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Learning Spanish – [Part Two] – Learning how to learn

December 6, 2015

A few days after we arrived in Oaxaca we started our language course.  We were so nervous on that first day, and we diligently went home and carefully did our homework.  But we quickly realised that we didn’t know what to do next. We were confronted with the question ‘how do we learn?’.  It’s been such a long time since we were in school, and neither of us have ever properly learnt a language before so were left floundering about the best way to learn grammar and vocab.  We found that different things worked for each of us, and a few things worked for both of us.  So, for anyone else feeling lost or confused these are some of the things we’ve found worked for us and have helped us achieve a basic conversational fluency (in addition to our structured lessons). I hope you find them useful!!

YouTube Videos

Guy spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos to understand grammar rules and to pick up tips on pronunciation.  I found some of them good but some of them annoying although it is good to hear how some of the words are pronounced by native speakers. I think if you’re a visual person (like Guy) YouTube is definitely an asset to your learning.

Some of his favourite channels are:


learning spanish with youtube

Learn Spanish Like Crazy

the best spanish you tube videos

Gringo Espanol

learning spanish for the first time


Personally I like Duolingo – it’s a nice respite and a bit of fun.  Guy doesn’t like it because he gets frustrated with some of the errors (e.g. limon translates to lemon but not lime).  I do find it a bit annoying, but when I know I am right I just ignore it and keep going.  It’s definitely necessary to go back and review some of the previous levels you’ve passed – don’t let your supposed fluency percentage get to your head! 🙂


Gosh I love Pinterest – is there anything you can’t find on this site? We found it really useful for vocab lists and graphics showing things like expressions of time, questions and the alphabet. You can find my Spanish board on Pinterest here.

Follow The Traveling Anthropologist’s board Espanol on Pinterest.


Guy made flashcards the first week we started learning – and diligently reviews them every few days.  He has much better vocab recall than me and I think it’s down to the flashcards. Here’s an interesting article about how to effectively utilize flashcards to learn.


This site has so many great articles offering advice and recommendations for different ways to enhance your language learning experience.  They cover topics like how you can use music to enhance your listening skills, tips for how to improve your Spanish accent, and the grammatical structure of a simple sentence.

learning spanish resources

spanish learning resources

These are a couple of my favourite posts (click on the image to be taken to the page)


I’m positive that in New Zealand you don’t get taught grammatical rules in school (I’ve checked with my friends and no one remembers doing this) – so we don’t really have an understanding of grammar separate to how we use it.  I learned a little bit when I was teaching English in Laos but my understanding is pretty limited.  So we’ve had to learn English grammar rules in order to understand Spanish grammar rules (for example the difference between present simple and present progressive, and what a reflexive verb is).

Studyspanish is an absolute gold mine of information.  They have really simple grammar lessons that you can understand even when your brain is exhausted and your onto your fourth cup of coffee. And they also have a whole bunch of other useful articles on pronunciation, vocab lists, idioms and podcasts.

learning spanish

A couple of my favourites are the Spanish Grammar and the Spanish Culture Section.

Watching TV Shows in Spanish

learning spanish by watching narcos

We’ve been watching Narcos on Netflix for a few weeks – the show is amazing, we are seriously addicted – but it’s also been really good listening practice for us.  We don’t catch a lot of the words because their spoken so fast, and some of them are slang – but we do manage to understand maybe a third of what’s being said.  We’ve also watched a few cartoons like Family Guy in Spanish with English subtitles which has been really fun.

We’ve still got a long way to go but these have helped us get our heads around some of the grammatical rules and pronunciation differences.  Now we’ve finished our language course we have to figure out how to keep learning – and not forget what we have learnt. But that’s a post for another day. 🙂

If you have any tips that have worked for you while learning Spanish or any other language please share them below!

P.S you can read the first post in this series ‘Learning a new language sucks’ here


tips for learning spanish

Blogs Mexico

Learning Spanish – [Part One] – Language learning sucks!

November 27, 2015

My head is throbbing, my eyes are tired and my tongue feels heavy in my mouth. I hear my name called in the lilting accent I’ve come to love – “peepa”.  I glance up at my teacher who’s looking at me patiently, and kindly as always. She repeats the question. Subconsciously I squeeze my hand into a fist as if this is going to enhance my listening abilities. Expectant silence fills my ears as I sluggishly try to process what she said , first in Spanish and then in English. A trickle of relief runs down my spine – I know this! I start to reply, my voice soft and tentative as if I’m asking a question rather than giving an answer. I try to say a word but realise it’s in the wrong tense, so try again – but this time I’ve conjugated it to the wrong pronoun. Finally I get it right. One word down! Now just the rest of the sentence to go. 

learning spanish in oaxaca

Enrolling in a language course in Mexico was one of the smartest decisions we’ve ever made.  During the few days we spent in Oaxaca prior to our course starting we felt reasonably confident about our language abilities.  We could ask for directions, order food and tell people where we were from. We knew we had a long way to go before we achieved our goal of conversational fluency but we were happy that we could get by.

By the end of our first class we had been well and truly bought back to the land of reality.  By the end of our first week we were feeling thoroughly discouraged and thoughts of giving up had definitely flitted through our minds in the early hours of the morning as we lay awake going over the verb conjugations we’d learnt that day.  During the second week I cried twice, and by the third week our brains felt so full we were sure that we couldn’t possibly fit anything else in.  The fourth week passed in a blur, interspersed with occasional outbursts of frustration and a lot of coffee consumption. Now we’ve just finished our fifth and final week (we survived!!).

We’re pretty exhausted, and definitely ready to have a break from structured learning for a while.  We’re going to head down to the coast and spend some time reading something other than vocabulary lists, and listening to music rather than Spanish podcasts.

We’ve both been surprised by how hard language learning is! I realise that sounds stupid when you look at it like that – but it really is so hard! Just when you think you’re getting it, you learn that there’s a different tense you should be using, or another grammatical rule that you previously didn’t know, and then of course there are the irregular verbs…don’t even get me started on verb conjugations.

We actually struggle through daily interactions more than we did when we first arrive because now we know when we’re saying something incorrectly – and we have more vocabulary to get mixed up.  Then there are the times when we occasionally burst into Spanglish without even realising it.

So, yeah language learning sucks.

We did have a pretty language school though – and being in an outdoor classroom was the best!

learning spanish in oaxaca


We also had fantastic teachers!