How to learn Spanish online

Learning Spanish online

Learn Spanish we should

When deciding to go to South America, we knew we should learn some Spanish. Anna was finishing her written master thesis and working part time and Con was working full time. And as we didn’t have the time or the energy to take classes, we decided to start learning 5 month before we left using an app. There are many different possibilities, we both had tried babbel, a while ago but had not stuck with it. But there was another major app/service which was recommended online and by friends: Duolingo. It’s free and comes equipped with exercises for spelling, listening comprehension and translation, language exercise, while spicing things up via gamification (you get points and stuff, yay!). Learning was fun, mostly in the beginning, and we pushed each other to do 10 minutes every day. It sure did not work out to do it really every day. But for 4 month, we managed quite well to keep up our daily learning efforts.

Finding a duolingo alternative

Then we arrived in South America and we noticed quickly: we could not understand a thing, let alone compose a whole sentence on the fly (not quite true, we were able to say “the cat drinks milk” or “the baby eats bananas”). Needless to say, this was quite a put down.

We started to increase our efforts, by putting more time into duolingo, but also started looking for alternatives. As we had to work, we didn’t have the time to take Spanish lessons at a school every day. We needed something that we could adjust to our schedules. While searching for online classes we found another app: Memrise. So in order to learn more, we started using both apps every day.

Turns out for us, Duolingo taught us basically one thing, and that is to be good at Duolingo. We excelled at rushing the tasks the app provided and in the end made huge progress and points every day. But after completing more than half of the lessons, we were still not able to form a complete sentence on our own.


Screenshot of Duolingo dashboard after completing about 65% of the whole class.

We were missing basic fill words. “Now”, “that”, “here”. Additionally none of the taught material was fit for every day use. We could not even say that we were hungry after four month of Duolingo practice.

The right technique

A few years back Con studied mnemonics. He had read Derren Browns fabulous “Tricks of the Mind” and after doing a handful of successful mnemonic games, he wanted to learn memory techniques for real. So he bought a handful of books and devoured four on the subject. Dominic O’Brien “How to develop a brilliant memory week by week” did work best for him and after a couple of weeks he could easily memorize a 20 (or 40) digit number in 3-5 minutes. He still remembers his brothers face when he first did the trick and recited a 20 digit number his brother had written down for him, both forward and backward. The point is, it is all in the right technique.

Memrise technique relies more on repetition and raises the bar gradually from assisted to unassisted recall, teaching you every day words in the process. After two weeks of Memrise we could order flawlessly in a restaurant. Another two weeks later, we weren’t shy anymore to blurt out what we wanted or needed in Spanish.

Memrise for the win

All that is left to say is thank you, Memrise.
We are now avid fans of it and purchased a pro account two days in. Our Spanish is going well.


Two weeks ago, we stopped using Duolingo all together.

While researching for this post, we started reading “Fluent Forever” by Gabriel Wyner.

How are your experiences? Anyone out there who managed to learn their Spanish successfully from zero to conversational with Duolingo?

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