See my previous post on why I wanted to learn Spanish in the first place.

Every day for three weeks, I invested myself in learning Spanish from scratch. My daily time commitment was 30 minutes to an hour of learning actively (e.g., studying a book or conjugation tables, watching something, talking with someone) plus another 30 minutes of integrating Spanish passively (e.g., listening to a podcast while working, working out with an exercise video, watching a show while doing the dishes). I just made it up as I went but it worked for me!

I did this yoga video this morning, for example:

After three weeks of DIY Spanish learning, I:

  • Became familiar with basic grammatical concepts and gained lots of vocabulary (e.g., masculine/feminine, articles, pronouns, order of words in sentences, numbers, telling time, colours)
  • Learned many commonly used verbs
  • Conjugated the main groups of verbs (ending in -ar, -er, -ir, plus ser, estar, tener, haber, hacer) into three main tenses (presente, pasado compuesto, futuro próximo) and used them in sentences: my experience of learning French helped me prioritize which verbs and tenses to learn first!
  • Understood anywhere from 10-40% of random Spanish dialogue
  • And most importantly, HAD LEGITIMATE CONVERSATIONS AND EXPRESSED MYSELF!!!!!! With help, of course. I got way past “¿Cómo estás? ¿Muy bien, y tú? Muy bien, gracias. [Ok, heehee, bye.]”

After less than a month of studying on my own, I took private lessons on Skype with BaseLang for another month until my trip to Mexico (an in-depth review in my next blog post!). My professors were extremely surprised by my rapid progress after only three weeks that I skipped Level 0 and skimmed through Level 1. My Spanish-speaking friends were also very impressed! I was pretty proud of myself.

Mi primera semana

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Although it was my first time learning Spanish, I knew a ton of Tagalog/Spanish words but just didn’t know how to put them together! I also had French in my back pocket, which proved helpful as French and Spanish have many similarities as Romance languages (the order of words, concept of masculine/feminine, verb conjugation, etc.). My strategy also included learning Spanish FROM FRENCH and not English, so that I wouldn’t lose my French and could continue to practice it.

My first formal lesson was with my Mexican friend, Mireille (curiously enough, her name is French). Before meeting at her place, she recommended that I get a hold of this book called Assimil. The kit (book and CD) was around 90 CAD, but I was able to borrow it from the library. Mireille used Assimil to learn French from Spanish when she first immigrated to Québec seven years ago. At the time, the book couldn’t be borrowed from the library so she was diligently going to the library every day (in the winter, I may add) to use it.

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Available on Amazon.ca – tens of other languages are also available

Assimil in-depth review

After Mireille gave me a little Spanish 101, we went through the first Assimil lesson together and I learned so much without my brain exploding. In previous futile ten-minute attempts to learn Spanish from friends, I always got overwhelmed and never remembered anything after. The alphabet, THE VERBS, the pronunciation, ugh! The very structure and method of Assimil make learning a new language intuitive and relaxed yet extremely effective.

Assimil focuses on studying and practicing real-life dialogue rather than individual lessons that you would take in a beginner Spanish course (one lesson devoted solely to articles, then pronouns, then simple verbs, etc.). Because modular lessons don’t help you speak Spanish right away, I feel that this is why most people can take Spanish courses in an academic setting for years and unfortunately, still can’t carry a conversation to show for it.

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The only way you will be successful in using the book is if you do one lesson per day, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Mireille told me this from the very start. Going through a lesson on your own takes only 20 to 30 minutes, which includes:

  • Dialogue: Listening to the dialogue on the CD*, then reading, understanding, repeating it out loud, and listening to it again (15 to 20 minutes)
  • Exercise 1: Translating sentences from Spanish to French (<5 minutes)
  • Exercise 2: Filling in the blanks in Spanish from French (<5 minutes)

No matter how busy you may be, you can find 20 minutes to spare in your day. (That’s probably how much time we waste on social media, anyway?) I think that 20 minutes is a short but realistic daily time commitment – you just have to make a habit out of it!

*I saved all the CD recordings for offline use on my iPad so I can listen to them anywhere, anytime.

Assimil introduces concepts a little bit at a time, using relevant, useful, and often comical subjects and conversations. It doesn’t get too overwhelming but they don’t dumb it down either. The dialogues start off fairly simple, then become longer and more complex as you complete more lessons. The voice talents on the CD speak faster and faster, too. I also noticed that words and expressions you’ve previously learned get incorporated in future dialogues for you to retain and further practice them.

Assimil is available in various languages – not just Spanish from French! I used a book from the Sans Peine“/”With Ease” collection. It is available in about ten languages for English speakers learning another language, and many more for French and other European language speakers. (Assimil is a French company.) As the full kits are quite expensive at around 90 CAD, I suggest finding it in your local library to try first before purchasing it. While I don’t encourage piracy, I know that many PDF copies and mp3 recordings of the books are (illegally) found online.

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Assimil helping me in Mexico. Lesson 32 was on buying shoes and the entire dialogue just came back to me when we went to the shoe store to buy my husband new shoes. (I wasn’t reading my Assimil book here, but at my pocket dictionary looking for a word with my friend Rahul!)

Like a good girl, I did my Assimil lessons every day. That week, I had four one-hour lessons/conversations with Mireille and my Argentinian friend, Maytè. I couldn’t really communicate and express myself in Spanish just yet, but COME ON, it was my first week!

Mis segunda y tercera semanas

I was on vacation that first week, but it was time to go back to work for two weeks at the mine. I was on night shift which meant a lot of alone time. I’m not crazy about working night shift, but I just focused on learning Spanish and reading this French novel for my book club to make my rotation more enjoyable. I didn’t have much free time (just an hour or so before and after my 12 1/2-hour shifts), so this also applies to anyone who is busy with work or life in general.

Every day when I went to work at 5:45 p.m., I would chat with my Colombian friend, Ingrid. At first, it was extremely hard and nothing made sense when we spoke to each other. Since I couldn’t remember any of the new words and expressions she taught me (I really couldn’t), she would write them on post-its and I would stick these onto my computer where I would see them constantly. Because she was on day shift, I could only practice with her for five to ten minutes a day before she or I had to leave work.

While working on the computer, I would play a Spanish learning podcast in the background. I tried a couple and didn’t go too deep into any of them, but the only one that stood out for me was Alba Learning. I listened to some lessons and short stories and found them very useful and educational. Though I didn’t understand much from listening to the short stories, it helped me get my ear into it and recognize words and verbs I knew.

Underground, I brought sheets of paper with things I wanted to remember like conjugations and demonstrative pronouns/adjectives. (I could never remember este/ese/esta/esas/estos/esos, etc.) Though I mostly read my French book whenever I had down time underground, I did finish going through those sheets!

After work every day, I completed one lesson of Assimil (sometimes two, but rarely). At one point I started watching Destinos, a TV show my friends Adhelly and Rohit (the newlyweds!) recommended to me. Destinos is a show designed for learning Spanish in telenovela form. Before you cringe or burst out laughing (it can go either way), let me say that I love it. Like Assimil, it doesn’t go into the basics as if you’re a child. The entire show is in Spanish (there is some English at the start, but they wean you off of it quickly). There is a short lesson at the end of each episode, and you really do understand more and more each time you watch it. I watched six 30-minute episodes during my entire two weeks at work, and I’m currently on Episode 15 of 52.

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Destinos helping me in Mexico. When Rahul unfortunately lost his wallet, I had to ask people what we could do about it. I instantly remembered the Spanish word for “wallet” (cartera) because Raquel in Destinos lost hers in Episode 7!

With all the resources and techniques available out there, I stayed true to only one: Assimil! In those 21 days of DIY Spanish learning, I did 26 lessons out of the 100 in the book. My rotation at the mine passed by so quickly.

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Although no one got seriously hurt on this trip (unlike our last vacation out of the country), my husband was terribly sunburned. He knew how to say “la piel me duele” (and unfortunately repeated it a lot) from Lesson 29, a dialogue we studied together on visiting the doctor.

With my rapidly acquired language skills, I jumped into private online tutoring for the next month before my trip. I’m still doing my Assimil lessons – I’m currently on lesson 55 of 100! I honestly don’t have the same motivation to do one lesson every day anymore, but it was the best way to kick-start my Spanish.

Lesson 13 was on ordering food. Given how much food we enjoyed, I became a pro at ordering by the end of our trip 🙂


Here are links to my top recommendations for Spanish self-study:

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