It is not difficult to learn Spanish any time and any where. Whether one has professional instruction and the advantage of a school and classroom setting or not, the process can be easy, painless and maybe even fun. But what is true for learning a language is true for everything: the student will get out only as much as he is willing to invest in terms of time and effort.
There are a lot of different systems and methods, but for self study and the independent student without much in the way of formal academic resources to back him or her up, it is a good idea to break the language up into four areas of study. Not in any particular order, the student will do best to funnel efforts into the areas of writing, reading, listening for comprehension, and speaking. Each of these areas can be studied alone or with others and there is no cause for alarm or worry.
Reading is as good a place to start as any. In fact, it is probably the best area to start with because it’s very easy to start at a basic level. The independent student would do well to pick up a basic, beginners’ text book or work book. Any brand will do at this point because the instruction is so basic that anything will help. The student should go through the book and try to pick up the basic flow of the language, the way it works, how it is constructed, and some basic vocabulary.
Very early on into the process of creating a foundation, the student can begin to make an effort to read simple things. A dual language dictionary is critical at this stage, so that the student can start to look up new words that are unfamiliar. It is easiest to start by reading children’s story books, simple newspaper articles and simple magazines. After a while, the student can take his expanding vocabulary and move into reading more advanced books.
At the same time, the student should try his or her hand at writing. In the beginning, any writing is fine. The goal is just to try to put thoughts on paper, which causes the student to look up the words that he or she wants to use, thus building vocabulary. Later, as sentence structures get more advanced, the student will need someone who speaks the language to correct his or her work.
Again, at the same time, the person learning the language should start to listen to it. Early on, it is enough just to listen to hos the language flows and what sounds it makes. Shortly after, though, one moves into a more active listening role. A great way to build listening comprehension is to find movies that are both spoken and subtitled in Spanish. Replay the scene several times, then add the same language subtitles. After a few repetitions, test comprehension by playing the scene back in English and take note of how much was easy to understand.
Speaking is the fourth core area of competency. In the early stages, just sounding out words is enough. This is easy because the language always sounds exactly like it is written. But later, one should try to copy the natural flow of native speakers and eventually, one should try his or her hand at speaking with people in the supermarket or on the street. With a little confidence, it should be possible to talk about more and more involved subject matter over time.
After some time studying the language, the differences in accents and regional dialects will become apparent. This is half of the fun in one’s quest to learn Spanish through a language course. There is as wide a variety between the language and culture of Guadalajara and Puerto Rico as there is between Alabama and Australia. But this should be a journey that is expected to last a life time, and these are the first few steps.