Learning Spanish at home as an adult is quite different from how you might have studied Spanish at school. There might not be a single "best" way to learn Spanish that fits everyone, but there are some programs that are more effective for certain people, situations and goals.
Here are my top recommendations for Spanish courses and software that you can use at home. I'll also include some honorable mentions that you might like to try.
Note: A lot of these courses have free trial versions. Skip to the bottom to see my final recommendations, and links to all the free trials.
If you're looking for a comprehensive all-in-one language course that will take you to intermediate level without needing to purchase other products, then Rocket Spanish is a good bet. This online course successfully packs everything plus the kitchen sink into their program, so it ends up being suitable for a lot of different learning styles and goals.
There are three levels to the course, taking you from complete beginner up to an upper-intermediate level (around C1 CEFR). Each level has three components:
(Read my Rocket Spanish review for a detailed discussion of these features.)
The course is laid out with a recommended learning path, but you can actually pick and choose your lessons based on your preferred learning style and goals.
The two types of lessons don't really interact with each other, so you don't need to finish one before you start the other.
Likewise, the reinforcement tools at the end of each lesson do a good job of working your knowledge from all angles, but you don't need to complete them before moving on.
This may mean that you "complete" the program without actually mastering the content, but it also means you're not stuck completing exercise after exercise just to unlock the next lesson. (I'm looking at you, Duolingo.)
Rocket Spanish is a one-off purchase (rather than a subscription). You buy it once and own it for life. For this reason, the price will seem a little higher than some other courses. It's best if you're serious about taking your Spanish to intermediate level or beyond — your initial investment will work out to be cheaper in the long run.
(Tip: If you purchase all 3 levels at once, you can pay in instalments. The link to this option is a bit hard to find... it's buried in the question section on the pricing page.)
Covers all the angles in a really comprehensive package. Comes with a grammar course, audio course and interactive tools so you can try all the learning methods. Has a good mix of practical, ready-to-use language, and thorough grammar lessons to deepen and expand your knowledge. One-time only purchase means no monthly fees. Payment plan available if you purchase all three levels. Free trial (no credit card required) actually contains a decent amount of content.
Language and Culture lessons try to be funny, but they can still be a bit dry. Interactive tools are not as flash as some competitors. Initial purchase price might seem steep.
If your idea of learning grammar is suffering through page after page of tedious grammatical explanations and verb conjugations... Ouino Spanish might be just the antidote you need.
It's the best and easiest tool I've found for demystifying all those little parts of a language. Like Rocket Spanish, Ouino Spanish explains how everything works. But unlike Rocket Spanish, it keeps the explanations brief, and lets the interactive activities and examples do most of the explaining.
Ouino Spanish prides itself on being a "non-linear" course, rather than one that follows a prescribed path. There is a suggested path you can follow, but you're generally free to hop around and choose whatever lessons tickle your fancy. You'll find that some lessons overlap and teach the same material, but from a different angle.
Each lesson has two parts:
Depending on how many of the exercises you complete, it's reasonably easy to knock off one of these lessons in 10 - 15 minutes, meaning it's easy to make good progress.
The course is broken into five main sections.
When you put it all together, Ouino is a well-crafted package. It's designed to be accessible for a wide variety of people, so it might not have quite the depth of detail that you'd get in a more "textbooky" Spanish course. But it contains a lot of good material that can get you to an intermediate level of fluency.
Ouino works on all devices, and can be bought either as a subscription, or as a one-off purchase. The one-off purchase price is extremely reasonable, and comes with free updates for life.
Super-digestible grammar course that explains everything without overwhelming you with unnecessary detail. Very interactive — most learning will happen through the activities. Strong focus on the most important and commonly used language. Suitable for (and empathetic towards) a wide variety of learning styles — especially visual learners. (There isn't any video, but language is color-coded and there are plenty of visual elements.) Extremely reasonably priced. This huge, detailed guide shows you how to get the most out of the course.
The lack of detailed explanations might not appeal to people looking for that kind of thing. The explanations that do appear as "tips" are quite dry — it would be nice if these were made more friendly. Computer/desktop version of the program is a big download, which seems a little odd these days (but means that it works offline, and all the interactive tools work very smoothly).
For years I've been a big fan of the French equivalent of this course, so it's hugely exciting to have a Spanish version.
Hotel Borbollón, is a little unconventional in a variety of ways.
Firstly, it's a course that's based around a story: A surgeon from Buenos Aires inherits a struggling hotel in Madrid, and hilarity follows. The lessons use animated videos, comic strips and audio to tell a story full of eccentric characters, different Spanish language accents, and amusing professional and personal situations.
You'll learn Spanish through the activities that are based on the story. Each lesson includes a mix of grammar, vocabulary and comprehension activities and takes 10 - 15 minutes to complete.
At the end of the lesson you submit your answers and receive an instant "correction". This tells you what you got right and wrong, and also includes discussion of language and grammar points (which is sometimes as amusing as the lesson itself).
The second interesting thing is that the program adapts to your level. After an initial "training" period, the AI learns your strengths and weaknesses and tailors the lessons specifically for you. (The storyline stays the same.)
This is not a "structured" Spanish course: You can't look ahead and see what topics you're going to be covering, and when. You'll cover a mix of grammar and vocabulary features in each lesson, so you can't really refer back to "that lesson about XYZ". So it may not be suitable for your "core" learning method. (You should pick up something like Rocket Spanish or Ouino Spanish instead.)
But Hotel Borbollón makes a good supplement to use alongside your core method, with lots of authentic cultural references and a wide variety of Spanish accents (both South American and European).
Note that it's created by a French company, and it puts equal emphasis on both European Spanish and Latin American Spanish. You're given both options in exercises, so you might need to quickly brush up on those vosotros/vosotras conjugations if you've only studied Latin American Spanish up until now!
It's also important to note is that this is a semi-immersion style product. All the instruction is in Spanish. There are English translations available, but it's likely to be intimidating for anyone who is brand new to Spanish.
Hotel Borbollón is available as a monthly subscription. Regardless of your membership level, you only ever receive a maximum of 4 lessons per week, which can make it frustrating if you feel like binging your Spanish lessons. (Or if you want to lessen the amount of time you have to pay that monthly subscription!)
You can often pick a membership up on sale. Sign up for a 30-day trial membership (no credit card required) and wait for the promo email.
Solid course with a strong grammar focus, wrapped up in a story-oriented format that makes it enjoyable and memorable to learn. Features a wide array of Spanish-speaking accents, and covers both Latin American and European Spanish. Fun format with videos, comics and audio. Smart AI adapts the lessons to your level after a period of "training".
Monthly subscription pricing is quite high. You only receive one lesson per day, up to four lessons per week, so it's not really suitable as your "core" learning method. Humor is a bit more restrained than the French version (which has aliens and a naked Victor Hugo), but still might be a bit quirky.
The best thing to do is get a one-month free subscription to Hotel Borbollón and try it for yourself. Note that the first 7 lessons are essentially a placement test, so don't worry if you find them too hard or too easy. At the end of 7 lessons you'll receive an assessment, and you'll start receiving customised lesson plans.
Pimsleur is one of the pioneers of "learn Spanish at home" courses, and it's still going strong after all these years. It's consistently rated as one of the best courses for improving your pronunciation, for a few reasons:
Pimsleur isn't one of those courses that spends a lot of time explaining how Spanish works. It's mostly focused on learning practical phrases and common words. If you need a grammar resource, you might also get a course like Rocket Spanish or Ouino to use alongside or afterwards.
Pimsleur also isn't big on personality. If you're looking for fun, engaging lessons to plug into your podcast rotation — Pimsleur might not be your best bet. Try something like SpanishPod101 instead.
But if you're looking for a course that will really hone that pronunciation and teach you a limited amount of language really, really well — Pimsleur has what you need.
There are a range of packages and levels to get your hands on the Pimsleur lessons, but the general rule is that purchasing any Pimsleur course outright is very expensive. The best option is to get their monthly subscription product.
Excellent focus on pronunciation (so long as you do what they say, and actually say things out loud). Lessons are a convenient 30 minutes in length, and 100% audio so you can listen to them on the go. Teaches practical everyday language from the outset. Spaced repetition (and a small vocabulary list) means you'll likely retain the material very well.
Can be quite dry. Doesn't teach a lot of language (but what you do learn, you'll learn really well).
SpanishPod101 is likely the largest collection of learn-Spanish podcasts and audio lessons available online. There are quite literally hundreds of hours of audio lessons on a wide variety of topics, and representing a few different varieties of Spanish. (Fantastic if you're specifically wanting to focus on Mexican, Peruvian, Costa Rican, or European Spanish.)
If you're looking for a huge library of Spanish audio (and video) lessons, this should really be your first stop.
SpanishPod101 lessons are all graded, from complete beginner all the way through approximately C1 CEFR (a high-intermediate level — about as far as most courses will be able to take you). A membership gives you access to all levels, so you don't need to purchase anything else to "level up".
Within each level you'll find a bunch of different lesson topics and formats. In fact, the huge volume and variety of content can actually be offputting... It's hard to know where to start. (Although since you're operating within your level, you'll generally find most lessons to be manageable.)
SpanishPod101 must have realized that they'd created a monster, because they've recently added a curated learning pathway for each level, which picks the best lessons from across the level and strings them together into a logical order.
So if you're overwhelmed by all the options, you can just start on this pathway and work through to the end. (However in some levels, this pathway doesn't appear until far down the page. It's a tiny layout issue, but it probably causes a lot of confusion for new members.)
Most lessons in the program follow a familiar format of introducing new language through conversations. You'll learn a new conversation in each lesson, and in the process the hosts will discuss the language features that appear in the conversation. There's usually a lot of banter in these lessons, which you'll enjoy if you're looking for friendly podcast-style lessons.
Venturing off the main learning path, you'll also find a variety of other lessons — like "S.O.S" lessons, for when you need a crash course in basic language. Or lessons on perfecting your pronunciation. There's even a whole series of lessons on Spanish for kids. You'll meet a variety of teachers and presenters, so you'll likely end up finding your favorites.
SpanishPod101 has a larger collection of videos than some of the other Innovative Languages programs I've looked at. If you find video to be easier for you, the "premium" subscription may be worthwhile (the lowest price subscription doesn't include video).
The "premium" subscription also gives you access to some bonus reinforcement tools, like interactive activities, flash cards and line-by-line audio practice. These are worthwhile if you're trying to make SpanishPod101 your "core" learning method.
Hands down the best source of Spanish audio lessons. An absolutely HUGE library, on a wide range of topics. Most language is taught through learning dialogues, which feels engaging and natural. Includes whole pathways for different Spanish varieties — great if you want something other than a generic "South American" or "European" Spanish. Large collection of video lessons and a range of interactive tools make this useful for lots of different learners. You can create a free membership (no credit card required) to try all the content free for 7 days.
Sheer volume of content is overwhelming, and (in spite of the new learning pathways) the layout can be confusing. Lots of different tutors means the content can be a mixed bag with a bit of repetition.
Truth bomb time: You're not going to get the full benefits of an immersion language program in a study-at-home language course, when the rest of your day-to-day life is done in your first language. But if your goal is to learn Spanish without a whole bunch of explanation in English, Rosetta Stone might be your best option.
The central method of Rosetta Stone is a semi-induction style of learning, where you figure out the language rules by yourself, rather than having them explained to you. (Great if grammar explanations make your eyes glass over.)
The software does this by getting you to match words and phrases in Spanish to images, and vice versa. It starts with things like 'el niño camina' vs 'la niña corre, to learn vocabulary for "boy" and "girl", and the verbs "run" and "walk". It'll then give you a phrase like "el niño corre" and you need to figure out which image to match it to. You'll then make the connection that corre means "runs".
So far, pretty easy. But then it gets trickier: 'the boy is going to eat', 'the boy eats', 'the boy has eaten', etc. You're learning tenses by checking how much food is on the plate in a little image.
Common criticisms of Rosetta Stone is that the images are exactly the same across all the languages they teach. You'll occasionally get some examples that seem weird for that language, and you won't get many examples that are specific to that culture.
A more significant problem is that there is only so much you can demonstrate through pictures, or through the relationship between several pictures. It's good for practicing objects, descriptions, and basic verbs in the present tense. Things get a bit wobbly (and time consuming) as you get into more complicated language — something Rosetta Stone themselves will admit:
Sometimes, even simple grammar phenomena are difficult to model efficiently. Learners may not have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with as much vocabulary as they might with lists in the same amount of time. (source)
If you really want to learn by immersion, you need to actually immerse yourself in Spanish. Go to a Spanish-speaking place, and spend your day interacting with the world in Spanish. Or at least attend an in-person Spanish course where all instruction takes place in Spanish, and then spend your evenings watching Spanish TV, reading Spanish texts, and listening to Spanish audio.
But if you’re looking for an online course that will teach you Spanish without a whole bunch of English, Rosetta Stone is your best bet.
Good for people who have struggled with explicitly studying grammar. It makes you feel like you're doing well, and this is motivating. The game-like quality is fun and reasonably compelling to begin with. It's good at locking that information into your memory (because you'll go over it again and again and again!). There's now a subscription version (and an app for iOS/Android) which makes it easier to try, without spending big bucks on the boxed version. You can get a 3-day trial here.
Quite a slow way to learn Spanish. For the amount of time you invest, you won't come away with a huge amount of language skill. You'll probably need to switch to a more comprehensive course at a later time, but Rosetta can be a good introduction to ease you into the language.
I'm including Duolingo in this list because how could I not? It's the world's favorite free Spanish tool. For a lot of people, it's their first step towards learning a new language. It has cute animations, lots of gamification features, and some of the weirdest sentences in the world of language learning.
Duolingo is a grammar-based course, rather than a practical phrases and situations type course. (Don't use Duolingo if you need a crash course in Spanish before heading away on vacation.)
It starts with some basic introductions, but you'll quickly move away from those and into learning those Spanish building blocks. (If you need a crash course, you could try Rocket Spanish's audio course, or Coffee Break Spanish Season 1 instead.)
It's also linear. You need to work through all the lessons roughly in order, and master them to a reasonable level before you're allowed to move on. Duolingo is quite good at drilling the material into your memory: Each new selection of words or concepts is practiced over and over, forwards and backwards, until you're gently tapping your head on the desk muttering "Yo quiero un cafe. La niña quiere una banana."
One problem with heavily gamified tools like Duolingo is that you can get really good at the game, without really taking in much of the language. Early levels of each section are mostly "choose the write word" or "write this in English" type activities, where all your options are a word bank. It's a process of elimination, rather than a test of your language skill.
But in later levels, things do get more difficult. Duolingo has a "crown" system which represents your level with each skill. The higher the number on the crown, the more difficult the activities get. You'll get more activities where you need to write the answer in Spanish yourself, without all the hints.
Duolingo is a good free option if you want an introduction to Spanish grammar, and you've got plenty of time on your hands. It's slow-going, but really good for getting the knowledge to sink into your memory. The gamification aspect and fun vibe might also be enough to make you forget that you're learning grammar.
It can be tedious though. If you'd prefer a non-linear approach where you don't need to master earlier lessons to move on to other subjects, you could try Ouino Spanish. It's similarly interactive, with bite-sized lessons, but it's much easier to understand what you're learning.
Fun to use, with lots of visual appeal and gamification to keep you hooked. Good at reinforcing what you've learned from a variety of angles — reading, listening comprehension, recall, writing and spelling. Good, active community. Can be used through the website or through the app for iOS and Android.
Doesn't teach particularly practical language from the outset — not suitable for people who want a quick crash course. Doesn't have any focus on speaking at all. Not very obvious what exactly you're studying, unless you dip into the "tips".
(A lesson on "travel" teaches querer and necesitar, plus vocabulary for a couple of beverages and a banana. I'm not sure what sort of travel they're planning.)
If you want an all-in-one package that does everything, Rocket Spanish ticks all the boxes at a reasonable price, and you won't have to buy any other products. (If you're not sure where to start, this is my top pick.)
But ultimately, the best Spanish course for you is the one that you enjoy using. You might need to kiss a few frogs before you find an approach that works well for you. Luckily, many courses have a free trial version so you can give at least some features a whirl.
All of the following have trials that you can access without a credit card: