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Best learn Spanish online courses 2021

Best learn Spanish online courses 2021
(Image credit: ShutterStock)

If you’re looking to learn this popular language, then you should opt for one of the best learn Spanish online courses. These lessons and digital classes can help you master the lingo from the comfort of your own home. With plenty of tools and apps to keep you engaged, these platforms can help you charm the locals on your next holiday in a Spanish-speaking country.

You might also be interested in the best learn Spanish online courses if you’re someone with a more advanced understanding of the language. A lot of these websites and apps can help you brush up on your grammar, expand your vocabulary and improve your reading skills. 

Some of these platforms do offer you the chance to have one-to-one classes with native speakers. However, if this is your main goal, then you might be better served by the best online tutoring services. Here, you can get guaranteed interactive tutoring, which might improve your accent - but you won’t have the lesson plans to help you improve your overall grasp of the language.

Not settled on a language to learn yet? We also have a guide to the best learn French online sites and apps. But if you’re determined to master Spanish, then read on.


1. Rosetta Stone: Best learn Spanish online course overall

Rosetta Stone: Best learn Spanish online course overall

(Image credit: Rosetta Stone)

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone helps users learn Spanish more quickly and effectively

Formats: Windows PC, Mac, iOS, Android | Free trial: 3 days | Offline lessons: Yes

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

This is our top-ranked language platform, thanks to its immersive approach to learning and its easy-to-navigate interface. Language learners are plunged in at the deep end, with all English references stripped away, so that you’re forced to carefully read the Spanish text to understand each task. And review units gently encourage learners to practice the sections that they’ve found difficult in the course.

Most lessons work on the basis of word and image association, which is fairly standard for learning apps. We appreciated that the images have been carefully selected to reflect the platform’s global user base.

If you’re left wanting more after a lesson, then you can tap into the ‘extended learning’ resource. These sections give information on social-cultural aspects of Spanish-speaking countries. We also liked that these sections are often narrated by different speakers, so you get acquainted with slightly different accents. 

Rosetta Stone does offer coaching sessions and live one-on-one tutorials, too. Although at present these are only included in the slightly costly Lifetime Premium subscription package, which is normally priced at around $299.

There are regular sales available for this, though, bringing the price down by $50 or so. Most users will probably be well served by the 12-month package, which usually costs just under $100 and lets you access unlimited languages for a full year.


2. Duolingo: Best value Spanish learning software

Duolingo: Best learn Spanish online option that's completely free

(Image credit: Duolingo)

Duolingo

Duolingo is a superb free option for learning any language

Format: Windows PC, Mac, iOS, Android | Free trial: Duolingo Plus has 14 day trial | Offline learning: No

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 Logo

(Image credit: Rocket Languages)

Rocket Languages

A superb audio course for Spanish learners

Format: Windows PC, Mac, iOS, Android | Free trial: 60 day moneyback promise | Offline learning: No

Loads of audio lessons
Perfect for beginners
Generous 60-day moneyback guarantee
Some issues with the app
Free version is very limited

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. Babbel: Best for busy people

Babbel: Best learn Spanish online option for busy people

(Image credit: Babbel)

Babbel

This user-friendly app and desktop interface gives lessons in bite-sized formats.

Format: Windows PC, Mac, iOS, Android | Free trial: Seven days | Offline learning: Yes

Live tutoring available
Manageable lesson sizes
Extra tools like mini-games and stories
Occasionally repetitive lessons

Babbel has an easy-to-use interface and – crucially – it allows learners to set their own study targets. This means that you can use the platform as you see fit, dipping into it occasionally to brush up on your vocab or committing to hour-long sessions every day so you can perfect your Spanish accent.

It has a good set of tracking tools, so you can map your progress. Getting a subscription will also bag you a handful of learning extras, like stories, podcasts and mini-games. These features are curated to fit your current learning level, so even if you're a complete beginner you should get some benefit from these tools.

We like the 'review' section, which will periodically test you out on vocab and grammar rules you've learned, to make sure they don't slip from your memory. There's also a live tutoring option available for an extra fee, which allows you to chat with a qualified teacher or native speaker to test out your learning so far.

The only negative we could find with the platform is that occasionally the lesson structure feels repetitive, although this is true of a lot of language platforms.


5. Mondly: Best for travel and phrases

Mondly: Best learn Spanish online course for travel phrases

(Image credit: Mondly)

Mondly

Need to know select language and phrases for vacation and work? Try Mondly

Formats: Windows PC, Mac, iOS, Android | Free trial: First 6 lessons | Offline learning: No

Very easy to use
Good prices
Mixes visual and audio learning
Too simple for advanced users

Mondly is a well designed, very modern language app, which is available on both smart devices and web browsers. If you're in need of some basic phrases, or a broad grasp of the Spanish language for a vacation or business trip, this is a superb option. It has a gentle learning curve, a useful structure that breaks down learning into subject areas, and everything is very visually pleasing and simple to navigate.

We like the mix of visual and audio cues for each lesson, and the fact that there is an attempt to incentivize and gamify learning - there are star ratings per lesson, leaderboards, and daily challenges. It all helps to keep to coming back to learn. You can share your profile across the phone app and the web version, so it doesn't matter what device you choose to learn on, at any given time.

Pricing is good too, as the cost per month and per year is pretty reasonable - it's cheaper than many other providers on this list. The downside, though, is that it isn't as suitable for mid-level and advanced learners, as it focuses mostly on vocabulary and phrases. If you're looking for context, structure, and grammar then Mondly falls behind some of its competitors.

Overall, though, we really enjoyed using this app, so would heartily recommend it to anyone who just wants a beginner's knowledge of language.


6. News In Slow Spanish: Best for intermediate learners

News In Slow Spanish: Best learn Spanish online option for intermediate speakers

(Image credit: News In Slow)

News In Slow Spanish

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

Formats: Windows PC, Mac, iOS, Android | Free trial: Limited free access | Offline learning: No

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.


7. Fluenz: Best Spanish learning software for travel

Fluenz: Best learn Spanish online option for travel

(Image credit: Fluenz)

Fluenz Spanish

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

Formats: Windows PC, Mac, iOS, Android | Free trial: None | Offline learning: Yes

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.


8. Pimsleur: An academically-grounded way of learning

Pimsleur: Best learn Spanish online option for academics

(Image credit: Pimsleur)

Pimsleur

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

Formats: Windows PC, Mac, iOS, Android | Free trial: Free lesson | Offline learning: Yes

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 can now purchase Pimsleur on a subscription basis, rather than having to buy it outright, meaning you'll pay around $19.95 a month to access the content for a particular language. You can, however, also access a 7-day free trial on the platform, allowing you to get a feel for the lessons before you commit to a membership.


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

Living Language: Best learn Spanish online course for visual learners

(Image credit: Living Languages)

Living Language

The best Spanish learning software for visual learning types

Formats: Windows PC, Mac, iOS, Android | Free trial: Free lesson | Offline learning: No

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. 


10. Busuu: Best for people looking for certification

Busuu logo

(Image credit: Busuu)

Busuu

A handy learning platform, available via app or desktop, which is best-suited to beginners.

Formats: Windows, Macs, iOs and Android | Free trial: Basic free membership available | Offline learning: Only with premium subscription

App and desktop work simultaneously
Straightforward interface
Certification available
Premium subscription necessary to set up a study plan or access lessons offline 

Busuu is a language learning app that’s not dissimilar to Babbel or Duolingo. Like those popular platforms, it offers an easy way to dip in and out of classes with a modern, easy-to-navigate interface. It also offers you the opportunity to earn yourself a Mcgraw Hill certification at the end of your course if you’re a premium subscriber, so you’ll have something solid to prove your language prowess. Other features (that cost a little extra) include the option for live sessions with tutors and the ability to have an advanced speaker comment on and correct your lessons. 

We liked that this platform offers you the chance to work seamlessly across different devices, as your progress is saved to a profile rather than a specific gadget, so you can switch between your laptop and phone. Busuu also flags ‘weak’ learning areas for you, so you know what to brush up on according to your frequently-made mistakes. 

However, we did miss the option to download content, which is only available with a premium subscription. You’ll also only get access to a wide range of learning methods if you pay out, as the free membership only offers basic techniques like quizzes, flashcards and repetition exercises.


How we tested the Spanish apps and websites 

We tested these learning resources simply by using them. We spent at least a week with each platform, trying all of the features and testing the tools available. Afterwards, we ranked the platforms according to things like ease of use, clarity of explanations, interactive elements, and pricing. In general, we found that most platforms have excellent apps and sites that learners can use, but we think that Rosetta Stone’s immersive approach to language learning gives it an edge over other platforms. 

Is Spanish easy to learn?

This really depends on your mother tongue, but if you’re a native English speaker you might find Spanish has some surprisingly similar features to your own language. As it’s a Latin-based language, there are some words that have the same spelling and meaning in English (like 'elemental' and 'fatal') but are pronounced slightly differently.

That said, there are a few grammar quirks to this language. Much like French, Spanish has a complicated set of rules when it comes to its grammar, with lots of different verb tenses. However, you should at least find it easy to find someone to practice this language with - it’s the fourth most widely spoken language in the world.

Which is better, classroom courses or e-learning? 

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 us 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.” 

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.

How much does Spanish learning online cost? 

Spanish learning programs and courses cost anywhere from free to nearly $150 for a one-year subscription. If you want to own and download software, or pay for the cost of a full language-learning course, this can cost 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 choosing the best learn Spanish online course 

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 downloaded app 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.

Other learning resources 

Online learning platforms
If you’re not tempted by any of the above options, you could try out some of the best online learning platforms instead. These massive online open course (MOOC) providers offer a structured approach to learning, although it’s usually video-based. In general, if you’re a beginner, we think the platforms in the above guide are your best option. But some of the online learning courses do offer you the chance to chat with other students, which is a nice touch and gives you the chance to recreate a classroom feel.

Spanish podcasts
Our favorite Spanish-learning podcast, News in Slow Spanish, is listed in the guide above. But if you’re particularly keen on this method of learning, there are plenty of other podcasts that can help you tune your ear to the language.

Spanish Obsessed
Covering a wide range of topics, this podcast series is made up of 10-20 minute episodes, which have all been categorized into fluency levels. 

Nomadas
This one’s for intermediate and advanced speakers. It features chats with native speakers from Latin American and South America, so it can help you tune your ear to different accents. 

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.

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. 

Andy Hartup

Andy is Editor-in-Chief of Top Ten Reviews. With over 18 years experience in both online and print journalism, Andy has worked for a host of world-leading tech and gaming brands, including PC Gamer and GamesRadar. He specializes in photography, technology and smart home, and has provided expert comment for sites like The Guardian. In his spare time Andy is an amateur photographer, and teaches at the National Film and TV School.