How is your Spanish then? Yes I know, I wish I had more time too, and I really meant to keep going with those classes but life is complicated and busy..

What if you could learn Spanish without leaving the house though, if you could just fire up your computer and learn to speak the language of the country where you live whenever you had a spare moment, and even get conversational practice to bring it all to life?

Well, I am afraid we all just ran out of excuses. The range of options and opportunities out there means we really have no reason not to get on with it… you just need to see what works best for you and get started.

Choices include eye-wateringly expensive applications such as Rosetta Stone, which teaches reading, listening, speaking and writing skills – but at a price that runs into hundreds of Euros for the senior levels, and includes subscription costs if you want to use the webconferenced conversation classes after 6 months (fair enough), and the mobile and iPad apps (NOT fair at all, in my opinion, as using the mobile app has no further costs to the software provider you have paid a huge purchase price to already). They are extremely well-designed products that can teach you a great deal and you could learn to speak and understand a lot without ever meeting a Spanish speaker, but for most of us that isn’t the hard part, it’s understanding the underlying grammar and rules of the language that is hard. Rosetta Stone make a big thing of how we learn and absorb our native language as babies, but I would definitely argue that adults learning needs and styles differ – I like to know the rules, and for that you need a grammar book as well! However for conversational basics it works well, and if they ever produce a Catalan level 1 I will buy it, just to get a grounding in Valenciano.

But if you want to save your cash there are plenty of alternatives out there. A recent newcomer is Duolingo, which offers an interesting deal: free language tuition, in exchange for helping to translate articles and content online. It’s been in beta testing for some months, and the site has undergone almost daily iterative updating and improving, someone (a big team of someones) is clearly investing a lot of time and effort in this programme. The teaching materials are well put together, and once you’ve created your account you have to spend a little time assessing your level (and you can test out of the earlier levels quickly if they are stuff you already know). They are integrated with social media and add elements of gamification that are motivating and fun – brag about your successes and level attainments, compete in challenges, and set targets for your next lesson.

They create lots of opportunities for you to use your language socially, interacting with other users, and you can also offer your own content for translation by learners. Best of all, it’s completely free – the only thing it costs you is your time and commitment, and for the standard of teaching tools that have been put together, this is very impressive. Rosetta Stone, take note! Definitely check out www.duolingo.com.

Of course you definitely need to factor in your own learning style and motivations when deciding on your approach, because I have found from bitter experience that not even the best learning resources in the world have any facility to automatically upload into your heard. Maybe one day… Till now, perhaps you will be disciplined enough to teach yourself what you need to know from language sites such as http://www.studyspanish.com/ (which offers a lot of information for free), and grammar references such as http://www.123teachme.com/. Or you might find yourself spurred on by the competitive approaches employed by Duolingo or Rosetta Stone. Want conversation? Check out the gigs on offer at www.fiverr.com for people who will talk to you on Skype, if you really can’t find the conversation you need on your own doorstep. Remember though when buying or subscribing to any internationally-based Spanish teaching service, make sure you are getting the Castellano you actually need, not South American ‘Espanol’. As it’s really different enough to be very confusing.

For many though attending a regular class with structured learning is the best way forward, and all other tools are an adjunct to this – you just have to know yourself and what works best to motivate YOU. It’s like exercise and getting fit – I can read all the books about how to do it, watch youtube videos and subscribe to fitness blogs, they don’t burn a single calorie however. Of course I could be really disciplined and start an exercise programme based on any of these resources, I could go running, or use those free grown-up playgrounds springing up next to the swings all over the Costas, to tone my muscles and burn fat. Yeah.

Or, I can be a bit more realistic, and know that the only time I will really push myself is if I join a regular class where there is loud funky music and someone skinny in lycra at the front, yelling at me to do a few more reps, and making me produce a sustained effort well in excess of anything I would manage…

Only by being brutally honest with yourself can you decide how you are going to use the range of tools available to help you learn Spanish, finding the right mix of paid (like the gym membership, this can have a guilt-trip motivator effect) and free, face to face or online, scheduled or self-started. And lots of new classes start in September, just around the corner… just saying.

What has worked for you, have you found any great online Spanish learning tools? Please share with us, @casslar.

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