens of languages.
  • Have I mentioned that it’s free?

cassettetape

And you don’t even have to worry about this happening!
Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

…and then the bad.

  • I can see how some people might find it mind-numbingly, teeth-gnashingly, stick-a-pen-in-my-eye boring. I wouldn’t be able to sit at a desk and do it. But it works perfectly for long walks around the neighbourhood. For some reason, the boredom factor diminishes to zero during a brisk walk.
  • It’s dated. You have to remind yourself that the resource was created in the early 60s for the class of people most likely to become diplomats. Then you have to laugh at the absurdity of some of the situations.
  • It’s sexist. No, really. See above. Most conversations between women seem to revolve around shopping or moaning about how difficult it is to find a good maid. In one unit in particular, John White – who I think we’re supposed to relate to – is out with his “gordita de las gafas” (translation: “little chubby girl with glasses”), but is plotting to sneak away from her to meet the hot secretary dancing at the party. It’s like Mad Men – except that they actually mean it. Luckily the story moves on quickly to other, more likeable characters.
  • The audio quality isn’t great. It’s good enough to use with my earbuds, but sometimes I can hear buzzing or background noise behind the recording.

Still, despite the cons, I do think that the program is a very valuable addition to a language learning program.

walking

Pick up the pace to keep the boredom at bay.
Image courtesy of foto76 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Anatomy of an FSI lesson

a. Dialogue

Each lesson is based around a dialogue. The dialogues follow a group of people through day-to-day conversations (keeping in mind, of course, that it’s a very particular kind of “day-to-day” life): going to a party, visiting a military base, hiring a maid. The dialogue is broken into manageable chunks so that the learner can listen and repeat.

The first dozen lessons are actually the best, as far as I’m concerned, since each unit begins with a full dialogue spoken without pause. This makes it much easier to understand the context, since you’ve heard the entire dialogue before they break it down into chunks to repeat. Later units jump right into the “listen and repeat” phase, so that you’re repeating bits of phrases without first having heard the entire conversation.

b. Pattern Presentations

While the text digs a bit deeper into grammatical structures, the audio uses a very inductive approach. Each unit focuses on one or more grammar points – subjunctive, clitic pronouns, irregular verbs – and presents it using a wide variety of example sentences. The examples help the learner understand how the concept is used in everyday speech. Each example sentence is followed by a pause, so that the learner can repeat.

c. Drills

Yes, drills. I know, I know, drills are very last century. But – and I’m speaking here as an impulsive and impatient learner – they really do help improve automaticity. And improved automaticity leads to more fun with the language.

There are several different kinds of drills in the FSI courses: pattern drills, response drills, substitution drills and translation drills.

Unfortunately, units 31-45 are missing some audio for some of the later drills. It’s not really a big deal, but you’ll find yourself repeating some of the answers without hearing the questions. It doesn’t really hurt the integrity of the program. If you’re intent on having the whole audio, then you might consider buying Platiquemos, a Spanish program based entirely on digitally remastered FSI basic audio. (But honestly? I really wouldn’t bother.)

How I use FSI

I listen and I respond.

That’s it.

I don’t bother at all with the text book. I’m using FSI as a purely audio course during my long walks with Chase the Wonderdog. I walk, and I listen, and I respond out loud. I’m pretty sure that my neighbours think that I’m a crazy person.

More specifically, here’s how I use FSI Spanish:

  • walk briskly. I know it sounds silly, but this part is really important for me. It keeps me alert and engaged.
  • listen to the dialogue, repeating every line out loud
  • if it’s a tricky dialogue, do it again
  • go through the drills in the order that they’re presented
  • if I find that I struggle a lot, I’ll repeat a unit (this doesn’t happen very often)

My goal is overall understanding and general correctness, not absolute mastery.

Really, it’s not that complicated!

one brief* note: I think that FSI Basic might be a bit frustrating if you’re an absolute beginner. While it was originally aimed at beginners, it was only a small self-directed part of a full-time teacher-led course. I’d probably recommend waiting until after you have a bit of a grounding in the language before jumping in.

* brief?!? Bahahahaha! I don’t do brief. Obviously.

So, do I recommend FSI Spanish Basic?

ID-100114600

You, too, can rock out to FSI.
imagery majestic / freedigitalphotos.net

Yes, absolutely.

I feel that it’s helping me to speak more automatically, correctly and confidently.

By all rights, it should be painfully boring, but it isn’t.

Running through the drills while walking lets me easily add a good chunk of “free” Spanish into my day. I’m currently on lesson 42 – that’s a lot of free Spanish!

And – let’s be honest here – if it weren’t for FSI, there’s no way that I’d be spending so much time on mastering the subjunctive.

 

Interested in learning more about the FSI approach to language teaching – including the effect of drills on improving confidence? I really enjoyed this article written by FSI teachers.

Duolingo Review – Learn Spanish Online for Free

duolingoreviewWhat is Duolingo?

Duolingo is an innovative site that provides free instruction in several different languages. Interested in learning Spanish, German, Italian, French, Portuguese or English? Well, Duolingo can help – for free. And there will be more languages available in the coming year.

Have I mentioned that it’s free?

Yes, I realize that I’m repeating myself here. But I’m still impressed that this resource is available to anyone interested in learning – no credit card required.

Duolingo uses “gamification” brilliantly, appealing to both language geeks and gamers with opportunities to “level-up” as you work your way through lessons. It uses a very intuitive – and attractive – interface based on a language skill tree. As you work your way through the tree, level by level, you’re awarded with unlocked levels, scores, skills points and other kudos.

The result? A surprisingly addictive and motivating game that will make you eager to work your way through language lessons.

How does Duolingo work?

At its heart, Duolingo uses a very old-school approach to language learning: lots of translations, drills and repetitive exercises. While opinions on this sort of approach are divided, I think that translations and drills have their place in language learning – so long as they’re not the only thing that you’re doing.

Duolingo lessons start with very basic vocabulary and extremely simple sentence structures, adding on more and more as you advance. Everything that you learn is repeatedly reviewed, since each lesson builds on the last one. Lessons get progressively more complicated, moving quickly enough to keep you interested but not so quickly that you get lost.

Leveling-up, skills points and trophies – yes, trophies! – let you measure your progress as you work your way through the lessons.

You have three “lives” – or hearts – in each lesson. Each mistake costs you a life. Mistakes are pointed out and explained in easy-to-understand language. If you need clarification, then you can easily access user forums to discuss the exercise and ask questions.

duolingocorrections

duolingosadowl

If you run out of hearts, then you have to repeat the lesson. (Duolingo recently introduced the option to buy extra hearts with virtual currency, but I think that kind of defeats the purpose.)

It’s disappointing to make the owl cry, but a second run-through will help consolidate your learning. The exercises repeat the same words and sentences, but in a different order and using different activities (listening, speaking, writing, reading) so that you’re not repeating exactly the same thing over and over.

Think you already know a lesson without working your way through it? You have multiple opportunities to test out of lessons or to jump ahead – provided that you can prove your knowledge by passing the test.

duolingosrsIn addition to constantly reviewing old material in new lessons, Duolingo also provides you with vocabulary practice using spaced repetition. A quick revision activity before your daily lesson will allow you to practice older words and structures so that you don’t forget what you’ve already learned.

And as an added bonus, vocabulary practice will help you earn even more skill points!

How can Duolingo be free?

Duolingo relies on the power of crowdsourcing to keep its extensive resources free to all users. As you advance through your lessons, you’ll be invited to translate excerpts of text. These translations pay to keep the site running. Translations are optional – you don’t need to do them to keep using the site.

What are the cons?

  • Some of the sentences are really strange. Think: “The duck drinks milk.” and “These potatoes belong to others.”
  • Some of the translations are a bit awkward. If you come across an awkward sentence, flag it – the site’s managers do keep track and make changes based on user suggestions.
  • The computer-generated voice can be grating at times.
  • There is no direct instruction in Duolingo. To learn more about grammar points, you’ll have to check out the discussions linked to each exercise. Some people might find this frustrating – although I found that the approach worked well for me.
  • The app is only available for Android and iPhone. Those of us with Windows phones are out of luck. (grumble, mutter)
  • It relies on translation to the exclusion of other approaches. While this isn’t a problem if you use a variety of resources, it will be a problem if Duolingo is your only learning tool.
  • The more advanced lessons are far too brief. In three lessons and 14 minutes, I earned a trophy for subjunctive and imperative! Go, me! (Cue wild laughter at the absurdity of mastering the whole subjunctive mood in 14 minutes.) I think that as it stands, Duolingo is far better for beginners than for intermediate or advanced learners. I used it several times a week when I first started. Now that I’m close to the end of the skill tree, I only log on once or twice a week.

Will Duolingo make me fluent?

No, it will not.

As both a language learner and a language teacher, I can’t stress this point enough:

The only way to become fluent in a language is to speak it, speak it and speak it some more.

While Duolingo can provide you with the building blocks of language – nouns, verbs, prepositions – a computer program can’t teach you to speak. Communicating is messy, creative work, and it can only be done with another person.

Duolingo is best used in conjunction with oral language practice. Hire a tutor, join a conversation club, find a face-to-face conversation partner, join a class, find a Skype language partner – but you have to talk to a real, live person if you ever want to become fluent in a language.

Is Duolingo worth doing?

I say yes!

Duolingo is a beautifully designed and highly motivating language learning program, especially for beginners. On its own, it’s definitely not enough to learn a language, but it complements other resources perfectly.

As I worked my way through the lessons, particularly at the beginning, I found myself really grasping sentence structure. It was very motivating to see my progress and to see how what I was learning fit together. And – in the end – that’s what will really help you move forward in language learning: the intrinsic motivation of actually getting it, not the external motivation of coins or trophies or leveling-up*.

* although I really do like coins and trophies and leveling-up.

duolingotrophy

I’m a sucker for computer programs that tell me that I’m awesome.

VeinteMundos – a Fabulous Free Resource for Spanish Learners!

veintemundos

As I mentioned in my last post about children’s novels, I like to learn through reading. While I’m generally more drawn to novels, I also make an effort to read articles on a regular basis.

This is easy to do with VeinteMundos, a beautifully designed free site chock full of articles with supporting visuals. The name “VeinteMundos” refers to the 20 countries that claim Spanish as an official language. Every two weeks, VeinteMundos offers a new article highlighting an aspect of one of those countries.

The articles are split into four categories: arte y cultura; viajar y geografia; sociedad y economia; y historias cortas. The beauty of this is that not only will you practice your Spanish, you’ll also be able to immerse yourself virtually in the many cultures of the Spanish-speaking world.

Each full-length article includes:

  • text with mouse-over translations for new vocabulary and an embedded dictionary that allows you to double-click on any other word
  • an audio recording of the article so that you can read and listen at the same time
  • a summary of the article with easier text for beginners
  • grammar, comprehension and vocabulary exercises at various levels of difficulty (note: I’ve never used any of these, so can’t speak to their quality)
  • multiple videos and sites related to the topic (both embedded and linked)
  • several videos and sites about travel and culture in the highlighted country (both embedded and linked)

I get a notice in my inbox whenever a new article is posted. I read the article once with the audio to get a general idea, and then read it again more slowly, taking time to puzzle out any new words or expressions. The embedded dictionaries make this extremely easy to do! If I find the article particularly interesting, I might revisit it a third time, either reading the text with the audio or listening to the audio on its own, without the text.

I use a variety of different resources, and I am generally more drawn to fiction – novels, movies, television shows. I probably don’t spend more than an hour on Veinte Mundos every few weeks. But that hour is time well-spent! I think that this could easily become a key resource for someone who prefers to learn through nonfiction and informational text and video.

Check it out – I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do!

Click here for a list of past Veinte Mundos articles.

Learn Spanish With Free Podcasts: Coffee Break Spanish and Notes in Spanish Review

podcastsWill I get kicked off the internet if I admit that I’d never listened to a podcast before I started learning Spanish?

I’m not an early adopter. In fact, most of the time I’m not an adopter at all.

But I am a recent convert to the world of podcasts. In fact, I’ve listened to two – which pretty much makes me a podcast expert, right?

OK, maybe “expert” is a bit of an exaggeration. But I’m at least qualified enough to share my thoughts on the two podcasts that I’ve listened to so far: Coffee Break Spanish and Notes in Spanish.

Both of these podcasts offer extra material like transcripts and worksheets for sale, but the podcasts themselves are free to stream online or download to your computer in MP3 form.

Podcast for Beginners: Coffee Break Spanish

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Coffee Break Spanish is a free podcast by Radio Lingua. There are 80 episodes in the series, each lasting somewhere around 15 minutes.

The first episode of Coffee Break Spanish assumes that you’re starting from zero, so it’s perfect for beginners. In the first episode, you’ll learn to greet people and introduce yourself. From there, each podcast builds on the ones before, constantly reviewing what you’ve already learned.

I really enjoyed listening to Marc (the teacher) and Kara (the student). They’re likeable, engaging and very easy to listen to. They’re both Scottish and speak with beautiful accents in English. The teacher’s accent in Spanish is – as far as I can tell – perfect. Of course, not being Spanish, I might be wrong!

Coffee Break Spanish was the very first resource that I started using when I decided that I wanted to learn Spanish a few months ago. I repeated words and sentences out loud until I felt comfortable with them. I really enjoyed the pace at first – the podcasts are short and engaging, and progress nicely for beginners.

That said, after about 15 episodes, I started feeling that I’d “outgrown” the podcast. Because I was using a variety of other resources in addition to this one, I quickly progressed to the point where I didn’t feel that I was getting as much out of it. Coffee Break Spanish includes an awful lot of English explanations, and I was ready for a more immersive approach, completely in Spanish. I do think that if someone were just using this podcast to casually pick up some Spanish before travelling, it would be well worth continuing through to episode 80.

Is it worth listening to Coffee Break Spanish?

Sure! I think that it’s a great introduction for absolute beginners. For intermediate or advanced learners, it might progress a little bit slowly, but it’s great as a springboard to get you started. It helps build your confidence by introducing new concepts slowly and in a logical order. Radio Lingua also offers a free podcast for intermediate learners – Show Time Spanish – but I haven’t listened to enough episodes to really give it a fair review. I really enjoyed the ones that I listened to, though!

Podcast for Intermediate Learners: Notes in Spanish

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Notes in Spanish offers three levels of free podcasts: beginner, intermediate and advanced. After “graduating” from Coffee Break Spanish, I was looking for something a bit more complicated – and with a lot more Spanish. I chose to start with the intermediate version of Notes in Spanish.

This podcast by husband-and-wife team Ben and Marina is based on a very simple premise: two people talking about whatever it is that they feel like talking about. Family, travel, fears, jobs, current events, the weather, traditions – basically Ben and Marina just chat with each other.

Ben is originally British, and it’s obvious that Spanish is his second language. This isn’t a bad thing! The fact that he’s still learning and sometimes makes mistakes is encouraging. It’s nice to be reminded that a second language doesn’t have to be perfect to be fully functional!

I enjoy the energy between Marina and Ben. They speak clearly, using a very natural vocabulary. Listening to the podcast has improved my understanding of the rhythm and cadence of conversational Spanish. In fact, I’ve started using “pues” during conversations with my Spanish language partners! I also find that my active vocabulary is increasing. While the intermediate podcasts don’t set out to explicitly teach vocabulary, it just happens organically and in context.

Is it worth listening to Notes in Spanish?

Absolutely! I enjoy the pace and the conversational tone of each 10-minute episode. I feel that listening to this podcast has already helped me hone my comprehension skills, making Spanish conversations easier to follow. Unlike Coffee Break Spanish, I don’t think that I’ll outgrow this podcast before I finish the set of 46 episodes.

What about advanced learners?

Well, I’m not an advanced learner yet. When I am, I’m not sure that I’ll seek out podcasts aimed at “advanced learners”. Instead, I’ll probably look for a podcast aimed at actual Spanish speakers.

Podcasts can help improve listening comprehension

Listening comprehension is, in many ways, the hardest skill to develop when learning a second language. Accents, speed of speech, slang, pitch and tone – there are so many variables that can make listening to a second language much more difficult than reading it, or even speaking it. Podcasts provide the perfect opportunity to work on listening comprehension without being able to use visuals as a crutch.

While I absolutely feel that Skype conversations and TV shows like Destinos are great at improving my comprehension, podcasts work my brain in a completely different way. I have to focus more deeply on the words, since there’s no body language to help me pick out the meaning.

And so – being the podcast expert that I so obviously am – I cheerfully and enthusiastically recommend including podcasts into any learning plan!

Do you listen to podcasts?

I’d love to hear about your experiences with listening to podcasts in a second language. Do you find them helpful? How do you use them? Any in particular that you’d like to recommend?

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 italki.com, 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.

italki

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.

languagepartnerfind

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.

followrequest

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.

teachers

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.

correctednotebook

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.

questions

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!

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.)
raqueldestinos

¡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.

destinosactivities

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!

raquelandarturodestinos

To Destinos!

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