We spent 50 hours researching and testing the best Spanish learning programs. During that time, we evaluated their teaching tools and content by taking beginner and intermediate lessons.
We started the testing and evaluation process by researching all the available Spanish learning programs and narrowing our list to the 10 best. We didn’t consider mobile applications that don’t have accompanying desktop apps. Once, we had our list, we downloaded and installed the programs, taking note of any hiccups in that process.
Rosetta Stone has all the language tools you need to quickly learn useful expressions and basic conversational Spanish. Also, the companion app and downloadable audio lessons make it easy to improve your Spanish skills anywhere.VIEW DEAL ON Rosetta Stone
The products we reviewed can be purchased and delivered in a variety of ways. However, we found that programs with online subscriptions were the best because they were the easiest to buy and access.
A few of the downloadable programs we bought, including Learn It Now Spanish Premier, took more than an hour to download. We had to download and install that particular program multiple times to get it to work properly. This is another reason we recommend online and mobile Spanish learning software over download-only desktop applications: There is almost no chance of purchasing a program with missing or corrupt files.
The last step in the testing process was to take each program’s beginner-level courses while noting which features we found useful or distracting. We discuss our findings from these tests in detail in each product’s review. Our recommendations are based on how easy each software was to navigate, the type and variety of its lessons and its teaching tools.
Based on our results, Rosetta Stone is the best language learning software because of its interactive platform and wide variety of lessons. Its immersive teaching technique forces you to pick things up quickly, and it also has an easy-to-use mobile app you can use to learn a language on the go.
Rosetta Stone’s subscription is handy if you have a short-term need for language software, and it makes this one of the most affordable services we reviewed.
Rosetta Stone Spanish
Rosetta Stone has all the language tools you need to quickly learn useful expressions and basic conversational Spanish. Also, the companion app and downloadable audio lessons make it easy to improve your Spanish skills anywhere.
Duolingo is free Spanish learning software that has most of the features and teaching tools the best for-pay programs include. Its game-style learning platform is fun and easy to use.
Fluenz’s travel-focused curriculum uses conversations about topics like ordering food and navigating an airport to teach Spanish grammar, reading, writing and pronunciation.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Learning Content||Learning Versatility||Teaching Tools||Ease of Use||Purchasing Options||Conversation Practice||Pronunciation||Speech Recognition||Flashcards||Timed Exercises||Mobile App||Live Tutors||Personalized Curriculum|
|Rosetta Stone Spanish||View Deal||5/5||10||10||10||A||Online Subscription||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Duolingo Spanish||View Deal||4.5/5||9.8||10||5.5||A-||Online Subscription||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||-||✓|
|Ouino Spanish Complete||View Deal||4.5/5||9||10||5.5||B||Digital Download||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||-||✓|
|Fluenz Spanish||View Deal||4/5||9.3||6||5.5||B+||Digital Download or CD ROM||✓||✓||✓||✓||-||✓||-||✓|
|Easy Spanish Platinum 11||View Deal||3.5/5||7.8||10||1.5||C-||Digital Download or CD ROM||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||-||-||✓|
|Pimsleur Spanish Unlimited||View Deal||3.5/5||9||2||8.5||B||Digital Download or CD ROM||✓||✓||-||✓||-||✓||✓||-|
|Living Language||View Deal||3/5||6.3||6||5.5||B-||Online Subscription||-||✓||✓||✓||-||✓||-||✓|
|Learn It Now Spanish Premier||View Deal||3/5||7.8||6||1.5||C-||Digital Download||✓||✓||✓||✓||-||-||-||✓|
|Language Zen||View Deal||3/5||6.8||8||B+||Online Subscription||✓||-||✓||-||✓||-||-||-|
|Michel Thomas Total||View Deal||1.5/5||3.3||5.5||C+||CD ROM||-||-||-||-||-||✓||-||✓|
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.
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.
Best For Travel
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.
Best for Auditory Learners
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 – it costs $150, and there are no ongoing expenses.
Best For Visual Learners
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. An online subscription to Living Language costs $25 a month.
Why Trust Us
We spent 50 hours researching and testing Spanish learning software to find the best product overall, the best value application and the best program for preparing to travel to a Spanish-speaking country.
In addition to testing all these programs, we scoured digital and print publications to learn about innovations in the language-learning and e-learning industries and to get tips from experts. For instance, we found this article on Time.com particularly helpful. In it, the author identifies important e-learning features, as well as provides tips on how to practice outside the e-classroom, that helped him become conversationally fluent in a new language in 17 days.
We also contacted industry professionals to make sure we were up to date on advances in Spanish learning software – for example, the programs’ integration with mobile apps. I asked the vice president of marketing for Rosetta Stone, Julia Randhawa, about the popularity of mobile applications compared to their companion desktop applications. She responded that as of last year, there are more users on the company’s mobile platform than its desktop app. She also said the average age of the program’s users has gone from 35 to 45 years old to 25 to 35 years old because of how quick and easy it is to take lessons on the mobile app. That’s why we recommend buying a Spanish learning software that has an accompanying mobile app.
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 $150. 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
E-learning 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.
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.
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.
Shannon Kennedy, a language encourager for Fluent in 3 Months, told me 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
I 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. I 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 recent 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.
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 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.
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.
We feel compelled to mention this translator app along with the giants of the industry because of its helpful features for language learners. 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 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.
Google Translate & Pixel Earbuds
Most linguists and language teachers agree that the fastest, most effective way to become fluent in a foreign language is to immerse yourself in it. However, there are certain occasions when using technology can save time. We touched on the primary advantages of the Google Translate app above, but Google recently made real-time translation possible with any Assistant-enabled phone and headphones. Initially, you could only use the real-time translation feature with Pixel phones and earbuds, but a recent update to the Pixel Buds support page more specifically outlines the growing list of compatible devices.
We tested the real-time translation feature with the wired version of the Pixel Earbuds and a Pixel 3. While the real-time translations came through faster than expected, it was a bit clunky to use a phone and headphones to converse with someone. Once you have the Translate app open, tap the voice assistant activation button and start speaking – the app will almost immediately transcribe the sentence. You then show the translation to the person or play it through the speaker and point the phone’s microphone at them so they can reply. The app sends the translated Spanish phrase to the earbuds and you hear what they’re saying in your native tongue almost instantly.
I asked my friend, who is a native Spanish speaker, how well the app translated our conversation. He said the sentence structure sounded infantile, but it was accurate. We don’t recommend using the earbuds to converse with a frantic cab driver or impatient passerby. It’s much easier to memorize a few important conversational phrases than it is to completely rely on technology to get you from the airport to your hotel in a foreign country.
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.
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.
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.”