Duolingo, Rosetta Stone or teacher based training: What’s the best approach?

Probably the majority of you, blog readers and language learners, already know, heard of, or even used one or both of the language learning platforms: Duolingo and Rosetta Stone.

The motivation of this post is personal experience and a recurrent flow of students coming to my arms, back to “traditional” learning methods in search of results.

I know both platforms and tried both. The software Rosetta Stone was probably the ,one I explored less time, mainly for the reason that I didn’t find much value. As a language teacher and independent learner I know that there are better ways of learning a language than learning words and sentences by heart.

Reagarding Duolingo I feel different because is free, entertaining and a great way of getting familiar with a language. However, after few weeks trying to learn German, I stopped and started to look for books and a regular teacher.

Here are the pros and cons about Duolingo for me:

  • Pros:

– Is free.
– It’s catching because you can compete with friends and we all know how motivating is to beat our friends and acquaintances.
– It’s fun, I particularly loved the part when I got that first email telling me that the owl was sad and missed me, as a reminder to continue with the practice…
– It’s very interactive so it’s good to learn words and sentences.

  • Cons:

– The pronunciation part is not great… sometimes I had to repeat the sentences because my pronunciation wasn’t correct…ahem, I mean, I was testing the Spanish training!
– It doesn’t give you many grammar explanations, which like it or not, is sadly necessary in order to understand how the language works.
– It doesn’t have any contexts and tasks.
– There is no communication or interaction whatsoever.

What's the best approach?

It’s all about independence.

To be able to reproduce a few sentences like a parrot doesn’t mean you are able to have a conversation.

These methods reminded me of the old school ways of learning languages. I even suffered myself at school where we learned all the grammar, to translate by writing and the speaking training consisted in learning conversations by heart… After all my school years learning English that way I went to England for a month and I wasn’t able to articulate a sentence, but mind you, I knew the list of all irregular verbs perfectly and  could write very good essays…

In real life there is no script one can follow. So, what’s the point of learning by heart whole dialogues about the weather, the hobbies, work, cooking… whatever, if, in real life you won’t likely have the opportunity of sneaking in those sentences?

An evolution of methods and approaches

By old school methods I mean the audio lingual (created by the USA Army to teach English to the non english speakers in WWII) and the audio-visual (created in the 60’s). Both methods work but to a certain extent: They require more time for the student to deduct the grammar rules behind the sentences and therefore the results, unless you spend hours and hours every day for a long period of time, will take longer, if they ever manifest at all… because if you have never learnt a second language as a foreign language previously, or didn’t learnt grammar at school, you won’t have the background, previous experience and structures necessaries to deduct them.

There is no magic method to learn a language. All require effort and constancy. All require real interaction, with either a native teacher (looking after number one… 😉 ), a native friend or a visit to the country of the language you aim to learn. The more real the situation, the better.

I don’t know if the communicative and task based approach are the best ones but they are the ones that works for me and for my students. I have received few new students lately that started learning Spanish with Duolingo and Rosetta Stone and had a good amount of vocabulary but weren’t able to speak, which is the goal of the majority of the language learners: communicate and being able to react in certain situations. They highlighted the fact that they felt they hadn’t got much results, they knew words but they didn’t know what to do with them, how to make sentences on their own…

I hate to say that, but sometimes a little grammar “pain” can help you a lot in the long run. If you understand how the structure of a sentence works, you will be able to make sentences yourself when needed, and you will learn the words as you need them. A 3 minutes explanation and few examples are all what the aforementioned grammar ordeal is. Besides, in a regular class based in the communicative and task based approach, it’s about talking, expressing your immediate needs and solve real life task in the target language. It’s not about learning sentences without a context but learning how to make yourself understood and understand others in a conversation or interaction.

It’s about communication not repetition.


¿Dónde está la Catedral? – Online Spanish Tutor – Beginners (Podcast 11)


Dar direcciones – 11



In this podcast you will learn how to ask and give directions in Spanish, all the vocabulary related with this and we will also deal with the usage of the formal and informal way of addressing someone in Spanish with “tú” and “usted”.

If you want to exploit at most this audio, get the worksheet available where you’ll find the grammar point, vocabulary and expressions that appear in this audio and some exercises to practice your Spanish. You will learn how to tell a story and a couple of very interesting grammar tips. In the latter pages you will find some exercises to practice what you learn.

You can download the podcast here.

The gender and number of nouns 1

  • GENRE: masculine – feminine

All the nouns in Spanish have genre, they are masculine or feminine. There are few rules that help us to decide what is the genre of the noun:

– In general, all nouns that end in: -o, -ón and -r are masculine.

el perro – the dog                         el teclado – the keyboard

el libro – the book                        el cuaderno – the notebook

– In general, all nouns that end in -a, -ción, -sión, -dad, -tad are feminine.

la rata – the rat                             la casa – the house

la canción – the song                  la motivación – the motivation

la verdad – the truth                   la piedad – the mercy

la libertad – the liberty              la amistadthe friendship

But there are a lot of exceptions:

el mapa – the map

la mano – the hand

el problema – the problem

– The nouns that end in -e or in other consonants can be masculine or feminine.

la nube – the cloud                       el hombre – the man

el árbol – the tree                          la miel – the honey

– The nouns that end in -ista can be masculine and feminine (because they are professions)

el, la periodista – the journalist 

el, la masajista – the masseur

  • Masculine to Feminine: In order to change a masculine word into a feminine one, for the professions for instance, we have this 3 rules:

1. The words that end in -o change the “o” into an “a”

el fotógrafo > la fotógrafa the photographer

el panadero > la panaderathe baker

2. The words that end in consonant add an “a”

el profesor > la profesora the teacher

el boxeador > la boxeadorathe boxer

el escritor > la escritorathe writer

3. The words that end in “e”:

3.1 don’t change

el cantante > la cantante the singer

el estudiante > la estudiantethe student

3.2 change the “e” for an “a”

el dependiente > la dependienta the shop assistant

– There are nouns that have a word for masculine and another for feminine:

el padre / la madre – the father / the mother

el toro / la vaca – the bull / the cow

el gallo / la gallina – the rooster / the hen

  • NUMBER: singular – plural

There are two rules to transform a singular noun into plural:

1. Add an “s”

el perro > los perros

la casa > las casas

2. Add “es” with the words that end in consonant.

el profesor > los profesores

la canción > las canciones

2.1 When the word end in “z” it changes to “c” and add “es”

el pez > los peces


Finally, if you want to practice your listening skills, here I leave you with a video class about this topic in Spanish with subtitles in Spanish.







Express necessity and obligation 3

We have two ways to express necessity and obligation in Spanish: tener que + infinitive and hay que + infinitive.

Look this examples:

Homer Simpson tiene que ponerse a dieta.
Homer Simpson has to go on a diet.

Hay que comer más frutas y verduras diariamente.
One must eat more fruit and vegetables daily.

Both mean almost the same. They are used to say that “someone has to do something” or “something has to be done” but there is an important nuance to take into account in order to choose one form or the other:

  • Tener que + infinitive

Is one way to express obligation or necessity. This expression can be translated as “someone has to do something.” Tener is conjugated according to the subject of the sentence.

  • Hay que + infinitive

Is used to express the idea of “one must do something” or, “it is necessary to do something.” The obligation is not addressed to anybody in particular but to people in general. In fact, the verb “hay” doesn’t change form, is impersonal, since it doesn’t have any subject to accord to.

Here you have some examples to see the differences in use:

Hay que beber al menos dos litros de agua cada día.
At least two litres of water have to be drunk every day.

He empezado a hacer una dieta y el médico me ha dicho que tengo que beber mucha agua.
I started to go on a diet and the doctor told me to drink a lot of water.


Finally, if you want to practice your listening skills, here I leave you with a video class about this topic in Spanish with subtitles in Spanish.


Why learn Spanish? Few reasons

I am a native Spanish speaker and I teach it as a foreign language. If I someone asked me, why learn Spanish or another language, I would have lots of reasons to cheer people up to learn a foreign language, whatever it is. But if I had to suggest a language to learn, the answer would be: first, English (for all the non English speakers) and second, Spanish (so if you are an English speaker, Spanish would be my first answer for you).

Learning a new language has a lot of benefits, as I said in a previous post, but I recently learnt that knowing and using two languages reduces the chances of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease. Moreover the scientists showed that bilingualism enhances mental abilities in both children and older adults. Besides studying languages can improve your memory and slow age-related decline in mental acuity. And studying another language makes you smarter: your critical thinking skills will be improved as you learn to view things through a different lens, and learning a second language stimulates creativity. 

After that I can’t but encourage you to learn another language for language’s sake and for your own benefit. Enroll now to whatever language appeals you!!!

However I can help you to pick a language. Spanish!!!

Yeah, according to Wikipedia, Spanish is the second language most spoken in the world with almost 400 million speakers,  it’s the fourth most commonly spoken language in the world (after English, Chinese and Hindustani) and it is an official language on four continents:

Primarily oficial language in Spain and 21 Latin America countries, is second oficial language in other countries, and is most spoken than the oficial language in Gibraltar (90%), Andorra (70%) and Belice (70%).
So the wide extension of the language brings us another reason: traveling. It is possible to visit the Latin American countries and Spain without speaking a word of Spanish but you would be missing one of the best parts of visiting a foreign country, the understanding the locals, their ways, that is to say, the fun and interesting part.In my humble opinion, learning Spanish opens up lots of opportunities to have more fun: movies, books, reading the menu in the restaurant, meet interesting people, travel… And beyond that, the satisfaction of accomplishment.Whether your motivations are practical, intellectual or sentimental, learning Spanish is something that will benefit you for the rest of your life!Spanish is a relatively easy language for English speakers to master. It obviously requires an effort, but the pay off is very high.Spanish is a wonderful and easy language to learn. You will always have the chance to travel and practice your Spanish with native speakers in many countries. If you are not learning, what are you waiting for?! 

Book a class with me immediately, the first class is free for you to decide if the online learning method suits you, but I’m sure you’ll see the benefits of learning from home at your own speed.


The stages of language acquisition 1

Few days ago I came across this video while my research for inspiration for a post for my blog. I really loved it, it’s so clear that you don’t even need to read the text in the video or my post, even, because a picture is worth a thousand words, but it would be nice if you do, though…

When you learn a new language, it is the second or the umpteenth, you will follow the same process you used to learn your first language. You will go through the same stages as you went through when you learn your mother language since your firsts days of life.

1. The silent period.

Because when you are a baby you don’t speak much, in the same way as when you are in the first contact with the new language, in general, you listen, take notes, write never ending lists of words and useful expressions, but don’t jump to talk unless you are asked, and then, you use the shortest way, monosyllabic words, yes and no, and fix formulas. You observe and imitate.

2. The early production.

When you actually can speak with 2 or 3 word sentences, you can understand what the other person is saying but your answer is limitated, so you use yes or no answers, single words or repetition.

3. The speech emergency.

You can give little speeches, but often with some mistakes. You understand what you’re told and can express what you want to say with longer but still simple sentences. It’s the moment when you start being more independent, so you speak more, but you make more mistakes, which as I said in a previous post, is great.

4. Intermediate proficiency.

You start to produce complex sentences, express you opinion and thoughts, as well as translate ideas from your native language to the new one.

5. Advance fluency.

The use of the grammar and vocabulary is the same as a native or very close.

I am sure you recognize yourself in one of more of this stages. And if you are in the silent period, don’t worry, reach the fifth one is just a matter of work, practice, some study (yeah, I’m afraid some study is required) and practice, practice, practice. And, of course, the support and guidance of the teacher is very advisable, so for all the learners of Spanish out there in the need of some help, don’t hesitate in contact me, I’m here to help!