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Best learn Spanish software 2020

Best learn Spanish software 2020
(Image credit: ShutterStock)

Whatever your experience level, the best learn Spanish software and apps will get you speaking the language quickly and easily. While most of these Spanish apps require you to pay for a subscription, some are free and offer a basic grounding in the language if you only need a handful of phrases. More serious learners, who hope to become fluent (or close to it), will need to invest in at least one of the premium options below, and the price can initially seem quite high, running upwards of $200. Luckily, many top-rated Spanish courses have regular discounts, so you rarely have to pay the list price.

When testing the best learn Spanish software and apps, we looked at some key features as priority. The learning method is the primary reason to choose any Spanish course, and while your preferred style of learning may vary from someone else's, we found that certain courses were far more effective than others when it comes to not only learning vocab and grammar, but retaining it too. It's worth noting that some cover both traditional Spanish and Latin American Spanish, so if you need one over the other, keep this in mind.

We also consider things like price, although we think you usually get what you pay for when it comes to Spanish language courses, so we look at the value of the content you get rather than the actual pricetag. Other things to consider include the amount of visual and audio lessons you get, the quality of the testing, any rewards you get for progression, and what - if any - certifications you get for completing a course. Whatever your needs, though, there should be a Spanish learning app for you below.

If Spanish isn't your thing, consider our list of the best learn French software instead. And make sure you have one of the best home computers or best tablets to run each of the below courses on.


1. Rosetta Stone: Best learn Spanish software overall

Best learn Spanish software and apps 2020 rosetta stone

(Image credit: Rosetta Stone)

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone helps users learn Spanish more quickly and effectively

Easy to use
Great companion mobile app
Business and educator subscription options
Live tutoring costs extra
Problems with voice recognition

Rosetta Stone has helpful lessons for auditory, visual and kinesthetic learners alike. The lessons are broken into manageable chunks, and you can customize your curriculum to learn only the topics you want.

Rosetta Stone’s phrasebook has a good selection of greetings, expressions and phrases that can help you quickly master a particular task, such as asking for directions.

This software uses immersive teaching techniques to speed the learning process. The lessons don’t have English subtitles or instructions. Instead, every word on the screen is in Spanish, which forces your brain to associate new vocabulary with images, rather than words from English. Our reviewers found this method helped them learn words and phrases faster than the techniques used by other Spanish language software we reviewed.

The Rosetta Stone mobile app has all same functionality as the online application and can track your progress as you continue down the path to fluency en Español. The mobile and online applications track your progress and sync with each other, so you can start a lesson on your home computer and pick up where you left off on your phone during your lunch break.

Your Rosetta Stone subscription also includes downloadable lessons. When you download the files to your phone or other mobile device, you can continue your lesson plan without needing a Wi-Fi signal or using cellular data.


2. Duolingo: Best value Spanish learning software

Best learn Spanish software and apps 2020 duolingo

(Image credit: Duolingo)

Duolingo

Duolingo is a superb free option for learning any language

Free
Easy-to-use mobile and desktop interface
Fun, game-style learning
Notifications can be annoying

Duolingo’s fun, innovative platform has language lessons that are appropriate for younger and older students alike. It’s easy to navigate and divides lessons into manageable chunks, so you can learn during short breaks at home, work or school.

The desktop and mobile apps track your progress through the lesson plan and give instant feedback about your incorrect answers. They also provide suggestions on how to improve in areas you struggle.

Duolingo has most of the teaching tools and tracking features we look for in Spanish language software and is completely free, which is why it’s our best value pick. Many other free programs come bundled with adware and other malicious software. However, Duolingo is an online service and doesn’t require you to download anything, so we didn’t have those problems when we tested it.

If you need extra motivation, Duolingo has you covered. It sends fun notifications on a regular basis and also tracks how many days in a row you’ve logged into the program to complete exercises. It rewards you for your diligence with Lingots, the Duolingo currency you can use to buy timed practices and other bonus skills.


3. Rocket Languages: Best for audio learning

Rocket Languages: Best for audio learning

(Image credit: Rocket Languages)

Rocket Languages

A superb audio course for Spanish learners

Loads of audio lessons
Perfect for beginners
Some issues with the app

Rocket Languages is a primarily audio-based course, and we've found it to be hugely effective when learning any language. It's split into three parts: the first couple of parts are all about learning the language, and they're done via a story that you listen to and then answer questions on. It brings the often dry subject of language learning to life, and is great for anyone who loves listening as their preferred method of absorbing information. Like a podcast, audiobook, or just a music playlist? Rocket should work nicely for you.

The third part of Rocket's learning method is the 'Survival Kit', which offers phrases and information around certain scenarios that you might encounter while travelling or dealing with people in your chosen language. So, there are kits for shopping in a foreign country, or business meetings - things like that. They're very useful tools.

One thing we don't like about Rocket is how much it repeats itself. While repetition is a part of learning, it happens a little too much here. The cost is another issue, but this is no more expensive than competitors like Rosetta Stone, so it is fairly priced.


4. News In Slow Spanish: Best for intermediate learners

News In Slow Spanish: Best for intermediate learners

(Image credit: News In Slow)

News In Slow Spanish

An audio-based course that does... exactly what you'd expect

Very effective method
Perfect for intermediates
Topical learning
Expensive
App isn't great

We like News In Slow Spanish. What it does, it does very well indeed: it reads you various news reports, in Spanish, only slowed down so you have a better chance of picking out words. It then invites you to pick out phrases or vocab from the news report, and tests you on them. There is an audio transcript of each report, and you can choose to translate certain elements of this if you need help with understanding it.

We recommend this one for intermediate users because the course is all in Spanish, and you need a basic grasp of the language to take part. There is a beginner option, but we found it very challenging, so required a lot of persistence. There is a massive amount of content to choose from with this course so, even though it's expensive, you do get value for money. It's effective too, and the fact that the news reports cover real topics means that you learn loads about modern Spanish culture too.

If you're worried this is too advanced for you, we suggest pairing it with Duolingo to help you get a better grasp of the language first, for free, before launching into News In Slow.


5. Fluenz: Best Spanish learning software for travel

Best learn Spanish software and apps 2020 fluenz

(Image credit: Fluenz)

Fluenz Spanish

If you're learning Spanish for a trip, Fluenz is your best choice

Great topical exercises
Attractive, easy-to-navigate interface
Expensive
Lessons move slowly

Fluenz’s unique approach teaches foundational language concepts, such as grammar and pronunciation, using real-world travel situations and by instructing you on how to converse and engage with locals. Its interface looks great and includes virtual face-to-face instruction from Sonia Gil, one of the company’s founders.

This is one of the few programs we tested that can still be purchased outright and permanently installed on your computer, so you don’t need access to the internet to take lessons once they’re downloaded. The lessons are also available on the mobile app for Android and Apple devices.

This Spanish language software is marketed and designed to teach teenagers and adults, so it doesn’t have games or give flashy accolades for completing lessons. Instead, Fluenz aims to connect the Spanish language to culturally significant events and real-world conversational situations.

During testing, our reviewers found Fluenz has a good combination of auditory and visual lessons. There aren’t as many speech-recognition exercises as in some of the other programs we tested, but the ones it includes let you record your voice as half of a conversation that might happen at a restaurant or in a taxi. You can then play the conversation back and compare your accent to that of a native speaker.


6. Pimsleur: An academicly-grounded way of learning

Best learn Spanish software and apps 2020 Pimsleur

(Image credit: Pimsleur)

Pimsleur

A tried and tested method for those with a more academic leaning

Immersion learning focuses on conversations
Emphasis on core vocabulary
Little visual content
Can take a long time to learn

If you learn best by listening, Pimsleur is the best option for you.

This program was developed by linguists and uses immersion learning to teach you conversational Spanish. Each lesson focuses on a conversation, with the instructor guiding you through each word and phrase used in the dialogue. This familiarizes you with day-to-day conversations, and as you progress, you should learn to anticipate and recall the correct responses. Pimsleur is mostly an audio program, so if you’re a visual learner or like learning games, this may not be the software for you. 

You purchase Pimsleur outright rather subscribe to it –there's an upfront cost but there are no ongoing expenses.


7. Living Language: Best Spanish learning software for visual learners

Best learn Spanish software and apps 2020 Living language

(Image credit: Living Languages)

Living Language

The best Spanish learning software for visual learning types

Flashcard exercises help you learn and recall vocabulary
Affordable
Audio learning tools aren’t as good as those in other programs
Less interactive

If you’re more into visual learning, Living Language is the best option for you because it has a variety of games and activities that help you learn Spanish.

We especially liked the sentence builder activity that gives you an English sentence and a jumble of Spanish words necessary to make the proper translation. In addition, it has flashcard exercises to help you learn vocabulary. There’s a downside to this style of visual learning, though – it may make you associate a Spanish word with an English word, rather than help you to use its Spanish meaning. Also, its audio learning tools aren’t as comprehensive as those in other programs. 


8. Spanish Uncovered: Learning with a personal touch

Spanish Uncovered: Learning with a personal touch

(Image credit: Olly Richards)

Spanish Uncovered

The brainchild of Olly Richards, and a very personal course to boot

The method works well
Nice personal lessons
No free trial
The website looks like a scam

Spanish Uncovered is designed and taught by Olly Richards, who is famous for a variety of self-help and learning books. He himself claims to be fluent in eight languages, and you can see his personality all over the Spanish Uncovered course. It's a total immersion course, like Rosetta Stone, and it blends both audio and text to take you from beginner to complete fluency.

We like the personality Richards brings to this course, even if the website it's hosted on - with numerous overbearing assurances from the man himself - does feel like the front for a 'get rich quick' scheme. You'd be forgiven for being put off by the hard sell. But don't be, because underneath it lies a genuinely good Spanish course that is proven to get great results.

Beware the odd pricing structure too: there's a bronze tier which starts at $297, and that jumps straight to Gold, which is over $1000. There's no free trial period either (just a moneyback guarantee) so think really hard before signing up.


How much does Spanish learning software cost?

Spanish learning programs cost anywhere from free to nearly $150 for a one-year subscription. If you want to own the software outright, you can pay to download a program, which costs as little as $40 all the way up to $200. Most of these programs have mobile apps that don’t cost extra, though some of the downloadable programs don’t have accompanying apps.

Important things to consider when buying Spanish learning software

Ease of use
Learning a foreign language is frustrating when it’s difficult to access lessons or the software crashes frequently. We graded each program we tested based on how easy it was to download and install, as well as how easy the software made it to find and continue lessons. The best programs we tested are easy to login into or download and have clearly laid out learning paths.

Purchasing options
After testing all the programs, we believe it’s best to purchase language learning software as an online subscription. Online programs don’t download to your computer, and you can subscribe for a short or long period of time, based on your needs.

However, you can also purchase some programs outright. These applications are installed on your computer from a CD or DVD ROM or downloaded from a trusted retailer or the manufacturer. This type of program is a good option if you want to share learning software with other members of your family or if you know it will take you quite a while to reach your fluency goal.

Mobile app
Programs like Rosetta Stone and Duolingo have companion apps that allow you to learn on the go. The mobile apps look a bit different than their desktop applications, but manufacturers update app content more frequently, and you can take lessons in them during your spare time.

Some of the programs we tested, like Fluenz, allow you to download flashcards or lessons to your mobile device via their app. That way, you can practice without using Wi-Fi or cellular data.

Language memorization techniques 

Memorization and quick recall of vocabulary terms serves as an important base for learning a new language. Memory is a muscle that needs exercise and flexing regularly. Psychologists suggest memory uses three aspects of information processing: encoding, storage and retrieval. Here are some popular techniques to help you memorize vocabulary terms and quickly recall them in conversations.

Spaced repetition
Shannon Kennedy, a language encourager for Fluent in 3 Months, told us the Spaced Repetition System (SRS) is her favorite memorization technique, and it emphasizes keeping vocabulary fresh in your mind. With this method, you memorize a group of terms, and instead of trying to recall them the next day, you give your brain a few days before you test yourself again. With each successive review, you take less time to recall the terms until you reach mastery. Anki is a free flashcard app for Android and iPhone that uses SRS, whereas Pimsleur, one of our favorite Spanish learning programs, uses a type of spaced repetition called graduated-interval recall.  

Memory palace
There are many tips and tricks for building and using a memory palace to increase foreign language vocabulary. Basically, a memory palace is a mentally constructed familiar building, like your home or office, that you form a linear path through to help you memorize and recall new vocabulary terms. A memory palace is a type of mnemonic device that forces your brain to associate a word or phrase with an image – in this case, a mentally constructed building. Creating a memory palace takes time, but once you get the hang of it, it is a great way to quickly grow your Spanish vocabulary.

Spanish language podcasts  

Spanish language podcasts are a great resource for improving your Spanish listening, comprehension and speaking skills. You can tune in whenever you have a free moment and completely immerse yourself in a conversation with native speakers. Listen to partial or entire episodes by pausing the broadcast and picking it back up when you have some downtime.

Spanish Obsessed

The hosts of Spanish Obsessed, Rob and Lis, cover a wide range of topics for beginning and advanced students alike. The episodes are 10-20 minutes long, making it easy to listen during short breaks at work or on your morning commute.  The podcasts are free and categorized by level. There are 28 beginner episodes that cover verb conjugation and popular topics like how to apologize, forms of transportation and how to describe your daily routine. Gold membership costs $100 for one year and adds PDF transcriptions of the episodes and premium course content, including learning exercises for each podcast.

Nomadas

This podcast is tough to follow for beginning Spanish students, but if you are progressing through intermediate and advanced courses and like to learn about exotic travel destinations, Nomadas is a great option. Alvaro and Esther host this podcast for Spanish radio, but the interviews include accents and dialects from Latin America and South America too. There are new episodes added to the site 2-3 times per week and each episode lasts about 30 minutes. All the podcasts stream free, directly from the website.

Audiria

This free Spanish podcast has a great selection of topics for beginner and advanced students alike. Each episode is organized by difficulty level and includes tests and exercises to keep you engaged throughout. Audiria adds at least one new episode every day about topics like kitchen terms, culture, popular news and songs. The episodes are available on the Audiria homepage and Apple iTunes, free of charge, and if you enjoy the podcasts, you can participate by adding questions to vocabulary tests or propose exercises.

Coffee Break Spanish

Coffee Break is hosted by an experienced language teacher, Mark, and his student Kara. There are more than 80 learning episodes designed mostly for beginner and intermediate students. The lessons are 15-20 minutes each and cover a range of topics, including travel, culture and conversational topics about ordering food and regional dialects. The episodes are available for free on the Coffee Break website and through iTunes.

Classroom vs. eLearning 

We interviewed Shannon Kennedy, a language encourager for Fluent in 3 Months, about the primary advantages of using software to learn a language instead of face-to-face instruction. She told me e-learning affords you the ability to work at your own pace without the need to coordinate two calendars to arrange a lesson or meetup. “With face-to-face instruction, there's the pressure of responding quickly. But with software, you have a little more time to reflect and respond.” Whether you’re learning a foreign language for business, travel or simply to expand your understanding of a different culture, having the ability to learn in a comfortable environment at your own pace is a significant advantage.

One disadvantage of e-learning compared to classroom instruction is the need to be self-motivated. Learning Spanish for business travel comes with important motivating factors, like avoiding awkward conversations with important colleagues, but it also requires you to learn specific topics quickly. We asked Shannon which features of learning software make it easier to learn quick and conversational topics for business travel. She didn’t single out one specific topic but suggested, “Lots of repetition, but done in a way that isn’t boring.” The best Spanish learning programs we tested allow you to skip around in a curriculum to focus on the topics you use most for business travel, and once you identify the most important topics, you use timed game-style exercises to attain conversational fluency.

Language learning & improved standardized test scores 

A study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) found that second language study benefits academic progress in other subjects, narrows achievement gaps and benefits basic skills development. That study, along with other scholarly citations, make a great case for starting children on a path to dual-language fluency at a young age. A study of more than 13,000 fifth graders in Louisiana public schools revealed, “regardless of race, gender, or academic level, children taking foreign language classes did better on the English section of the Louisiana Basic Skills Test than those who did not.”

In addition to improved test scores in English, there are multiple studies that suggest language learning improves cognition and memory, enabling students to perform better in math, language arts and reading. A 1997 study conducted by P.W. Armstrong and J.D. Rogers randomly assigned third-grade students 30-minute Spanish lessons three times a week for one semester. They concluded, “Students in the Spanish classes scored significantly higher than the group that did not receive Spanish instruction in math and language on the Metropolitan Achievement Test (MAT).”

The best Spanish learning programs we tested recommend students participate in beginning reading and writing lessons in their first language before starting a foreign language curriculum. However, many users in the Duolingo forum report children as young as 4 years old interacting with the software and retaining some of the word-to-image association exercises. Duolingo requires users to be at least 13 years old to participate in the group forums.

Translator apps 

No matter how much time you spend studying a foreign language and preparing for a vacation to a Spanish-speaking country, there is bound to be a situation you need to quickly translate a word or phrase you’re unfamiliar with. A translator mobile app is the fastest and most efficient way to communicate with a taxi driver or translate a sign, and most apps work without Wi-Fi. Here are some of our favorite translator apps:

Google Translate
Google Translate has been the best Spanish translating app for more than 10 years. It is available as a free download for Android and iOS mobile devices and is compatible with more than 100 languages. There are more than 50 downloadable translation files that work without Wi-Fi or cellular data coverage. The image recognition is a bit buggy with closely grouped characters on receipts and small flyers, but its speech and handwritten character translations are the best available.

Microsoft Translate
Google Translate is the most popular translator app, but Microsoft Translator is no slouch. It has some unique features that make conversations across multiple languages easy, and is available as an extension for Microsoft PowerPoint. The chat feature allows you to start a conversation in a virtual meeting room and add participants by sending a conversation code. Each participant chooses their native language from a list of 60 available dialects and you either type a message or speak to the application and each participant sees the message in their own language. It is available for free on Android, Amazon and iOS mobile devices, and as a desktop application for Windows 10.

iTranslate
iTranslate has similar functionality to Google Translate and Microsoft Translator, but it also includes a dictionary and verb conjugation tool for popular languages like Spanish, French, German and English. Other features unique to iTranslate include a translator web browser, split view that allows you to use the app side by side with other apps and transliteration to help read non-latin characters. Most of the features are available for free on all the popular mobile and desktop platforms, but if you want offline translation and voice-to-voice translations, the Pro version is $5 per month or $40 per year.  

TripLingo
TripLingo isn’t compatible with as many languages as Google Translate, but it has a better selection of cultural suggestions and travel tools to help you avoid awkward and culturally insensitive interactions. This app allows you to make free international calls when connected to Wi-Fi and has a helpful phrasebook that includes casual and slang terms for 13 languages, including Spanish. The user interface is easy to navigate and has a tip calculator and currency converter. The basic version of TripLingo is available for iOS and Android devices for free, but the premium version costs $20 per month and adds custom phrase books and the option to call a human translator.

Smart speaker Spanish lessons 

Alexa and Google Assistant can’t compete with the best Spanish learning software we tested, but using a smart speaker to practice speaking and listening is a good way to supplement a comprehensive curriculum. Our favorite Spanish learning software, Rosetta Stone, has a free Alexa skill with a limited selection of topics including greetings, food and drink, and directions. Here are a couple options for Alexa and Google Assistant smart speakers.

Busuu
This language learning program is the best option for smart speakers that use the Google Assistant. Google-compatible smart speakers don’t require you to download or enable skills like the Alexa smart speakers. Simply ask Google Assistant to “Talk to busuu” or “Ask busuu about learning Spanish,” and the speaker walks you through the introductory process. The course has a good selection of audio flashcards that cover popular topics like introducing yourself and saying hello, but not enough to make you conversationally fluent at the end of the lesson plan.

SayHi
This language learning app for smart speakers is available for Alexa and Google devices. It contains dynamic content, so the developers are constantly learning from users and upgrading the app. There are three free lessons that focus on comprehension and popular conversational topics. The lessons are all less than 20 minutes, so if you want to brush up on some beginner-level topics without staring at a screen, enable the skill and ask Alexa to “Open SayHi” or continue a lesson by saying “Alexa, tell SayHi to resume my lesson.”