The 5 Best Podcasts To Help You Learn Spanish

What are the best Spanish podcasts for language learners?

  • SpanishPod101 (link)

  • Coffee Break Spanish (link)

  • Duolingo Spanish Podcast (link)

  • Notes in Spanish (link)

  • Spanish Obsessed (link)

In order to curate the list of the top Spanish podcasts for language learners, I carefully checked out more than a dozen different podcasts. I listened to multiple episodes of those ranked in the top 5 to ensure that they had great content, format, and resources to help Spanish learners along.

1. SpanishPod101
This one is great because it has so much structure and features at least one native speaker per season. There is enough free content to keep things interesting, and the premium version unlocks a review track, line-by-line dialogue, and more. Not to be missed if you are looking for guided, progressive lessons that you can do daily! Episode duration: 10-15 minutes.

2. Coffee Break Spanish
Coffee Break Spanish has multiple seasons of content and a Facebook Page with activities and more. The episodes feature lots of repetition of key phrases with a heavy focus on conversational dialogues. Season one episodes are led by Mark and Cara, two non-native speakers from Scotland. The paid version offers lesson notes and bonus content. Episode duration: 10-20 minutes.

3. DuoLingo Spanish
“The Spanish in this story is for intermediate learners, but if you get lost, don’t worry; we’ll be chiming in throughout the story.”

This is a story-based podcast where each episode is a distinct tale narrated by Martina Castro, a native Spanish speaker. The base narration is in English, with accompanying Spanish audio woven in. Completely free, you can find accompanying transcripts and study materials on the link above. Although aimed at intermediate and above skill levels, the content is so unique and challenging that it will keep you motivated, and easily secures the #3 spot. Episode duration: 15-20 minutes.

4. Notes in Spanish
Three distinct levels of podcasts: inspired beginners, intermediate, and advanced conversations with a total of over 130 episodes. Hosted by a multi-cultural couple, Marina from Madrid and Ben from Oxford. Accompanying worksheets available for a cost. The episode themes range from grammar points, themes like “shopping”, “music”, and “futbol”, and occasions like “Feliz Navidad” or “intercambios.” They jump in quickly with lots of conversational discussion and vocabulary. Episode duration: 15-25 minutes.

5. Spanish Obsessed
Episodes average about 15 minutes and jump in quickly to dialogues in Spanish, to the extent that true beginners may get overwhelmed even in the “beginner Spanish” track. Rob and Liz focus on Latin American Spanish that is designed to be effective in everyday situations instead of textbook vocabulary and grammar. “Arranging to Meet”, “How to tell a joke” , “Romantic Spanish”, and more.

Making Podcasts Useful in Learning Spanish

If you want to learn Spanish, then you should know that it takes time and consistent practice. For that reason, it’s important to find ways of picking up the language that keep you interested and motivated as you go along so that you can stick with it.

The most obvious way that podcasts will help you learn is by improving your listening comprehension skills. However, here are a few ideas you can try out in order to transform the experience into a more interactive, deliberate practice session.

Listen & Repeat: at the most basic level, you can choose key vocabulary words to repeat out loud after the speaker. To challenge yourself, attempt to mirror what the speaker is saying as soon as it’s said.

Listen & Read: while the narrator is speaking, read along with the Spanish text in the transcript. Another method is to read the transcript content aloud on its own.

Flashcards: for key vocabulary words, you can add them to your SRS deck through a program like Anki, and then review them regularly to engrain them in your memory.

Listen & Write: you can try to dictate Spanish words and then check your answers for accuracy by verifying using the transcript. For a more advanced challenge, write a sentence containing some of the key vocabulary terms you’ve just heard.

Other ways to activate the vocabulary you’ve been learning
Write about the theme of the podcast episode itself, how it applies to your life, your own experiences, or write a review of the episode. You can also take all of this content and try to discuss it with your language coach or tutor during a conversation. In my experience, you will make words the most sticky when you activate them through use and by hitting them in different contexts.

Below you will find a more complete listing of podcast resources for more intermediate and advanced learners. These other podcasts feature “native” content intended for consumption by fluent audiences. Give them a try for immersion in the language by finding one that speaks to your interests!

NameCostLevelTranscriptsExercises
SpanishPod101
Free / $120Beginner – AdvancedYY
Coffee Break SpanishFree / $104Beginner – AdvancedYN
DuoLingo SpanishFreeBeginner – AdvancedYN
Notes in SpanishFree / €199Beginner – AdvancedYY
Spanish ObsessedFree / $99Beginner – AdvancedYY
EspanolistosFreeIntermediate – Advanced*YN
Voa: BUENOS DÍAS AMÉRICAFreeIntermediate – Advanced*NN
Spanish PodcastFreeIntermediate – Advanced*YN
Espanol AutomaticoFree / €6+Intermediate – Advanced*YY
Podium PodcastsFreeIntermediate – Advanced*NN
Radioteca PodcastsFreeIntermediate – Advanced*NN

*Denotes no English is used in the podcast

Learn Spanish Translation

LLearning Spanish can be a great way to get ahead in your career. The economies of some Spanish-speaking countries are doing very well, and whether you want to work near your home or for a company that wants to expand abroad, you should find many opportunities to do so. Better yet, Spanish is applicable in many industries. You can train to be a Spanish teacher, work in healthcare, business, or politics. By learning Spanish translation you can work anywhere in the world, and if you do it right you are unlikely to ever be out of work.

If you know Spanish well you have possibly considered working as a translator or interpreter already. However, knowing a foreign language well or even being bilingual does not automatically mean that you can build a successful career as a translator. If you want to increase your odds of success, follow the steps below.

Step 1 – Get a bachelor’s degree

Not all companies require translators or interpreters to have a bachelor’s degree, but many do. You do not have to major in English or Spanish, although it might be beneficial and give you a head start on advanced language training.

University-level course work, in general, will provide you with a lot of skills and background knowledge that will be great assets for you in your future work. Also, if you major in a subject other than English or Spanish, you will get in-depth knowledge of a specialized field, such as biology, law or finance.

Such expertise may help you occupy a more profitable translating niche, which is good for at least two reasons. First of all, you will be able to stand out from all the general Spanish translators out there. Secondly, if you specify the topics you specialize in, you will be able to avoid topics that you don’t like or aren’t familiar with.

Step 2 – Get specialized training in Spanish

There are different ways you can go about bringing your Spanish skills to an advanced level: study with a teacher face-to-face or online, go to a language school or even study independently. Each method has pros and cons, and you should choose the one that fits you personally while making sure you develop skills in all dimensions: listening, reading, writing, and speaking.

For specialized translations, you will need to study terminology in-depth to have it at your fingertips at any moment. You will study such nuances as the right ways of translating proper names, titles and geographical names. You will need to train your memory retention and recall, as well as master different translating or interpreting strategies.

With sufficient motivation and self-discipline and great resources available, this can be accomplished on your own. However, no matter how you learn Spanish translation, you need some proof of your skills and knowledge, which brings us to the next step.

Step 3 – Get tested and certified

Taking a Spanish proficiency test (such as SIELE or DELE) allows you to add to your resume and show that you are indeed fluent in the language. However, language proficiency testing alone is not enough.

There are also a number of certificates available to test your Spanish translating or interpreting abilities. Many of them deal with specialized subjects, such as the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters & Translators’ certification in Spanish, which is recognized by several states in the US (www.najit.org) or the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (www.healthcareinterpretercertification.orgwww.certifiedmedicalinterpreters.org).

Certificates may differ in different countries, so it is better to research the one you live or are going to work in. Such a certificate can truly help you stand out from the very beginning of your translating career.

Step 4 – Get experience

This seems like a painfully obvious piece of advice – the more experience you get the more opportunities you will get. Unfortunately, many university graduates looking for a job face a dilemma with companies looking for young people with years of experience. At the beginning of your career, it is a good idea to try out different types of translating and interpreting (for instance, simultaneous or consecutive interpreting), different subject areas, and different settings. It will not only help you get the necessary valuable experience but also help you find your niche.

Also, consider taking volunteer opportunities. They may not pay, but they are a great way to gain experience, build your portfolio and even do some networking.

Step 5 – Market yourself

The market of translating and interpreting services is quite saturated nowadays. Unfortunately, being a great translator is not always enough to stand out from the crowd. A little bit of marketing can go a long way here.

There is no need to be a marketing expert or to launch a large campaign, but there are a few things you can do, such as create a website or a Facebook page, build a portfolio, and be an active member of online language professionals’ communities.

You need to make yourself visible, especially at the beginning, before your reputation can start working for you.

Step 6 – Always keep learning

Learning a foreign language is a never-ending process. You need constant practice to keep up your skills and knowledge. The same is true for translating skills: to learn Spanish translation is to learn all your life.

And it is not only about keeping up your skills. New words and terminology appear that you may need to learn. You may get into new subject areas to expand your arsenal or, on the contrary, study a more specialized niche.

If you want to become a Spanish translator or interpreter, be ready to become a life-long learner. But do not be discouraged – it is not just necessary or useful, it is also a great deal of fun!

Additional Tips to Become a Great Translator

  • Go to live, work or study in a Spanish-speaking country: On the one hand, you can learn Spanish translation without ever setting foot in Spain or Latin America. On the other hand, living in a Spanish-speaking country can provide you with the level of language immersion and experience which even the best school cannot imitate.
  • Immerse yourself in the language: You can immerse yourself into Spanish without even leaving your apartment. Watch YouTube channels in Spanish, read the news and listen to the radio in Spanish, read books in Spanish – you get the idea.
  • Try working freelance: There are a ton of translating jobs available on various freelance websites. As a beginner translator, you can take up smaller and simpler ones to build your confidence and gain experience. You may have to accept lower prices at the beginning, but growing as a professional may be worth it.
  • For written translations, try out Computer Aided Translation (CAT) tools: they help you out with recurring vocabulary, multi-document projects and overall make the translation process faster and smoother.
  • Develop a strong work ethic: To build and keep up your reputation, consistently provide high-quality work and stick to deadlines. You may be surprised, but this alone will set you aside from some of the people who work as translators.
  • Maintain and develop your computer skills: Most translators nowadays do their work electronically. The computer is your tool and you need to know it well to do your job well.
  • Be flexible and patient: You are likely to work with a variety of clients with demands that are challenging and not always reasonable. Be prepared for that, but also remember that it is OK to say no if the client is being unreasonable.
  • Read, both in your native language and Spanish: Reading is a great way to maintain and develop literacy and writing style.
  • Always do your research: New topic, unfamiliar words, tricky expressions – time to hit Google, Wikipedia, or maybe even a library!

Useful Resources

OmegaT, free computer aided translation tool http://omegat.org/en/

Smartcat, another free computer aided translation tool https://www.smartcat.ai/

A translator’s blog with funny pictures, interesting stories, and useful advice https://translationmusings.com/

The Translator Training Textbook https://amzn.to/2S4CF3i

One of the biggest freelance websites https://www.upwork.com

Interview with the freelance translator Irene Cudich on how to start in translating https://youtu.be/9Ogqi5lGOVw

Some practical tips on translating a text https://atasavvynewcomer.org/2013/09/03/ten-tips-for-translators/

50 tips for translators https://anglocom.com/en/50-essential-tips-for-translators/

How to Use Conversations to Improve at Languages

The number one output-based language learning activity that you can do is talking with a native speaker. While this might seem obvious, there are a few things you can do to maximize the benefit you receive from a conversation no matter your level.

 

I break these things down into four categories:

 

  • Preparation
  • Conversation
  • Post-Game Analysis
  • Review

 

Preparation is all about getting ready to talk about subjects that are important to you. If you are an absolute beginner, this will likely mean pleasantries and introductions. After you have the essentials covered, you will want to start building competency in specific topics, and stick to just a few.

 

The actual work you need to do at this stage is to build out a script or write down potential phrases you plan on using. As you start to advance beyond a beginner level, prepare questions you can ask the other person and identify the responses you will likely receive to lessen the chances of being caught off guard.

 

The conversation is where the magic happens. When the conversation opens, you should have done enough preparation to get you through the first couple of minutes without any issues. The hard part comes after you’ve run out of “scripted material”. Depending on your ability, this is where you can either rely on asking the other person questions, or stay on the defensive and answer what they ask you.

 

Apart from running out of things to say, the second challenge people normally face during a conversation is being unable to understand what the other person says. For this, there are a few language hacks you can use as a workaround. All you need to know is how to ask a few key questions that will get your partner to:

 

  • Say it again more slowly
  • Repeat what they said
  • Say it a different way

 

Post Game Analysis can be tedious but I like to think that every minute spent here saves me dozens of minutes down the road studying. It’s so important and valuable because it’s individualized training and it involves you being deeply focused on the things you were trying to say and the things the other person said. In order to do this well, make sure you record your conversations’ audio. There are a few free software programs you can find online in order to do this.

 

As you listen to the track, make note of any phrases you heard that are important, or go back and figure out how to say something that you struggled to say or wanted to say in the conversation, but couldn’t. I also like to pull out corrections from my partner, and phrases that they say that make their speech more fluid. Take ample notes here and prepare them in a list, or for bonus points add them to your spaced repetition software deck.

 

Review happens starting the day after the conversation and can continue until the next conversation or even beyond. Personally, I have been using my SRS software (Anki) in order to do this efficiently. I believe that over time, and with more conversations, the most important words and phrases will recur, and I will naturally improve my recall and speaking abilities with time.

 

The most important thing with any review is to do it consistently, so once you have sufficiently “mined” the audio track for things to review, you need to make it part of your routine to do your flashcards every day or as often as you can so that you receive the benefit.

B1 Spanish in 158 Days Mission: Update One

In my first post announcing my Spanish language learning mission on November 28th, I had set some mini-goals for myself that I felt pretty good about. I believed my plan was well rounded and would allow me to quickly progress toward my ultimate goal of B1 or better by May 5, 2018.

As I write on New Year’s Eve, this is a fitting time to provide an about my progress which will include what I’ve learned thus far, what’s working and what isn’t, and what I’m going to do next in order to hit my ultimate goal which isn’t very far away at all!

Time Left in Goal to B1 Spanish

The Mini-Goals I Set For Myself:

  • Complete the Elemental Sounds Course by December 15th
  • Complete 1,000 repetitions in Glossika by Christmas
  • Hold my first conversation before New Years
  • Reach 1,000 known words in LingQ by New Years
  • Post one video per month on YouTube, practicing my Spanish dialogue scripts

Elemental Sounds Mini-Goal

I did complete all of the drills in the “Elemental Sounds” course in time. I did not manage to watch every minute of every webinar, but I do feel good that I have a resource I can keep coming back to in order to hone my pronunciation which will improve both my listening comprehension but also how well others can understand me.

Glossika Mini-Goal

Using the new AI Glossika, I have exceeded 1,000 sentences, actually being closer to 1,400. While it’s great that I have accumulated more repetitions than I anticipated, I need to get better at chaining days in a row instead of doing larger cram sessions on weekends or when other time blocks present themselves.

Conversation Mini-Goal

I have not yet had an official conversation. I have been having some text exchanges through a language learning conversation app on my smartphone, but it’s time to see what I’m really capable of with a native speaker…

This should help, but I am a little nervous. 60 minutes is a long long time for a guy who can barely get through pleasantries! Even so, going into this with realistic expectations, patience, and an understanding of how OK it is to make mistakes should allow it to be a productive session.

Known Words Mini-Goal

This is one of the ones that I really fell down on. I only got up to 446 known words in Spanish on LingQ out of 1,000, however, I did create MANY LingQs (350, actually) which are “new” words that I can continue to review and use in context until I have fully incorporated them into my memory.

YouTube Video Mini-Goal

Just yesterday, I posted the first-ever video of me speaking Spanish publicly. I was able to get through some very introductory phrases that I might use in a typical daily conversation with a new acquaintance or colleague, but I’ve got a long way to go, especially if I would like to understand the replies given to me and how to go broader and deeper in terms of topics and expression.

What’s Not Working

The #1 thing that I need to improve moving forward is consistency. I am convinced that the most important thing in language learning is discipline and building the study habit. I believe that it’s actually less important about what you do and how much time you spend as long as it’s done every single day. A more aggressive goal will require more study time, of course, but forming and protecting the habit will determine your success more than anything else!

The second thing that isn’t working for me, and which honestly scares me a little, is the idea of “premature literacy”. I actually pumped the brakes on reading so much with LingQ because I started to notice something similar to what I’ve experienced in French: I can read and understand significantly better than I can speak and USE the language already! This leads to massive frustration and creates imbalances in your ability that can be hard to correct once you’ve reached more advanced stages.

What I’m Going to Change Moving Forward

In order to combat inconsistency, I am going to do a few things. First, I will prioritize my language learning in terms of where it appears in my morning routine. This means moving it up in the order of operations I try to execute in order to have an optimal day. Next, I will also try to create more visibility and awareness by tracking my daily study sessions on a visual planner. I will likely use a print-out sheet but may also have a digital scorecard too for the convenience factor.

I am going to need more accountability for following through, and I’ll get it by sharing the goal and the trackers with a close friend who has agreed to help me reach my goals. I can also try and get more involved in other language learning communities like the Fluent in 3 Months or #WeDoLanguages Facebook groups. I know that enrollment for a new session of Add1 challenge opens up tomorrow, but I’m not sure if I will commit to it yet or not. There is something to be said for social groups and accountability, though, so I will post an update if I do join.

Finally, I need to address my “study mix” so that I don’t fall into the trap of focusing only on input-based study activities. I will track minutes spent speaking and writing and try to make these two take up the majority of my study time. I know that re-allocating my time like this will drive the kind of results I am looking for, so I need to really push myself out of my comfort zone to get this accomplished.

What To Do When Your Language Study Routine Gets Derailed

I try to make it a point to only write about things that I’ve experienced so that I can speak knowledgeably to them and share what’s worked and what hasn’t. I believe that this gives me the greatest chances of positively impacting other language learners habits, routines, mental states, and ultimately their outcomes with their target language.

With that in mind, I wanted to talk about what happens when your normal study routine gets derailed. For me, I try and guard my normal study time as fiercely as I can, but let’s face it – life happens. When it does, I find that it’s best to have a default back-up plan ready so that you can instantly go from recognizing the disruption and moving to a secondary activity or strategy to remain productive and continue making progress.

I recently had this experience with my current Spanish language mission. Over the last week or so, I’ve had a number of meetings and a few days out of town thrown in that disrupted my normal routine of using my laptop to study the sounds of the language with an online course and developing my “language hacking” scripts. In this situation, it would have been easier to do nothing at all and to wait until the next time I had the perfect circumstances to continue studying. However, it’s important to recognize that having the perfect circumstances to study are rare and to focus on what you CAN control.

My backup plan in situations like these is to use my most convenient phone apps to spend some time with the language in practical ways that will have cross-over to my primary language study methods. For instance, in this case I used duolingo and memrise to work on conversational phrases and high frequency vocabulary acquisition. I like these because they offer bite-sized chunks of learning material and they contain words that I will very likely use in typical situations when speaking Spanish.

This might seem really, really obvious. However, had I not thought in advance about what my default back-up plan was and consciously decided that it would be to use these apps, I very easily could have squandered what little study time I did muster on trying to decide what I should do. So in this case, I was able to secure a handful of 15-minute learning sessions that otherwise could have been wasted.

There are other possibilities that you could plug in to be your default back-up plan. For instance, you could speak phrases out loud to yourself in the target language, or try to translate things into the target language from your native language. You could also try one of the following:

  • Read a secondary reading source (comic, novel, etc.)
  • Listen to a language learning podcast
  • Watch a YouTube video
  • Text a native speaker on an app
  • Try to write a paragraph describing anything in your target language

These are just a few to get you started. For now, spend 5 quiet minutes and plot out what your default back-up plan will be, and comment below with your ideas so that others can benefit!

New Language Mission: Spanish

My entire life, I have been told by relatives, friends, teachers, colleagues, and mentors that the most “beneficial” second language to learn is Spanish.

Most of the advice I’ve received from others was given by those that never learned a second language, and was probably based solely on their perceived value of Spanish in a professional capacity. While there is real validity to that argument, I knew that that wouldn’t sustain the inner fire I would need to complete a serious language learning mission. So I put it off for many years, favoring French instead.

In the last six months or so, my heart and mind have been warming to the idea of pursuing a Spanish language learning mission. If there is a second most-accepted language in the United States, then Spanish is it. Even in my Midwestern city, there is a large Spanish-speaking population, and there are many opportunities to use the language on at least a weekly basis in the course of regular life, if not more frequently than that!

How Far I Want to Go

It is in order to connect with these people, my neighbors and wider community members, to discover a new culture, and broaden my world perspective that I am beginning a Spanish learning mission. My goal is to reach B1 or better in the language by Cinco de Mayo, and my use of the language will be 90% or more speaking with people by having conversations about daily life, food, music, work, family, etc.

How I Will Get There

I will try and apply all of my accumulated wisdom from 15 years of language learning to the mission. I feel that my experience has given me a lot of self-awareness for where the pitfalls lie and what works best for me.

My plan is to start by really focusing on the sounds of the language and putting an emphasis on listening comprehension and speaking ability. I will be using the Mimic Method Elemental Sounds of Spanish Master Class by Idahosa Ness to practice hearing and producing the foundational sounds of Spanish.

From there, I will be using the new Glossika, which is an AI-driven system, to acquire grammar and speaking abilities in a natural language way. I will pair mass sentence repetition in Glossika with LingQ for reading comprehension and vocabulary expansion.

Finally, I will test myself by holding conversations with native Spanish speakers (focusing specifically on Mexican Spanish here). I plan to prepare scripts and key phrases based on frequency and need, and tailor the conversations and subsequent feedback and review to help me be able to actually USE the language in real life.

This is mission critical, because with French, I believe that my premature literacy and grammar focus stemming from all of the study in Middle and High school led me to struggle with communicating with other people even to this day.

Short Term Goals

To break down these larger goals of reaching intermediate in terms of conversational ability into smaller, bite-sized chunks:

  • Complete the Elemental Sounds Course by December 15th
  • Complete 1,000 repetitions in Glossika by Christmas
  • Hold my first conversation before New Years
  • Reach 1,000 known words in LingQ by New Years
  • Post one video per month on YouTube, practicing my Spanish dialogue scripts

Accountability and Follow-Through

I will document my progress on a Facebook group of language learners and provide updates on the Language Ascent Twitter Account as I progress. I will also post videos on YouTube once per month showing my progress in Spanish, in particular as a means to practice the scripts I have been working on.

How to Create a Self Feedback Loop When Learning Languages

In the early stages of learning a new language, what you do and how you do it is almost inconsequential. The larger hurdles are to have the right reasons for doing it and to do things which will keep you curious and interested enough to keep coming back to your study consistently.

One of the most important attributes that language learners can possess is self-awareness. This becomes even more important the farther you get in a language due to the diminishing returns you experience at upper intermediate stages and beyond. In order to continue to make progress, you have to be keenly aware of the quality of your output, measure that against some objective, and make distinctions to help you decide what to change or do next in order to improve.

One of the greatest challenges this presents for the independent language learner is how to know if you’re making progress!

The easy answer, of course, is to get a coach who can provide this feedback for you. However, I’m going to provide a framework for you to do this assessment yourself on an on-going basis, because I believe that you can develop this ability even with limited knowledge and experience doing it.

Setting a Language Learning Goal First

So, first things first: you need to get clear about your goal.

In my estimation, there are four over-arching categories of language learning skills, and those are: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. That means that there are two input skills and two output skills.

Now, myself and everybody else on the internet has their opinions about which order to develop these skills in. I would instruct you to choose the one which is most meaningful to you by asking yourself what you want to do with the language.

For example, do you love literature and want to read a lot of books? Do you plan to travel to a country where this language is spoken natively and just need to navigate daily living? Do you just want to check out some new series on Netflix or YouTube? Understanding your goals on this level first will help direct you into which skill category to go deep in.

Once you have thought about that for a while and feel determined, write it down. Trust me here: the temptation to stray from your chosen path when it gets “boring” or “difficult” will be too great, and you will begin to practice in areas that will not get your closer to the goal you’ve committed to.

Setting Up a Measurement System

On a high level, there are two different ways you can attempt to measure yourself: quantitatively, and qualitatively. They are both important, and I am going to share some ideas on the quantitative side first, because it’s more straightforward and keep you accountable for the basics. If half the battle is showing up, then these measurements will tell you how much and how often you are getting practice in.

The Language Learning Scorecard

Measuring your language learning progress quantitatively is all about numbers and volume. We need to set up metrics that can tell us the amount of activity we have generated for both the input language activities and the output ones.

Let’s make an example out of the speaking language skill, which is an output activity. On a base level, the metric should be how much speaking you have done. Recognize that based on your circumstances, speaking could come in different forms. For instance, it could be number of sentences spoken in a mass repetition method program like Glossika. It could also mean number of conversations of a certain duration you’ve had, or number of words read aloud. The bottom line is that if you want to get better at speaking, you need to speak, and so you need to measure speaking-based activities that are within your control. I repeat: your metrics must be things that you can actively do and influence, not things outside of your control.

I encourage you to not only select a metric, but to also set an associated daily or weekly goal for that metric. If you want to use 5-minute conversations with a native-level speaker as your metric, you could set “3 per week” as your goal target. I track all of my metrics and targets on a scorecard spreadsheet in my Google Drive so that I can access it anywhere. I update it constantly for the psychological boost I get from crossing another target off. No matter if you use a spreadsheet or a pen and paper, keep the scorecard highly visible in your day to day life and reference it consistently.

If you want to take your accountability to practice to the next level, make the scorecard transparent to others and encourage them to enforce negative consequences if you don’t hit your weekly metric goals. If you are disciplined enough, you can attempt you simulate this on your own.

To recap, here are some example metrics for the four language skills:

Reading (Input)

  • Number of words or pages read
  • Number of words known

Writing (Output)

  • Number of words written
  • Number of journal entries or blog posts written
  • Number of mistakes made

Listening (Input)

  • Minutes of audio listened to
  • Number of repeat listens of the same piece of audio

Speaking (Output)

  • Number of sentences repeated
  • Number of conversations of X duration held
  • Number of words read aloud

Measuring the Quality of your Input and Output

This is far and away a much harder task, because some qualitative measures can seem highly subjective. However, I will share a simple and therefore useful framework to measure the quality of your foreign language input and output, even in cases where “you don’t know what you don’t know”. My definition of “quality” in a language learning context is tied to assessing difficulty of material and ability – what you can actually accomplish with the language.

First, for the input language activities of reading and listening, you should try to assess the level or difficulty of the content you are assuming. Over time, you will be able to understand more challenging audio and texts. In some cases, as in the LingQ platform or with graded readers, this is very easy to determine. LingQ gives you the number of unknown words per lesson, and graded readers are usually listed at particular “levels” at least as specific as beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

In other cases, you may have to estimate difficulty on your own. You could determine how many unknown words there are in texts, or what % of the audio was incomprehensible to you. You could use either new texts and audio files, or continue listening and reading the same ones repeatedly, measuring the number of unknowns with each pass or each week.

For measuring your ability in a foreign language, you could start by looking at language frameworks like the CEFR which provide skills and corresponding levels. You could keep a running list of which ones you are capable of and which ones you would like to work on next. As you become able to do things that you couldn’t do before, you will be able to take note of your progress.

Conclusion

To tie everything back together, you need to start with a goal of what you would like to be able to do with the language. From there, make sure you are measuring how much practice you are getting in the activities that matter most for your goal, whether they are input or output goals, or both.

From there, determine some metrics you can set for the activities in question, and set a target goal you would like to hit weekly for that metric.

Once you have the basic scorecard in place, it’s time to look at the quality of your efforts by determining if your ability and the difficulty of your inputs are increasing.

If you do this quantitative and qualitative measurement consistently, you will have a wonderful feedback loop that will guide your practice. Noticing these things are going to ensure that your time spent is productive, and seeing your progress should motivate you to continue on your path toward your ultimate goal!

If you have any questions about the system of setting up a scorecard, setting up goals, or becoming more self-aware in your language learning efforts, please leave a comment below or tweet me @languageascent.