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Learning Spanish: free online resources

3 January 2008 648 views 10 Comments

We need to learn Spanish to prepare for life in Costa Rica. I had a lot of fun immersing myself while we were there, and except for one occasion at a bus terminal where I was completely dumbfounded, I was able to communicate well enough. It would be really helpful to learn some of the grammar and improve my vocabulary for our return to Costa Rica.

I’m always on the lookout for free online resources since I spend a lot of time at a computer. I’m getting close to mastering my Inbox. I use Google Reader and Google Alerts to keep up with websites, blogs and news topics. And now I’ve come across some websites that offer opportunities to learn Spanish for free, thanks to Wide Open Education, a website devoted to online learning.

Previously I’ve mentioned the Coffee Break Spanish podcast and the free Destinos videos (requires registration, and you’ll really need the text materials by episode 4). Since there there seems to have been an explosion in podcasts and I’ve subscribed to a few, including SpanishPod, Notes in Spanish and Spanish Para Todos. I’ve added these after we got back and haven’t been commuting as much, so the jury is still out on whether they’re as good as Coffee Break Spanish or not.

Podcasts are great when you’re stuck in car, but something structured would be more helpful to gain a deeper understanding of Spanish. I’m going to give each of the following 4 websites a try over the next 6 months and see if they work for me or not. They’re all free, so the only thing I’ll be spending is time :-)

1. Livemocha

Livemocha seems to combine the traditional lesson-oriented approach with the possibilities added by social networking. There are 4 Spanish courses that seem to correspond with university level classes: 101, 102, 201 and 202. The total time to complete those courses is 160 hours. Course 202 seems to complete what I want to learn at this time – simple past & irregular verbs. I like the solo structured approach with the option of social networking – I’ll try Livemocha first.

2. Mango

Mango seems to have the most traditional approach to learning, a complete course with multimedia exercises and audio of native speakers. They just added an ‘On the Go’ feature involving mp3s, but it turns out that it’s a $149 audio course. I’m sticking with free for now.

3. iTalki.com

iTalki is a social network focussed on language learning. Looks like I can create a profile, find a Language Partner and ask questions to the Spanish-speaking community. There are also files, seemingly pdfs, provided by members as well as comprehensive lists of resources. I like the idea of a Language Partner, but my preference is to learn solo to start.

4. Lingro

The last website I found is a tool rather than a learning resouce. Lingro allows you to load a webpage, click on a word you don’t know and have it translated. It’s useful just in English for providing definitions, but I think it’ll be great for learning new words in Spanish. All you have to do is go to site, enter a website for browsing and pick a language at the bottom of the page. You can even save words to a list after making an account. I loaded Tiny Grass and proceeded to find translations for lots of words, from journey (‘viaje’) to unschooling (which has no Spanish translation :-P)

There’s enough free resources out there that I have serious doubts I would spend money on stuff like the Rosetta Stone. I’m happy with the Destinos texts we have for a nice traditional reference, and I look forwarding to giving all these online options a test drive in my quest to master Spanish.


  • sam said:

    Thanks for the links. Learning Spanish is something I’ve wanted to do, but I’ve just never really looked into it. Considering the number of people moving north it just makes sense for more norteamericanos to learn the language for a variety of reasons.

  • Arp said:

    That’s a really, really great point. I don’t know what the current projections are but from what I recall, Latin Americans will comprise 40% of the US population within the next 50-100 years.

    I also feel that the best thing we can do as parents is to teach by example. Until a couple of years ago, I had the common notion that learning was something that was done in a school and tended to stop after college, unless you went back to school. I know that learning happens all the time now, and the internet has helped. I can see learning things constantly until the day I die, whether it be little bits of knowledge, language skills or something else. I hope my kids see that learning and curiosity are a normal part of life, not something that stops after awhile.

  • Chuck said:

    Thanks for the info. You might be interested in this list of resources from Sunday’s LA Times:


    and the main article it was attached to:


  • Arp (author) said:

    Thanks Chuck – that’s a nice set of information. I’m quite curious to see what the US Foreign Service materials are like.

  • Henry said:

    Hi there,
    If you need any additional help, you can check out my blog spanishto-go.blogspot.com. I will be happy to help anyone with any questions and concerns, I am not a Spanish teacher, but Spanish is my native language.


  • Arp (author) said:

    Henry, thanks for the link! I’m sure that I’ll have a question or two in the future.

  • Responsibilities of the World Traveler | tiny grass said:

    [...] a picture dictionary. Long-term travelers should consider investing in a language course (Either online, at a local university, or through private tutors). In Costa Rica, our family found that Ticos were [...]

  • Catharina said:

    If you like, you can find some more free resources here:


  • Bill said:

    Good luck with the move. And I enjoyed your discussion of free online resources (I’m a big fan of Coffee Break Spanish too). Here’s a link to a website (mine) that is ALL resources for learning Spanish. When my wife and I started learning Spanish, there were plenty of resources out there, but they were all over the place. And some were, to be kind, less than useful and we wasted a lot of time and energy. So we decided to put as much as we could in one place. I hope you find it useful (there’s a Costa Rica page too).

  • Barbara Vanselow said:

    This was very helpfull to me. I am trying to learn spanish to visit Costa Rica and possible move there.