Ouino Spanish Review

Reviewed by: Aletta

Ouino Spanish is a downloadable Spanish language software made by Ouino Languages. It is one of the better courses out there for making Spanish grammar easier to understand, but it also includes a variety of other tools in quite an appealing package for beginner to intermediate level Spanish learners.

[Note: I've taken a really in-depth look into this program. You can use the menu to jump to sections that interest you, or just skip right down to the end for a quick summary!]

What is Ouino Spanish?

Ouino Spanish screenshot

The big difference between Ouino Spanish and most other Spanish courses is that Ouino is a non-linear course.

Rather than starting at one end and working through to the other, you're welcome to jump around the course according to your own needs and interests. This means you're not shoehorned into a "one-size-fits-all" learning path, and makes Ouino Spanish a flexible tool for a wider variety of learners.

The other unique aspect is its design, layout and interactivity. There are lots of pictures, comic-strip-style visual elements, clicking sounds, whooshing sounds... it feels very tactile and fun.

There is only one level to the course, but that single level is designed to take you from complete beginner up to an intermediate level of proficiency. (In other words — to the point where you don't need to learn from courses anymore.)

Ouino Spanish homepage
The "home" screen of Ouino Spanish. All of the tools are given equal prominence in the menu, reflecting Ouino's non-linear "learn what you want" approach.

Ouino has five main sections — each with a different language focus and array of tools. 

  • Building blocks: This is the grammar section, and the main "meat and potatoes" of the program. You'll see all the parts of speech, minus verbs (which have their own section).
  • Verbs and conjugation: A whole section dedicated to verbs from different angles. This is the most comprehensive approach to verbs that I've seen in a Spanish course.
  • Conversations: Dialogues based on everyday situations. A good way to expose yourself to more vocabulary and syntax, and learn some useful phrases at the same time.
  • Pronunciation: Spanish pronunciation, sound by sound — focusing on the difference between Spanish and English. 
  • Vocabulary: A decent library of vocabulary, themed on different topics.

Before you start: check out the ‘Recommended learning path’

Even though Ouino Spanish is a "non-linear" course, there is actually a recommended learning path that you can follow if you'd like some guidance.

This section pulls together lessons and activities from all sections across the course, and gives them to you in a sensible order that is quite well devised.

You'll get a mix of activities so that things are kept interesting and fresh. It's a good way to discover little corners of the course that you might otherwise easily miss.

If you follow the recommended path, you're always welcome to skip over lessons, or jump off the path to complete any other lessons that tickle your fancy. It's just there to answer the question, "where do I even start?"

Let’s take a look at those individual sections. 

‘Building Blocks’ — Bite-sized grammar

The "Building Blocks" section is what I would consider the ‘main quest’ of the Ouino course. You could think of this as the grammar section, but Ouino considers the word "grammar" to be "rather difficult and boring".

When you click into the "Building Blocks" section you'll see a big, long screen filled with topics like "gender", "connection words", "personal pronouns", etc. Each topic is filled with small lessons, each focusing on just a tiny handful of new words or concepts.

This "bite sized" approach (and the way it's displayed on the screen) is surprisingly effective at making big, complicated topics feel really easy and manageable.  

Ouino Spanish "Building Blocks" menu
A topic inside the "Building Blocks" section. Each topic has a collection of small lessons, each focusing on just a few words. You can rate your own ability using the stars, for quick visual reference.

Each "bite-sized" lesson has two parts. (This is true for all lessons inside Ouino as a rule.)

Lesson part 1: The information part

The first part is the "Lesson" — where Ouino tells you new things about the language. Mostly you'll just see lots of examples of the new language or construction in action, so you can start to understand the pattern just by seeing it over and over.

The new concepts are shown in the context of a full sentence, so you'll also pick up a lot of incidental vocabulary along the way.

(Don't worry about memorizing all the surrounding language though. You only need to focus on the target language, which will be highlighted in red.)

Ouino Spanish lesson example
Inside a Building Blocks lesson. We're only really focusing on the language in red. Also the phrase/stock image combo here is hilarious to me.

Compared to many other grammar courses (like Rocket Spanish), there's surprisingly little explanation here. But that's not a bad thing! Sometimes grammar courses are so heavy-handed with discussion that it feels like reading an instruction manual when you just want to use the thing!

With Ouino Spanish, your learning will mostly come by seeing all those examples. This makes it a more natural and tangible approach to learning new language patterns.

Occasionally there are some things that do need a little more explanation. When this is necessary, you'll get a little "tip" appear at the start of a lesson.

But there's a small problem with these...

Screenshot of complicated-sounding Ouino Spanish grammar "tip"
This "tip" assumes you know what pronouns and prepositions are. It also assumes you've studied the subject pronouns already.

... They're really dry and full of linguistic jargon. For a course that makes everything else so easy and accessible, the tips seem weirdly difficult, especially if this is your first time studying a second language. 

In the example above, it would make a world of difference if there were tooltip explanations and examples for "prepositions", "object pronouns", "subject pronouns", "singular first person and second person".  If you don't know what these are, this tip won't make any sense to you.

But that's a small gripe. If the "tips" fly right over your head — no big deal. They're not really essential. You might find it easier to come back to the tips later, after you have seen all the examples in the lesson.

Lesson part 2: The exercises

Every lesson in Ouino Spanish comes with a variety of exercises to reinforce the material you've learned during the lesson.

The lessons in the 'Building Blocks' section all follow the same format. They're generally cloze test activities where you need to fill in the gap with the new words from the lesson.

Ouino Spanish exercise example
A 'Building Blocks' exercise. This is the easiest level, where you're given the options as a word bank. Just click the right one to fill in the gap.

There are three levels of difficulty (all essentially testing the same thing): 

  • Writing boost (easiest): You're given the possible answers in a word bank
  • Write-a-word (harder): You need to write the words yourself. You are not given a word bank, but you do have three lifelines / hints to help you.
  • 'Fluency Sprint' (hardest): You get no hints, no second chances, and you have a time limit for each answer.

The answers are all the same phrases/examples that you've learned in the lesson, so you're really just practicing your ability to remember the sentences, rather than applying this knowledge to new situations.

The verbs and conjugation section —
The best I've seen

Just like it says on the box, the "Verbs and Congugation" section is a whole section devoted to exploring verbs from a variety of angles. It's either your dream or your nightmare.

(If it's your nightmare, jump down to the conversation section and forget about this for the moment! 😉 )

Ouino "Verbs and Conjugations" menu

This is a fantastic section to dip into when you know you need to work on a particular aspect of your verb knowledge.

There are four main tools: 

  • Key verbs: A weird name, but this is a collection of auxiliary verbs, like estar, ir, ser, poder, tener. You can study these in the present, past, and future/conditional.
  • Verb endings: Learn the patterns for common regular verbs, based on their verb endings. For each ending you can investigate how they change for different tenses and conjugations.
  • Express verbs: Another admittedly weird name for a tool that shows you how verbs change depending on the tense. E.g., present, preterite, imperfect, etc. You pick a tense you want to focus on, and you’ll see different examples of verbs in that particular tense. The examples will work through all the conjugations (I, you, he, she, they, etc) to show you how it works.
  • Individual verbs: An alphabetical list of verbs in English, which you can dive into to see how it’s said in Spanish in a variety of conjugations, tenses and moods.
Ouino Spanish verb lesson screenshot
An example from the "individual verbs" section. You can learn every conjugation in every tense for a wide range of verbs.

If you don't have a specific goal in mind, I strongly recommend that you head straight to the "Recommended" verb pathway. This does the same thing as the other "recommended learning path": It pulls together lessons from across the verbs section and puts them into a sensible order of exploration.

The recommended path also includes explanations from the "building blocks" section — great if you don't really know your present perfect from your present progressive. It makes the whole verbs section much less intimidating and confusing.

The activities for this section are different from the Building Blocks section: You'll get simple listening comprehension, as well as conjugation practice (both an "easy" and a "harder" version), and a difficult activity where you have to put verbs onto the right "shelf" according to their tense. Challenging!

Important note: Ouino teaches Latin American Spanish. This will be most obvious here in the verbs section, where you won’t see conjugations that use vosotros (the informal version of “you all”), only ustedes. This isn’t a a huge deal — you will be understood by all Spanish speakers regardless. You might just sound a little formal when hanging out with your group of Spanish buddies. 😆

The conversation section: Lots of practical phrases

If you need a break from all the language-under-a-microscope stuff, you can take a breather with the conversations section of the course. 

Here you’ll find 61 text + audio conversation examples on a variety of themed topics, — mostly practical, everyday situations like buying something in a shop, making smalltalk about the weather, or ordering in a restaurant.

Conversations menu

These are a good way to see Spanish in action in a more natural environment, and to passively expose yourself to Spanish syntax.

Emblazoned across these lessons is the warning that you'll see some examples of Spanish as it is commonly spoken, rather than the 100% grammatically perfect Spanish you'll get in the other lessons in the course. You're not going to get full-on street slang, but you'll at least start learning some of the common shortcuts that Spanish speakers take in everyday speech.

Important note: No explanations given

These conversations don't come with any discussion from Ouino about what you're encountering in the conversation. You'll get the English translation, but you won't get any discussion pointing out interesting constructions.

If you're looking for conversations with discussion (i.e., the standard "podcast lesson" format), you'd be better with SpanishPod101 or Rocket Spanish Interactive Audio lessons.

I found most of the conversations to be practical, rather than fun. They're modelling interactions that you might realistically have on a day-to-day basis, so there are a lot of useful phrases and vocabulary. But you'll still find the occasional giggle. I personally plan to use the phrase "I love noses" on a regular basis.

Example of a conversation that uses the phrase "Of course! I love noses!"
The topic of this conversation is "The date". (Of course I've chosen the silliest sentence I could find. Most of the conversations are much more sensible.)

Each conversation comes with its own range of activities, so a dialogue can actually become quite a significant learning session.

You get listening comprehension (find the equivalent phrase in English), and listening + reading comprehension (hear a phrase from the conversation and find the best response from the list in Spanish).

You can also use all the conversations with the "extra language practice" tools. These include pronunciation practice, listening comprehension and a (challenging) writing test.

The vocabulary section: Simple & useful

The Vocabulary section is the most straightforward section of the Ouino Spanish course: This is just a well-organized collection of vocabulary, based on a wide range of themes.

You'll get animals, numbers, time, question words, people, descriptions, household vocabulary, greetings — basically anything you can reasonably categorize. There is even a section for "fantasy creatures", "interjections", and concepts like "motivation".

Screenshot from vocabulary section, showing car vocabulary
A vocabulary lesson on parts of a car. (Fun fact — this word is red because "gear stick" a feminine noun in Spanish. The masculine nouns are blue. It's a thoughtful touch.)

Also inside this vocabulary section is a section on words and verbs that are similar in English and Spanish. (E.g., words that end in -ly in English often match with words that end -mente in Spanish: exactly / exactamente)

Each "rule" like this comes with a bunch of examples in Ouino, but you could easily apply it to even more words that you already know. This is an easy way to “learn” a whole glut of new Spanish words.

Activities for this section are straightforward: It starts off easy with two exercises where you hear a word, and you need to select the right picture. After that, there are two more activities where you have to write/spell the new vocabulary word to match the picture. The final activity introduces a time limit, which makes it quite challenging.

Ouino Spanish pronunciation tools

Working on your pronunciation using a home-study course (i.e., on your own) is always going to be a bit tricky. It's the kind of thing you really need another (Spanish-speaking) human to give you feedback and show you how to do it right.

But Ouino Spanish gives you some useful tools that will certainly help.

As in the rest of the course, Ouino have decided to break pronunciation down into itty bitty pieces, focusing on the pronunciation of different Spanish letters and letter combinations. 

They pay particular attention to the sounds that are different from English (these are yellow in the image below).

Screenshot of pronunciation section, showing all Spanish sounds

Inside each sound, you’ll get an explanation of the pronunciation, and a few examples. You can then record your own voice and compare it back to the voice model. 

There are pronunciations from both a male and female voice artist, but you can change this setting if you'd just like to hear the voice that sounds most similar to yours.

Screenshot from inside a pronunciation lesson
Practice your pronunciation of each word that uses this interesting sound. You can play back your recording and compare it to the voice model.

The pronunciation section itself only focuses on these single sounds / single words. But once you’ve mastered the sounds, you can take your new pronunciation for a hoon in the “extra language practice” section. There you'll find sentences of varying length with the voice-recording tool built-in. 

What? No automatic speech recognition?

A lot of Spanish courses use speech recognition AI in their pronunciation tools, but Ouino have purposely chosen this more low-fi approach, where the only thing checking your pronunciation is your own ears — comparing your pronunciation to the voice model. And to be honest, I think they've made the right choice.

Right at the moment, speech recognition technology isn’t good enough to help recognize poor pronunciation. (It’s designed to recognize what people are saying in spite of their poor pronunciation.) I see it as a bit of a gimmick that's not really effective at directly improving your pronunciation, but works indirectly because it encourages you to speak out loud more often.

If you're truly interested in improving your pronunciation, comparing your voice to a voice model (like you do in Ouino) is going to be more effective than using speech recognition.

Of course, it relies on your ears being able to hear the difference between "good" and "bad" pronunciation (which can be tough with sounds that don't exist in your first language). But even with your non-native ears, you'll still probably be a tougher critic than the speech recognition tool, and that's what you need.

Other Ouino Spanish features?

An abundance of audio + genuine slow recordings

All word and phrase examples in Ouino Spanish are accompanied by audio. The audio comes in both “fast speed” and “slow speed”, and by default you'll hear both with every example. (You can change this in the settings.)

The slow speeds are  “genuine” slow versions — not just the normal speed slowed down digitally. The voice artists are actually enunciating every sound, slowly.  This means that you get to hear all the sounds properly, and you don't get that garbled melted sound of digitally-slowed audio. (I appreciate the extra work that has gone into this.)

A phrase example with a "slow" icon
Audio comes as "fast" or "slow" versions.

'Extra Language Practice'

This "bonus" section of the course houses a large section of graded content to help you practice your four pillars of language learning: reading, writing, speaking and listening. There's everything from short sentences for pronunciation practice, all the way up to short stories for extensive reading.

This would be ideal to use once you've completed the Ouino course. The sheer abundance of content here means you could keep "playing" with Ouino for a long time.

"Extra language practice" menu

Progress and achievements:

This is a section of the course where you'll find a range of tools and stats to keep track of your progress through the course — great for motivation. The calendar is an interesting tool: You can keep track of which types of activities you did on which days of the month, so you can see if you need to mix things up a bit.

Also worth noting: You can use the self-rating stars for every lesson of the course to show yourself how well you've grasped the material. (E.g., if you've found a lesson difficult, give it one star. If you aced it, give it four stars. )

This is a really quick and easy way to keep track of the lessons you need to do a bit more work on. I found myself using these quite a lot.

The Ouino Spanish app

Ouino Spanish is available for laptop/desktop computers, phones and tablets (both iOS and Android).

For computer users, it's a little unusual because it's a downloaded software, rather than a web app. You don't use it by logging into a website... you have to download and install a hefty piece of software on your computer. But this actually has its upsides:

  • You can use the software when you're offline, which is good when your coverage is patchy.
  • You can give it to kids to use, without worrying about what else they might be doing online.
  • It's easier to stay focused. The program isn't sitting in a web browser with a hundred other tabs to distract you from your study.
Montage of screenshots from phone version of Ouino
The Ouino app on my tiny, old iPhone: Very similar to the desktop version. (Screenshots from the French version of the software.)

I spent most of my time with the computer version of the software, and I also had a play with the French version of the software on my 4-year-old iPhone. Despite my creaking technology, the phone app also worked smoothly (although it's a 1Gb download, so make sure you're on wifi!).

One niggle with the phone version is that the exercises could have been resized better for phone use. I don't have especially fat fingers, but I found myself mashing the wrong buttons and menu items on occasion. I haven't tried it on a tablet, but I imagine that would be much better.

Good things & bad things

Things I like about Ouino Spanish

  • It makes learning grammar much more approachable. The bite-sized approach to lessons makes big topics quite manageable and not as intimidating. You don't have to wade through lengthy explanations like in many other grammar courses — the program mostly lets the language do the explaining.
  • Non-linear approach makes it useful for more people. Everyone has different needs, interests and goals. With Ouino you're not corralled into a one-size-fits-all learning path.
  • Fantastic for visual learners. There are so many thoughtful touches here: Words are color-coded for gender, content is organised into tabs, there's a menu structure visually shows the relationship between words, cheesy stock photos actually help recall. The more time I spent with Ouino, the more I grew to appreciate all the little thoughtful touches in the interface.
  • No gimmicks. Ouino Spanish is just a well conceived course, with uniquely thoughtful structure and design. Its content is reasonably traditional, but the presentation makes it innovative.

Bad points?

  • Lesson "tips" are too full of jargon. Elsewhere in the course, Ouino successfully avoids using too much linguistic jargon, but the tips seem to have missed the memo. They are there to make lessons easier, but often achieve the opposite effect.
  • Interface won't be to everyone's taste. The big buttons, clicks, wooshes, comic-strip lettering, big friendly icons... Ouino looks like a software you'd find in a school. (Not something for big serious adults!) But you'll get used to it, and then you'll start to enjoy it. (But only if you've found how to turn off the infernal background music — it's in the settings!)
  • Not a whole lot of personality. Aside from the cute interface, the presentation of the content feels really corporate. There is a lot of stock photography (even in their sales videos) and a generic middle-aged North-American male voice whenever there are English instructions. It feels like white teeth, fake smiles, and people calling me ma'am. You probably won't be offended by it, but it doesn't feel super friendly.
  • App is a little difficult to use on the smallest phone screens. It works, and it works smoothly, but clickable objects are just a tiny bit too small.

Ouino Spanish pricing

Ouino Spanish is extremely reasonably priced, given that it's designed to take you all the way to intermediate proficiency. (Because it's a non-linear course, there is only one "level")

But first you have to make sense of the pricing. Ouino lists its prices as per-month prices, but they don't actually offer monthly pricing. All memberships are up-front payments for a set period of time.

  • 3 months: $12.99/month ($38.97)
  • 6 months: $9.99/month ($59.94 )
  • 12 months: $6.99/month ($83.88)
  • Lifetime access (recommended): $95.76 ($3.99/month over 2 years, but you get to keep it forever.)

The lifetime membership is by far the best option. There is definitely enough material here to keep you going for more than a year, even once you've completed the official learning paths. (Just look in the "Extra language practice" section.)

The 60-day money-back guarantee

Ouino say that if you don't agree that Ouino is "the BEST investment you've EVER made for language learning" they'll refund your payment in full (within 60 days).

That means you can give the program a really good try, reasonably risk-free. It's an extremely generous offer that shows Ouino really stand behind their product.

The final word?

Ouino Spanish is a surprisingly deep and value-packed Spanish software.

It offers the most transparent and easy-to-understand approach to Spanish grammar that I've seen in a language course.

It is really unusual to meet a grammar-focused course that can be effective without lots of long-winded discussion. Ouino manages it by focusing on examples, rather than explaining the nitty gritty.

Ouino's effectiveness also owes a lot to the many thoughtful ways that information is presented visually. It's clear that a lot of thought has gone into this, and visual learners (in particular) will find it a breath of fresh air.

Aside from the grammar material, there is also a huge amount of depth in the vocabulary, conversations and "extra language practice" sections. This extends the useful lifespan of the software quite a lot. You could easily continue to get value out of Ouino Spanish for years.

The price tag is extremely reasonable (especially for the lifetime access), with an outstanding 60-day money back guarantee.

An excellent package for anyone who wants to learn the nuts and bolts of Spanish. This is a course that keeps on giving. Highly recommended.