After I graduated from college in 2010, I worked an average of 70 hours per week as a janitor and a night clerk at a convenience store. After nine months of hard work, I had saved up enough money to move to Denver. I applied – along with hundreds of others – for a job at a tech start-up company. Shortly thereafter, I learned the great news that I had gotten the job.
I didn’t get the job because I went to an amazing school, or because I am great with computers (I’m not), or because I was exceedingly qualified in comparison to the other applicants. According to my boss, the determining factor in my hiring was that I am fluent in the Spanish language.
As a professional, knowing Spanish can help you achieve your goals, no matter what they are. In the United States, there are an estimated 35.5 million people aged five and older who speak Spanish at home, making it the second-most spoken language in the country. From the healthcare industry, to working in fast food, to traveling internationally and studying abroad, Spanish can be very useful. However, learning it can be expensive, with many language programs such as Rosetta Stone costing upward of $500.
If you don’t have the money to shell out for school or language-learning software, don’t worry – anyone can learn Spanish without the need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Cheap Ways to Learn Spanish
1. Get Out
In most medium-sized or large cities, there are many opportunities to practice speaking Spanish with other people. Most people comprehend Spanish better than they can speak it, but practicing with other people will help your speaking skills enormously.
Make use of sites like Meetup, where users can coordinate get-togethers with people who share their interests – including learning Spanish. These meetings usually take place at a restaurant or a bar, and people of all levels of fluency are welcome. In addition to beefing up your language skills, you’re bound to meet new and interesting people you wouldn’t normally encounter in your day-to-day life.
2. Listen to Music
After Shakira’s cross-over album Laundry Service came out, I was hooked. I bought all of her albums and listened to them constantly. After a while, I wanted to know what she was singing about, so I looked up her lyrics and read them while I listened to the music. I learned a bunch of metaphors, as well as many idiomatic expressions that you just don’t find in textbooks.
Studies have shown that music and songs help people retain information, so give Spanish-language music a try. If Shakira doesn’t do it for you, find someone who does. If you are completely unfamiliar with Spanish music, go to the Latin Grammy website, where you can browse last year’s winners and nominees, and explore musicians who play the genre of music you like. Once you’ve found an artist, you can go to Pandora Radio, create a station under their name, and discover similar musicians.
3. Surf the Web
There are a myriad of online resources to help you learn Spanish. For instance, MyLanguageExchange.com allows you to connect to a Spanish speaker who wants to learn English. You and your partner spend half of your time together speaking in Spanish and half speaking in English, practicing with each other via video, chat, and audio. Lesson plans are provided to give guidance.
Notes in Spanish is another great source, with free videos and audio for any level. BBC Languages Spanish also provides its users with a plethora of tools. These are just some of the many resources available. If none of these appeal to you, surf the web until you find a site that does.
4. Read a Book
Reading is a great way to advance your Spanish language skills. Many people recommend starting with children’s books or young adult novels you’ve already read. While this method may work for many people, it doesn’t work for me. I rarely read books twice, and while Harry Potter was pretty good the first time, I have no desire to revisit el mundo de los magos again.
I recommend reading something you haven’t read before – you don’t know what’s going to happen, so you have extra incentive to continue. You might try an author you know you like, but a title you haven’t yet read. Of course, you’ll want to stick to the basics – this technique works well with books by Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl, John Grisham, or Danielle Steele, but not so much with Schopenhauer or Kant.
Remember, when you’re reading, don’t look up every word in a dictionary. It will slow you down, and you’ll find yourself struggling to re-immerse yourself in the plot. If you understand the general gist of a paragraph, but not all the words, don’t worry. Only look up words if they appear repeatedly and are crucial to understanding context.
5. Read a Newspaper
Picking up a Spanish-language newspaper gives you an opportunity to catch up on current events while improving your language skills. Most Spanish-language newspapers in the U.S. include both Spanish and English, so you’ll have a handy reference if you get stuck. If your city doesn’t have a Spanish-language publication, go online and read sources like Univision or CNN in Spanish.
6. Watch Telenovelas
Soap operas are a fantastic way to learn a language, especially because of the ease with which you can follow the plot due to the visuals. Check your local cable or satellite TV provider for a guide of Spanish-language television stations, or search online for sites that offer Spanish weather forecasts, sitcoms, and news, as well as soap operas.
7. Listen to Podcasts or Radio Shows
If you find yourself too busy to follow the twists and turns of a telenovela, maximize your commute time to work by soaking up some Spanish via podcast. No matter your level, there’s something for everyone available – if you are a beginner, check out Radio Lingua Network. For those who are more advanced, try BBC Mundo.
When learning a new foreign language, failure is your best friend, so you had better get comfy with it quickly if you want to make progress. Hard work and enthusiasm matter, of course, but if you want to succeed in learning Spanish, you have to come to terms with the fact that you will struggle, and you will make mistakes.
You might address an elderly woman with the informal tú, or you might tell an absolute stranger you are madly in love with them. But it’s much better to call chicken (pollo) dust (polvo) than to sit tight-lipped and not learn anything. While you may often find yourself beet-red, know that linguistic errors can help you grow personally.
If you have the drive, the enthusiasm, and the dedication, you can easily learn Spanish without spending any money at all. Not only will your creativity and hard work make you more attractive to potential employers, but you will also meet some great people and learn about new cultures.
What has been helpful to you in your quest to learn Spanish?