My iPhone Teaches Me Spanish

HolaBy the time you read this, I will be enjoying the late spring in Uruguay, my wife’s native country. In preparation for my trip, I found a wealth of excellent free and paid materials that has transformed my iPhone and iPad into a terrific tool for improving my Spanish skills. Last issue I discussed various apps that teach language. This issue I will continue the discussion, focusing mostly on the iPad and iPhone’s multimedia capabilities. Much of what I reference below is applicable for learning other languages.

Say what?

Understanding and communicating are the most immediate challenges when entering a foreign land. Spanish audio courses on the iPhone are great for the practice of listening and speaking, and they are always available during commutes and downtime.


My favorite audio learning course is Spanish Like Crazy ( featuring South American Spanish. Whether you download audio learning programs or rip from a CD, it is easy enough to transfer lessons to iTunes and listen to them on your iPhone or iPad. These programs introduce and repeat new vocabulary and grammar by asking you to translate English sentences. After a few seconds, the native Spanish speaker translates, and you repeat. Rather than an academic approach of grammar rules and vocabulary drills, these courses teach languages using repetitive audio, which is similar to the way a child learns.

The Spanish Like Crazy people have told me they are almost finished creating an iOS app version of their desktop Verbarrator software. Spanish verb conjugation is quite challenging, and Verbarrator is far and away the best tool for verb drills I’ve found.

eBooks in Spanish

Practice Makes perfect

Reading familiar stories in Spanish is a great way to understand written Spanish and to increase vocabulary. You can find free and paid eBooks in Spanish by doing simple Internet searches. The latest version of the iOS Kindle app auto-detects Spanish eBooks and prompts you to upload a free Spanish language dictionary. However, unlike the actual Amazon Kindle, you can’t install a Spanish-English dictionary as the look-up dictionary, which would allow you to highlight a Spanish word and get its English translation. Neither the Kindle app, the iBooks app, nor any other e-reader I found supports this important feature.

I use the Kindle app to study Spanish textbooks. My current favorite is Practice Makes Perfect: Complete Spanish Grammar.


Finally, I let my iPhone read to me in Spanish with audiobooks. Currently, I am listening to Dorothy’s adventures in El Mago de Oz.


Novelas TelemundoTwo Spanish TV stations, Univision and Telemundo, each have a number of free iTunes apps. Using these apps I can watch novellas (soap operas), the news, video clips, as well as listen to Spanish radio and read the news.

Watching novellas (spanish soap operas), sporting events, and news from Telemundo and Univision are a great way to practice Spanish comprehension.

My absolute favorite learning vehicle is a 52 episode, G-rated soap opera, Destinos, designed at the University of Illinois in 1992 to teach Spanish. The story takes the main character through Mexico, Spain, Argentina, and Puerto Rico with dialog from native speakers and exposure to the different Spanish cultures. The episodes are often played on the PBS network. I bought a set of DVDs on eBay for $60 instead of the retail price of $495, and I used free, open source Handbrake to rip them and put them in iTunes. There is a plethora of written support material and audiotapes to study the lessons from the Destinos series.


I’ve found that one of the most enjoyable and effective ways to learn is to watch familiar movies on my DirecTV system dubbed in Spanish with captions in English or Spanish. I’ve tried to reproduce the same experience on my iOS device with limited success. The HBO GO app, which gives you access to HBO content, doesn’t support Spanish closed captions or dubbing. The Netflix app does offer a few Spanish language titles with English subtitles, but offers no other options. I searched but did not discover a strong YouTube channel or website with Spanish audio and Spanish or English subtitles. Please E-mail me if you find a good source.

Spanish Dictionary

Finally, as mentioned in the last issue of iPhone Life, the video learning app, Learn Spanish with Bueno, entonces … (Free, is a well-thought-out and fun approach to learning. 

The app and first lesson are free, and then it costs $2.99 per lesson or $44.99 for all 30 lessons. A young British man visits Argentina to learn Spanish and ends up taping these lessons with a “hot Latin Spanish teacher” using a “magic” teaching whiteboard.

Learn Spanish with Bueno has a fun teaching approach


There is a lot of free high quality Spanish instruction available through YouTube. I subscribe to these five channels, each with a number of free well-done lessons: Languagenow, SpanishDict, TLSpanish, SpanishSessions, MRLearnSpanish.

Spanish on the Web

With so many strong learning sites, your browser might be all you need to study Spanish. Three outstanding ones that don’t have an agenda of selling you their courseware are,, and has a ton of learning material, including the YouTube channel mentioned above and a free iOS dictionary app, although its flash-based flashcards don’t work on iOS devices. is a great starting point with lots of its own content for practicing and lots of links to other Spanish learning websites. serves as a hub for Dr. Jason Jolley’s excellent Spanish lesson podcasts, YouTube videos, slideshows, and documents.

I e-mailed Professor Jason about best learning sites. He recommended, which has both free and paid lessons, and, which allows you to practice your language skills with others.


If you visit Spanish language websites, Tap Spanish ($2.99, lets you highlight any word or phrase and get an English translation. All translations are saved in the history.

Another option for reading and translating is MyLanguage Translator Pro ($4.99, It supports 59 languages, and it converts any text you enter or paste into English or Spanish. In addition, you can listen to the pronunciation from a native Spanish reader.

Getting started

If you plan to study Spanish on your own, there is an overwhelming amount of material to help. My suggestion is to pick a few of those and just begin. See what fits your learning style, and keep at it.

Senior Editor, Hal Goldstein, founded iPhone Life in 2008. His company, Thaddeus Computing, has been publishing magazines for mobile computer users since 1985. You can contact him at

January-February 2012
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