Spanish is one of the most popular study languages in the world, second only to English. If you search the web for “learn Spanish” you’ll find countless resources – apps, classes, books – and the amount of choices can be overwhelming.
Language app marketing can sometimes fool people into thinking they can “hack” their way into fluency within a few weeks or months, but learning a language really well involves so much more than just downloading Duolingo and playing study games for 10 minutes every day. To make significant progress, we need to invest time every day (ideally an hour, at least) training different competencies.
We’ve picked out 5 of our favorite language learning apps to help you study Spanish according to our Three Pillars of studying foreign languages. Our Three Pillars approach is a way of looking at language learning from the perspective of a busy person with limited time and energy. It answers the question, “If I have one hour to study every day, what should I do?”
We’ve included one app for Pillar 1 – Grammar Mastery (SpanishDict), two apps for Pillar 2 – Constant Vocab Building (Rosetta Stone and Memrise) and two apps for Pillar 3 – Everyday Speech (Pimsleur and Wyzant).
While there’s no single best way to become fluent in Spanish, there are plenty of strategies and apps that work very well. In this article we’ll highlight some of our preferred resources for studying Spanish along with some tips for how you can incorporate them into your daily life.
Table of Contents
- 1. SpanishDict – The best tool for mastering Spanish grammar
- 2. Rosetta Stone – best way to learn vocabulary as a beginner
- 3. Memrise – best way to learn vocabulary at intermediate and advanced levels
- 4. Pimsleur – best way to learn everyday phrases as a beginner
- 5. Wyzant – best way to develop speaking skills at intermediate and advanced levels
- Our experience learning Spanish
- Learning Spanish takes time and dedication – stay organized with a study planner
- How to start learning Spanish right now
1. SpanishDict – The best tool for mastering Spanish grammar
Spanish grammar is a serious hurdle for many learners. Often, we learn the theories and rules governing the various structures but we don’t get enough practice to truly master them. We might be able to give an explanation of when to use preterite tense vs. imperfect tense but then have no idea which one to use when speaking the language.
SpanishDict.com has by far the most comprehensive Spanish grammar lessons we’ve ever seen on any app, for any language. You’ll find more than 75 different grammar topics on SpanishDict, including some of the more difficult ones such as, “por vs. para,” and “ser vs. estar.”
SpanishDict’s grammar lessons feature both interactive modules as well as in-depth written explanations. In addition to teaching you the rules of each topic, SpanishDict also offers you a multitude of opportunities to practice. The modules blend video lessons with practice questions that provide immediate feedback so you can check to make sure you understand.
If you get a question wrong, SpanishDict will give you a detailed explanation to help you understand your error. It’ll also show you the question again later in the module so you can try again.
SpanishDict also has an innovative feature called “Conjugation Drill” that allows you to practice conjugating verbs in different tenses. You can practice the most common verbs or even practice verbs from your in-app vocabulary lists. You can also select the tenses (preterite, imperfect, etc.), categories (-AR, -ER, etc.) and pronouns (yo, tú, etc.) you’d like to target during your practice.
SpanishDict’s resources don’t stop at grammar and conjugation, however. There are dozens of other useful tools on deck, including an extensive dictionary and a spaced-repetition vocab practice tool – and it’s completely free to use. SpanishDict is by far the most comprehensive Spanish resource we’ve come across and we can’t recommend it enough.
Check out the Smarter Language review of SpanishDict for more detailed coverage of this amazing platform.
2. Rosetta Stone – best way to learn vocabulary as a beginner
If you’re new to studying Spanish or still at a relatively low proficiency level, you’ll need to learn lots of everyday vocabulary in order to form a strong foundation in the language.
Rosetta Stone is one of the better language learning apps when it comes to learning foundational vocabulary. The lessons focus on common topics such as eating at restaurants, going on vacation, hobbies, professions and general vocabulary you’ll use in everyday life.
Each Unit on Rosetta Stone features dozens of bright, colorful photos as well as crisp native-speaker audio. The images and audio playback help you form stronger neural connections so you can remember better.
Rosetta Stone also has the best voice recognition technology we’ve encountered. While speech recognition technology has its limits, Rosetta Stone’s speaking activities are considerably more accurate compared to other apps.
The app also gives you feedback on areas where you could improve your pronunciation. In the screenshot below, Rosetta Stone’s speech recognition exercise identified that we said the word “España (Spain)” incorrectly. We’re using the Spanish (Spain) edition but said “España” with a Central American accent (more like “E’paña”), so the app is letting us know we should work on improving that part.
Rosetta Stone doesn’t offer any grammar explanations but rather relies on visual cues to help learners pick up grammar and sentence structures implicitly. If you’re studying grammar on SpanishDict, Rosetta Stone is a helpful supplementary resource to give you some extra practice while also learning new vocabulary words.
Rosetta Stone’s curriculum covers tons of everyday situations but doesn’t cover the more abstract vocabulary you’ll need when you reach higher levels of proficiency. Once your Spanish is at intermediate level proficiency or higher, you might consider moving to a program that includes more advanced-level content.
3. Memrise – best way to learn vocabulary at intermediate and advanced levels
Memrise is one of the most useful vocab building tools if you’re already at an intermediate or advanced level in Spanish. And at just $8.49 per month it’s also one of the least expensive.
Memrise features a number of in-depth “Courses” with a broad curriculum. The app introduces you to new vocabulary items alongside mini video clips of native speakers saying them. You then practice your new vocabulary through different study activities such as typing, multiple choice, listening comprehension questions and more.
In the screenshot below, Memrise is introducing us to a new vocab item “a estas alturas… (by now)” alongside a mini video clip of a Spanish speaker saying it. You’ll also find additional audio recordings in the “Audio” section, usually demonstrating both a male and female voice.
Memrise has a spaced repetition algorithm that prompts you to regularly review previously learned words and phrases. When you sign on, the app will automatically select an activity for you to start with – though you can also choose from a number of other study modes.
In addition to the seven official levels of Memrise’s Spanish language curriculum, you can also browse user-created Courses on the platform. There are thousands of user-created Courses to choose from if you’re looking for something specific – the screenshot below shows just a few of the roughly two dozen Courses available for studying Galician, which is spoken in Galicia, a region in northwestern Spain.
If you’ve never heard Galician spoken before, check out this WikiTongues video. Galician almost sounds like a mix between Spanish and Portuguese.
Memrise is an excellent app for expanding your Spanish vocabulary once you reach intermediate and advanced levels. By some estimates it takes 4000 words to reach B2 level fluency on the CEFR scale (meaning upper intermediate or early advanced), the level usually necessary to enter university or work a job in a Spanish-speaking country. That number might sound daunting, but with just several months of studying on Memrise you could easily add 750-1000 new words to your vocabulary arsenal.
Memrise has a pretty flexible content-limited trial that allows you to try a good amount of material before signing up for a subscription. Check out our Memrise review below if you’d like to know more.
4. Pimsleur – best way to learn everyday phrases as a beginner
If you’re new to learning Spanish you’re probably excited to begin speaking and having conversations. Unfortunately, most apps won’t teach you any interesting or useful phrases until you reach the intermediate or advanced levels of proficiency. Many users end up feeling discouraged after they spend hours studying only to learn phrases like “I have a potato and I like to read”.
Pimsleur is the perfect app for beginners to learn useful everyday phrases. The lessons are audio-based and generally take about 30 minutes to complete. A narrator introduces you to conversational dialogues then walks you through each part, asking you to repeat aloud after the native speaker and frequently quizzing you on previously learned material.
We like Pimsleur because it’s the quickest way to become conversationally fluent in a language. In fact, after the very first lesson (30 minutes) you’ll be able to approach someone, ask if they understand English and tell them you don’t understand their language.
There are also quite a bit of extras available for Premium subscribers, such as audio-enabled flashcards, transcripts and helpful practice activities. Pimsleur’s audio-enabled transcripts are the most useful Premium feature in our opinion, since they make it easy to return to previously learned material for a quick review.
Pimsleur offers five Units for Spanish, each of which contains 30 individual audio Lessons. Users are encouraged to complete one Lesson per day, meaning Pimsleur’s entire Spanish course has five months’ worth of study material.
If you’re at an elementary level we’d highly recommend checking out Pimsleur to learn a set of handy everyday phrases. If you work through all five Units of Pimsleur while also using other tools to build up your vocab and learn the Spanish grammar, you’ll be navigating intermediate level conversations within less than six months.
5. Wyzant – best way to develop speaking skills at intermediate and advanced levels
Wyzant makes it easy to find a tutor and book 1-1 lessons via video call. It’s one of the apps we use most frequently in our personal language learning routine because it makes scheduling and meeting so easy. The app has a convenient interface for organizing lessons, meeting with tutors and managing files they send over.
Plus, tutoring generally only costs $20-40 per hour (depending on the tutor) and there are hundreds of Spanish tutors available on the platform.
We book online tutoring lessons whenever we’re actively studying a language. Sometimes we seek out teachers to work with us on grammatical topics and other times just for conversation practice. Wyzant lessons take place within the virtual classroom, an internal video call space similar to Zoom or Google Meet, which is quite convenient.
Regularly meeting with a native Spanish speaker is hands down one of the best ways to make rapid improvements. When we were learning Spanish years ago, we began speaking with native speakers as soon as we became fluent enough to hold basic conversations.
We made mistakes very often at first, and it was sometimes quite frustrating, but we quickly made a lot of progress. For some reason, our brains are a lot more likely to remember something when we’ve been corrected after making a mistake. After just a few months of regularly conversing with native Spanish speakers we felt both more confident and more competent in the language. We also learned a valuable lesson: the more you speak, the more you’re going to improve.
Our experience learning Spanish
Like many Americans, we took Spanish classes in school and didn’t get too much out of them. We completed the assignments and passed the tests with relative ease, but after two years we hadn’t really made any progress.
We were able to name all of the furniture in a room and write conjugation tables but had no real ability to speak Spanish. We felt completely lost every time we tried to order food at a Latin bakery or restaurant, and we felt flustered and embarrassed speaking slowly and making mistakes.
We didn’t make much progress at all until we took our learning outside of the classroom. Using a number of different apps and websites, we studied grammar structures and verb conjugation until we knew it inside out. We bought a copy of Rosetta Stone (back when it was sold in big yellow boxes at the bookstore) and began expanding our vocabulary, making flashcards of the more difficult words we came across. Most importantly, we immersed ourselves in the language by finding conversation partners from Spain and Latin America through MyLanguageExchange. We used to practice speaking Spanish a few times per week via video call back in the days of Skype.
Over the course of about a year we made substantial improvements. We signed up for AP Spanish towards the end of high school and received a 5/5 on the exam. We even received an “Advanced” certification rating from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) on an oral proficiency test.
These days we’re able to speak Spanish almost perfectly. Sure, we make grammatical mistakes here and there, and we sometimes have to navigate around a vocabulary word we don’t yet know, but overall we’re capable of functioning quite well in most everyday situations.
Learning Spanish takes time and dedication – stay organized with a study planner
It’s important to keep in mind there’s no such thing as a “hack the language in three weeks” shortcut to fluency. The key to truly getting a good grasp of the Spanish language involves time and dedication.
First, you need to spend at least 30 to 60 minutes per day studying the language. The hard truth is that you’ll never make any progress if you only study 15 minutes a couple days per week. Like any skill, what you put in is what you get out of it; you need to stay organized and develop the discipline to study regularly if you expect to see tangible results.
You also need to train the appropriate areas. A solid understanding of the grammar rules is necessary in order to understand and use the language properly. You also need to spend time every day memorizing and reviewing vocabulary. We recommend using a diverse set of study materials in order to train all four areas of language learning competency: listening, speaking, reading and writing.
We’ve been learning languages for over 12 years and have a strong grasp of what it takes to achieve real fluency in a language. The single most useful strategy we’ve discovered is to use a language learning study planner to plan your time and stay organized. We have an entire article on language learning study planners in case you’re interested in learning more.
How to start learning Spanish right now
The idea of learning Spanish can feel like an overwhelming task but it’s a lot simpler if you have a strategy in mind and tools to help you reach your goals.
There are thousands of study resources available so it can sometimes be difficult to choose – but keep in mind there really is no “right way” to learn Spanish. As long as you dedicate time and effort to learning the grammar, building vocabulary, and exposing yourself to everyday speech, you’ll be in a good position to make rapid progress.
The one thing we would strongly avoid is putting all your time into one app. Many language apps make false claims about how fast users can become fluent using their products, which leads learners to feel discouraged when they don’t notice similar results.
We would recommend starting with small, easily achievable goals that you can accomplish in the short term. A goal like “I’m going to learn Spanish this year!” is too lofty and distant to realistically focus on. Instead, try to set your mind on a target you can measure, such as “I’m going to study Spanish for 30 minutes, at least 5 of 7 days this week.” That way if you do even more than planned you can feel a sense of accomplishment in your studies.
Spanish is a rich and beautiful language with so much to explore. We hope that with these useful apps, tips and strategies you’ll be able to achieve your goals and find success in your studies.
– written by Drew Grubba for Smarter Language. Drew has ACTFL-certified proficiency in Swedish, German, Portuguese, French and Spanish. He’s also studied Mandarin Chinese, Norwegian and Dutch, and is currently learning Russian.
SpanishDict.com, Rosetta Stone, and Wyzant are properties of IXL Learning, Inc.