A beginners' Roadmap through Spanish

A complete plan to get from Beginner (A1) to Intermediate (B2)

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Rob Ashby

Rob Ashby

The Spanish Obsessive

Welcome to the Beginners Spanish roadmap!

This guide contains a plan to get you from a complete beginner in Spanish to around an Intermediate level (B1).

In this guide:

What to expect as a beginner learning Spanish

If you’ve never learned a language before, it’s hard to know what to expect as you progress through Spanish.

Luckily, there is a well-known, widely used framework for the different stages of language learning: the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

It breaks down the language-learning journey into six levels (presented as 3 groups of two):

PROFICIENT USERC2 (Proficient)
C1 (Advanced)
INDEPENDENT USERB2 (Upper intermediate)
B1 (Intermediate)
BASIC USERA2 (Pre-intermediate)
A1 (Beginner)

We’re going to focus on getting you through the first two levels (A1 and A2), and ready for B1.

So, what can you do as an A2 Spanish learner?

Here’s the definition from the Council of Europe:

  • Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment).
  • Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.
  • Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
 

You’ll be able to talk (with native speakers!) about reasonably simple, common areas.

You’ll make tons of mistakes, but importantly, you can make yourself understood.

You’ll struggle (still) with comprehension, but you will at least be used to hearing Spanish. You’ll find that you can pick out the gist of native speech (ie, understand what the topic is about), as well as understand a fair few words and phrases here and there.

Notice that these definitions are about what you can do in Spanish, rather than what you know.

It’s fine learning grammar and vocabulary, but to progress in your Spanish you have to put everything into practice!

That’s why, when you think about your goals, think about what you can do with the language, rather than how much of it you know.

Beginner’s Roadmap

Here is a step-by step plan for starting out and improving in Spanish, from A1 to B1.

We’ve created a one-page pdf for you to print out and fill in:

1. Create your big goal and set your intention

Why are you learning Spanish?

Whatever your reason, formulate this as a goal. This will set your motivation now, and remind you of why you are learning Spanish when the going gets tough.

We recommend forming your goals with this structure:

“Be able to X, so that I can Y”

Here are some examples for you:

  • Be able to hold a conversation in Spanish with a native speaker, so that I can enjoy my travels and open up a new culture
  • Be able to communicate exactly what I need with Spanish speakers I work with, so that I can be more effective in my job
  • Be able to read newspapers in Spanish, so that I can understand the world from a different perspective

We’ll use your big goal to create some key milestones for your journey.

2. Choose your milestones

Milestones mark key points along your journey, and give you easy intermediate goals to aim for.

When setting these, think about what you’ll be able to do, rather than what you’ll know. Ideally, you’ll link these to your overall goal.

Here are some examples:

  • I can talk about my friends and family
  • I can talk about where I’m from and what I do
  • I can understand the gist of basic texts, even for native speakers
  • I can pick out words and phrases from native speakers
  • I can pass an exam (A2)
  • I can get by in a Spanish-speaking country without having to revert to English



3. Set your habits

Motivation is good to get you going, but you’ll find that it wanes over time.

It’s better in the long run to create systems and habits, so that studying Spanish becomes like brushing your teeth: something you do automatically, day after day.

Aim for little and often compared to few-and-far-between.

I won’t go into detail about the importance of habits, but trust me when I say that this is key to your success in Spanish!

When defining your habits, think about these points:

  • How long do you have each day? Decide this now.
  • When will you fit Spanish in? It’s better to choose a time you can commit to consistently every day.
  • Which days will you work on your Spanish? Which days will you take off? Decide this now, so that you don’t “retrospectively” give yourself a day off 🙂

Add your Spanish sessions to your calendar, and block this time off.

You’ll decide what to do in this time shortly (see “recommended activities”). For now, just decide on a time and commit to it.

Recommended resources / reading

Atomic Habits (book)
The power of habit (book)
Streaks (an app that will help motivate you to keep your habit)

4. Create Accountability

Creating a habit is important to your progress, but accountability is the missing ingredient.

Combining habits and accountability will help ensure you stick with Spanish, even if you are lazy (like me) and lack discipline (also like me).

How do you create accountability?

There are two parts to this:

  1. A key event. This frames your goals with an end-point, so that you can say “I will achieve X on Y date”. This could be a one-off (like an exam), or recurring (like classes)
  2. Involve other people. Your key event shouldn’t just involve yourself, as that’s easy to skip.

Here are some examples:

  • An exam
  • A class/course
  • A language exchange
  • A holiday
  

5. Choose your resources and materials

It’s good to have materials to both work through and flick through (aka, “structured and unstructured”).

You’ll work through a course, but also do lots of reading, listening, watching, and other incidental learning of Spanish.

These are the resources to invest in:

Unstructured materials

A phrasebook

I always bang the drum about the importance of learning phrases, and I’ll continue to do so!

Learning phrases is a shortcut to great Spanish. You get usable chunks of language, and give your brain material to process and parse.

Read more about why I recommend learning phrases (at all levels).

I have no particular recommendations for phrasebooks – just something simple that you can flick through and is relevant for you.

We’ve also produced 95 beginner Spanish phrases, handpicked to guide you through the important areas of Spanish.

 

Grammar Reference book

Have no fear! The key word here is “reference”.

You’re not going to read this cover to cover (unless you really want to).

You’ll use it to look up concepts and grammar points repeatedly as you see them out “in the wild”.

Another good use is to simply “flick through” your grammar book. This gives you a sense of the landscape of Spanish: how much is out there that you need to learn? What are some of the general concepts?

By flicking through, you’ll realise what some of the bigger and more complex areas of Spanish are (verbs will cover a few chapters, for example!).

That’s why we recommend buying a comprehensive reference book, rather than one just aimed at beginners. Don’t worry about getting one with exercises, either – you’re simply going to use it as a reference.

For now, get a comprehensive guide in English, but eventually, we recommend one in Spanish:

A new grammar reference of modern Spanish

A Comprehensive Spanish Grammar

 

Do you need a dictionary?

Back in school, everyone brought a pocket dictionary to their Spanish lessons. However, times have changed!

I personally find dictionaries cumbersome and slow. If I’m looking for a “quick and dirty” translation, then a simple Google will usually suffice.

If I want an extensive definition in Spanish, the RAE (Real Academia Español) is the gold standard.

Obviously, if you know that you won’t have the internet available to you, I recommend investing in a small pocket dictionary.

 

Sources of input

You need to listen to, read, and watch real Spanish from as early as possible.

At first, it won’t make any sense to you.

In fact, you may not understand much for a long time!

But, getting input is hugely important, as you need to hear how Spanish is really spoken.

As you learn more and more Spanish structures, vocabulary, and grammar, you’ll start to notice patterns in what you consume. This helps you to remember vocabulary and phrases over the long term.

By consuming Spanish input, you’ll also find that you “acquire” Spanish. You’ll pick up vocabulary and phrases as you see them more frequently.

This helps to ensure that you learn common vocabulary and phrases first. Simply noticing certain words pop up again and again is how we acquire vocabulary, without any active memorisation.

It’s good to both listen to and read Spanish. We recommend Spanish podcasts (of course!), and actually recommend starting with our Intermediate series.

You can follow along with transcriptions, as well as see translations.

You could also try graded readers, which provide simplified long-form Spanish. Another word of warning: sometimes these are bad… The stories can often be uninteresting and badly written, as the focus is on the Spanish language rather than the actual story.

A good place to start is Olly Richards’ Short Stories in Spanish. Silly as it sounds, I also recommend children’s books in Spanish, as these contain simple yet natively-written language!

Whatever you choose, aim to make a habit to “consume” Spanish as a central part of your language learning routine.

Structured materials

It’s good to have a systematic course to follow, but students often focus too much on following a course.

That’s why structured materials come with a warning (in my opinion)!

Structured courses offer a clean route through Spanish, offering to teach you what you need to learn in the order you should learn it.

That’s fine, but of course our brains don’t really work this way. Our true progress is far messier, rather than the linear path promised by courses.

Courses assume linear progress, but the reality is we constantly forget and relearn as we progress

What’s more, by relying too heavily on a course, you shut yourself out of incidental learning.

We can confuse covering chapters of a course with true progress in Spanish.

On the plus-side, courses and the feeling of progress are motivating, and choosing a good one will help accelerate your progress through Spanish.

We are working on our own series of structured video courses (Foundations – coming soon), but until those are ready consider the following options:

Working through Coursebooks with a tutor

You can do this either in a class or one-to-one. There are a wide range of very well written course books available, which present Spanish in a comprehensive manner from beginner to advanced. By working through these with a tutor, you are able to put what you learn into practice immediately. Here are some of our favourites:

The Aula series

The Prisma series

Working through self-taught materials

There are plenty of “teach-yourself” guides and textbooks available. These are often well structured, and allow you to work through at your own pace.

These tend to be useful at the earlier levels of language learning.

6. Define your system and technology

Note-taking

Over time, you’ll build your own personalised vocabulary, notes, reference, and general Spanish reference system. You’ll have written this yourself, and eventually it will be one of the most useful things you can refer back to.

This is a written log of what you learn, explained in your own terms: basically, your notes!

Things have moved on a lot since we all relied on exercise books for our notes, but these can still be a good place to start.

Whatever you use, divide it into several sections, which you’ll add to and fill out over time:

1. Vocabulary and phrases

Note down anything interesting and relevant, in Spanish. Add English translations if you feel you need them. Make sure you don’t just write individual words, but also phrases.

2. Grammar points / explanations

Much of what you learn about grammar can be summarised in one or two sentences. Add those to this section for easy reference later.

3. Interesting resources

Include links to videos, songs, podcasts, and articles you’ve seen and want to revisit.

If you want to graduate beyond the notepad, we highly recommend using Notion, which is free. For a guide about how to use Notion for language learning, check this video.

Memorisation / Recall

We’ll talk more about the pros and cons of memorisation shortly, but we do recommend including active memorisation and recall as part of your language learning routine, at least to start with.

You may have heard of Spaced Repetition Systems (SRS) – these technologies help you to memorise for the long term by testing your recall at increasing intervals. By testing and recalling at the right time, you’ll retain information for longer: ideal for learning initial vocabulary and phrases!

The two well-known SRS systems are Anki and Memrise. Anki is a standalone application, whereas Memrise is a complete language-learning app (we haven’t tried it all, we only know the SRS part).

Whatever you choose, make sure that you only add phrases and vocabulary that you have chosen. This is your personalised vocabulary.

Of course, you can always just use physical flashcards!

Activities to learn Spanish

You’ve set your motivation, and decided your goals and intermediate milestones.

You’ve chosen when you’ll dedicate time to Spanish, and made a commitment to form and stick to a habit.

You’ve built in accountability, to ensure that you stick to your routine.

You’ve acquired a few different resources, both structured and unstructured.

You’ve set up the technology and system that you’re going to use.

Now, what do you actually do?

We’ve listed out some of our favourite activities to learn Spanish, suitable for beginners. Choose a few of these, and add them to your language learning routine:

 

Work through your coursebook

Decide how much you’re going to work through, and for how long. Don’t feel you need to understand every single detail. Remember: as a beginner learner, your objective is to roughly cover as much ground as possible. If you stop at every little detail, your progress will be slow.

Working through a coursebook is an obvious choice, but many students choose to only do this! As I mentioned before, you should use a mix of both structured and structured learning materials.

 

Extensive/skim reading

Read through a book or article in Spanish, aiming either for a certain amount of time or number of pages.

With extensive reading, you want to just make sure you have an idea of what’s going on. Don’t stop at every detail, and don’t stop to look up words.

You won’t understand much of what you read, but you’ll hopefully get the overall gist of the article or chapter. 

You’ll also start exposing yourself to common patterns and words in Spanish, which is a key to language acquisition.

 

Do detailed reading

Set yourself a strict time limit (say, 30 minutes), and dedicate yourself to just a small portion of a book or article (3 paragraphs, for example).

As opposed to skim reading, you’ll now ensure that you understand every single word and phrase.

You’ll look up grammar constructions you don’t recognise, and note down interesting phrases, vocabulary, and other patterns in your note-taking system.

It’s not cheating to use a translator! We recommend DeepL, as this seems to provide the most natural sounding, accurate translations. Obviously, when using a translator, it’s a lot easier to simply copy and paste from your browser, rather than type out from a physical book. Something to bear in mind when you choose your resources for this activity!

 

Take personalised notes, and review them

As you work through a coursebook, skim through a grammar guide, or consume Spanish in other ways, take notes in your chosen system. 

Note down vocabulary, phrases, grammar – anything that jumps out at you. There are no rules!

However, you do need to review these from time to time! I recommend spending the first five to ten minutes of your study sessions simply flicking (or scrolling) through your latest notes, to refresh your memory.

 

Do active recall using your SRS

Check out this short guide for using SRS for language learning to see how I recommend you use your SRS. 

At the very start of your Spanish journey, I recommend focusing quite heavily on active recall and memorisation. You need to establish even a small vocabulary to get started, as without knowing just a few words you won’t be able to understand any input.

As you progress in your Spanish, you should reduce your reliance on SRS and memorisation, allowing natural vocabulary acquisition to take over.

 

Speak (from day…?)

Well-known language experts and polyglots have debated the best time to start speaking, and there is no consensus.

However, everyone agrees that at some point, you do need to start speaking!

There’s simply no replacement, and of course being able to speak Spanish is the reason the majority of us are learning.

Whenever you do start speaking, it will probably feel uncomfortable and difficult. This is why so many people de-prioritise it, or continue to put it off.

As a beginner, you need the experience of speaking, even if it’s just to recognise the associated frustrations and difficulties!

Speaking also reveals to you areas you need to focus on. It’ll illuminate missing vocabulary, and you’ll recognise those parts of grammar that haven’t quite clicked yet.

Find a conversation partner, work with a co-learning friend or student, use your teacher, join a language exchange: there are tons of ways to get in regular speaking practice.

 

Final thoughts

Learning Spanish at the beginner level is both exciting and frustrating. You make rapid progress, while also realising how little you know, and just what a mountain you have to climb.

I’ve outlined the most important things you can do to progress through the beginner stages of learning Spanish, and progressing to intermediate level.

As always, the key is enjoying the process, rather than waiting for the end result!