Below are resources I have used, evaluated, and recommend. Everything below is available for free except for some audio courses that you cannot find in the library.
WordReference.com — One of the world’s top 300 most popular websites in the world, WordReference is super useful for determining precise definitions including idiomatic nuances. It is convenient because it allows you to enter either English or Spanish in the search box without making you tell it which language you are typing in. It also has audio pronunciation for most words and provides translations specific to a certain country. Tip: WordReference has official apps for Android and iOS, and for Windows 10 I created a free third-party app called WordReference Wrap since I use it so much!
Google Translate — This is the most accurate machine translator I have used for when you want to translate a whole phrase or sentence in a pinch. Also can pronounce words audibly for you. An official, free mobile app is available for Android and iOS.
WordReference.com — Type in a verb in the search box and a drop-down menu appears with the verb. Press the conj link in the drop-down menu.
I am a huge fan of language audio lessons. I believe they are more effective than, say, an actual class with teacher and other students for the following reasons: 1) You get a lot more time actually speaking words you learn, 2) you don’t hear other classmates mangle the Spanish language with a bad accent, 3) you can repeat material if you didn’t quite learn it the first time around, and 4) they are much less expensive.
That said, some audio programs are better than the others. This is how I’d rank the ones I’ve tried:
- Pimsleur — Hands down the best audio course there is. There is a lot of repetition and minimal wasted time. Some CDs are available from our local library; more are available through the Prospector inter-library system. Or, buy buy Pimsleur materials: it’s a worthwhile investment.
- Michel Thomas — The late Michel Thomas didn’t believe in memorization, drills or homework. He believed the onus of learning was on the teacher! You listen in as he teaches two beginning students Spanish. The Prospector inter-library system has beginner copies on loan; or you can buy Michel Thomas Spanish. I particularly recommend his system if you find constant repetition and memorization odious.
- Rocket Languages — The courses, comprised of conversations that are disected, are both practical and entertaining as the creators try to make their courses as amusing as possible. Sometimes, however, the jokes (most of which are made in English) take up too much valuable time that could be better spent repeating Spanish. In contrast, the Pimsleur courses has at least three times as much repetition and review in the same amount of time. Not available from any library; instead, it is purchasable and downloadable on the Internet via risk-free trial.
- Living Language — A low-cost language system that emphasizes conversational skills. I found the course to be rather dry and dull, but I see the online reviews are pretty good. Your mileage may vary. The local library has CDs, and so does the Prospector inter-library system. Or buy Living Language Spanish.
Duolingo — Very effective, addictive, and 100% free! How can it be free without ads? As one of the founders at Carnegie Mellon University explained in this super interesting (and humorous) TED Talk, users of this program help translate the World Wide Web while learning a new language. It’s an ingenious concept. Apps are available for Android and iOS; use Duolingo’s website on other operating systems.
With the above, I believe there is no reason to pay $500 for, say, Rosetta Stone. My recommendation is to use Pimsleur while cooking, cleaning, showering, driving, running, etc., and use Duolingo to learn how to read and write when you can sit down at a computer, tablet or smartphone.
Destinos — A PBS telenovela created in the early 90s to help you learn Spanish. There are 52 episodes, each being under 30 minutes. Every episode quickly reviews the previous one. I thought Destinos was super interesting (particularly because it visited at least four different Spanish-speaking countries) and has a riveting story line.
SpanishDict.com — You can make your own flashcards on this website, including with audio and quizzes.
TinyCards by Duolingo — The best flashcard app I have encountered! Make your own flashcards or browse public sets. There’s even a setting to pronounce words by Duolingo’s speech engine. Available as a mobile app for iOS and Android, and an excellent web app for any device.
Use of the subjunctive (Indiana-Purdue University Fort Wayne)
Por vs. para (about.com)
Forvo — Has audio pronunciations of almost every word in the world, including some brand names.
Bing Translator or Google Translate — Useful when you quickly want to know how to pronounce whole phrases or sentences. The pronunciations are by “machine” but the accent is more accurate than most non-native speakers.
How to pronounce the Spanish ‘r’ (Google Answers) — Suggestions on how to roll your tongue for the single ‘r’ and trill your tongue for the double ‘r.’
How to type Spanish accents (ehow.com)