Attempting to learn Spanish

There is no need to learn Spanish If you simply want to be a Brit abroad as there are many parts of Spain where you can easily live in ‘Little Britain’.

learning spanish

That wasn’t what we wanted though.  Having opted to buy a property in rural Spain it had already become clear to us that we would need to learn Spanish, not just to integrate but simply to deal with day-to-day living. This was bought home to us when Josie was taken ill on our first visit and we had to go to the health centre in Huescar.

However, understanding that you need to learn Spanish and actually learning Spanish are two completely different things.

I am sure that immersion in a language by living in the country has to be the best way learn. Sadly though that is not currently possible, so the next best option seems to be to try to learn the basics now, giving us a head start for when we eventually move to Spain.

learn spanish


And so with that in mind I am currently trying various methods of learning Spanish (and there are as many ways as there are words in a spanish dictionary).

Whilst  I am still very much in the early stages of trying to learn Spanish, I thought I would share an insight into what is working for me.

What methods am I using to learn Spanish ?

Online Resources

Rosetta Stone. This is probably the best known (or at least best advertised) method of learning a language. I signed up to it after a free trial, It wasn’t cheap with an upfront cost of $300 (210 GBP/270 euros), but for a 3 year subscription that worked out at under $10 a month. It comprises of lessons on how to speak, read, listen and write, as well as online games and activities to practise what you learn. The selling point for me was the 20 sessions of 20 minutes live time with a native Spanish speaker.

Sadly, I soon came to realise that their teaching method simply didn’t suit my style of       learning. Rosetta Stone uses a total immersion process, using the connections that your brain makes between pictures and words.  There are no explanations or translations, the idea being that eventually as you progress through the sessions everything naturally becomes clear. Apparently this method recreates how we learn as children.

The problem with this is that how we learn as children is very different to how we learn as adults. I found that I couldn’t blindly follow the lessons, I wanted both explanations and to understand what I was being taught. I was always referring to a Spanish dictionary or researching what I was being shown on the internet for better clarification.

On a positive note, I found the live sessions useful (although scheduling was a nightmare), the voice recognition software certainly helps to improve your pronunciation and its a good way to learn vocabulary.

So, whilst Rosetta Stone obviously works well for many people, it ultimately hasn’t work for me as a stand alone method to learn Spanish. It does however work well as a supplement to my other studies. Needless to say that’s not reason enough to renew my subscription. I initially found this in the App store on my IPAD. I tried a free demo and was impressed, I also liked that I could decide my commitment by choosing to sign up for 1 month/3 months/6 months or a year. I initially signed up for a 3 month trial ($26.85/17.85 GBP/19.95 euros) and loved it so much that I then signed up for a further year ($83.40/53.40 GBP/59.40 euros).

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I have become a big fan of this software. Not only are there structured beginners and intermediate courses (that actually explain what you are learning), there are also a range of additional lessons. The voice recognition software is excellent and there is a review section that allows you practise all the vocabulary that you have learnt.

If I was told that I could only have one resource to learn Spanish, this would be the one I chose. A free, quick and comprehensive online resource for translation either from English to Spanish or vise versa. A firm favourite on my bookmark list.


Coffee Break Spanish. A free series of 15-20 minute weekly podcasts on learning Spanish, running since 2008 and still going strong. I have found this to be a very relaxing way to learn Spanish – reclined on our sofa with headphones in and coffee in hand.  There are beginner (80 episodes), intermediate (80 episodes) and advanced seasons (25 and counting).

I have found this extremely helpful as have those that I have recommended it to.

In addition to the free podcast, you can choose to pay for a premium version, where you can get access to additional materials –  such as flashcards, lesson notes and bonus audio lessons.  More details of this are on their website.


Barron’s 501 Spanish verbs. There’s a whole chunk at the front of the book about the formation of verbs and about the 7 simple tenses and compound tenses. I found this section dry and hard going, in the end I skipped it and have never returned to it.

learn spanish


Luckily that wasn’t why I bought the book. I bought it solely as a resource for verbs as It provides an alphabetical listing of 501 Spanish verbs, fully conjugated and in all the tenses and moods.

I can assure you that my copy is well-thumbed through, I have found it to be extremely helpful and I can highly recommend it.



Spanish Verb Tenses by Dorothy Richmond. Yes, I know more verbs. If there is one thing I have learnt, it is that verbs really are the building blocks of a language. As the book states “the verb is the engine of the sentence”. Understand verbs and you’ll a long way to learning the language. What the book does well is to ensure that learning verbs is not a dull and boring task. In addition to learning both verbs and tenses, there are helpful exercises and translations to help you along the way – meaning that you also pick up a good amount of useful vocabulary.

Breaking out of Beginners Spanish by Joseph Keenan. A book on Spanish written by a non native speaker may seem an odd choice – but it means he has been through and appreciates the pain barrier of learning a language, and manages to help the reader avoid some of the pitfalls of learning . The book is more of a guidebook and to quote directly from the book “it shows you more of the dark alleyways, the bright meeting places, the bohemian nooks and the pulsing thoroughfares of the language”. 

It’s a book that is best read when you have an initial grasp of the language as it won’t teach you Spanish, what it will do though is guide you along the way. The chapters are varied, ranging  from verbal manners through to tricksters/ false friends (embarazado means pregnant not embarrassed !). I have to admit that my  personal favourite was the chapter on how to swear in Spanish. The book is a great read, both entertaining and educational in equal parts.

Learning from a native Spanish speaker

Obviously the best way to go is to find someone who can teach you the language !

I am lucky enough to have a work colleague and friend who not only hails from Seville in Andalucia, but who’s mother teaches English in Spain. As such he has a great grasp on how to prepare classes and how to go about teaching someone a foreign language.

With a weekly lesson and learning along with 2 other friends, I have found the experience both enjoyable and rewarding.  After what seemed like a lifetime of learning to grasp verbs, we have moved on to reading exercises and translations and I am starting to believe that with time and practise I will be one day be able to communicate in Spanish.


learn spanish

Despite all these resources, I often find learning Spanish a little overwhelming. For me it is a series of small steps, followed by a sudden breakthrough and then a frustrating block.

One minute I  feel that I am progressing well, then find my mind fogs over when hearing a conversation in Spanish and wonder if I will ever grasp the language.  I am sure that this is the natural cycle when learning a language and often just have to remind myself of what I do know as opposed to what I don’t know.

If anyone has recommendations or advice on how they have learnt or are learning Spanish I would love to hear from them.

And on a final note … since starting to learn Spanish,  I have come to have a great deal more respect for those who can speak more than one language – especially when they make it seem effortless.

So … Who are one foot in the cave ?

We (Danny and Josie) have spent the last 10 years living and working in the Caribbean. In 2015 we decided we wanted to move closer to family and friends so bought a cave house in the Granada region of Andalucia, Spain. We moved there full time in January 2017. Now we write about our experiences of cave living and how we are adapting to life in Spain.
We also have a Facebook page full of pictures, experiences and information that we have found useful along the way. If its your thing, you can also follow us on Instagram 🙂

5 words related to this blog entry …

Language – El Idioma

To Speak – Hablar

To Learn – Aprender

To Understand – Comprender

To Teach – Enseñar




2 thoughts on “Attempting to learn Spanish

  1. Edwards European Moving

    Great article, Babbel is a fantastic resource for learning Spanish, I have pointed friends to it often. I am lucky my partner is Spanish and also a English teacher. I am often amazed how many expats don’t learn the language, they are missing out as most Spanish communities have lots to offer.

    1. Danny Post author

      Someone shared some wise words with me a couple of days ago ‘be an integrant not an immigrant’. As you said, Spain and the Spanish have so much to offer if you only make the effort.


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