The Best Free Online Tools to Help Your Spanish-Speaking Friends with Their English
Updated August, 2017
If you don’t make Mexican friends as an expat, you will never really understand what a difference it makes in your quality of life. Having Mexican friends determines the framework of your entire social support structure.
You can choose either to hang out with other frequently-bewildered expats, or enjoy a healthy mix of expats and people who always know precisely what’s going on. It’s up to you.
It's up to you because you don’t have to be fluent to make Mexican friends, owing to the usual graciousness of the Mexican people.
Even when I lock up on the language completely, the conversation finds a way to resolve itself. Anyone, regardless of age, can become fluent enough to be social and there is much you can do to further things along until you're at a more conversational level.
You do have to be friendly and, after getting to know them a bit, reciprocate their kindness, just like making friends anywhere. I am constantly on the look-out for those opportunities. My friends here have been extraordinarily good to me.
If you think you have a budget problem, look at it this way, the money Mexicans can save you by telling you what you should pay for things and referring service providers will pay itself many times over for the investment of a few tickets or a dinner out.
While those gestures, like an event or a meal are a great start, other gestures that cost nothing are equally appreciated.
One idea is providing a meeting place in your home. North Americans often have more spacious, less cluttered living spaces that are perfect for a book club or a holiday gathering.
Another great thing to contribute is help with their English practice. In Mexico, many people you meet will be trying to improve their English.
The children of all of my Mexican friends are studying English, which enhances their future employment opportunities and likelihood of getting into some schools. Offer to take some time to help them.
Adults themselves are interested in learning English because it’s an activity they can share with their children and like me, they find learning a second language empowering and intellectually stimulating.
If they are taking formal English classes in Mexico, you will be amazed how terrible their resources usually are.
One of the nice things you can do for anyone learning English is to have at your disposal a list of free online tools (especially phone apps) to help them.
Some are language learning sites that I researched and cover in my book the “ Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online” also have tools to learn English. Others here are ones used by my Spanish exchange Skype partners.
Share the list with the friends you’ve made who are learning English, or keep it for when you do make friends who need fresh tools.
Mansioningles.com - Recommended by one of my language exchange partners inValencia, Spain, is comprehensive enough that he says it's all he uses (and his English is quite good).
Digital Dialects - great for beginners, the U.S. site uses games to teach basic vocabulary in 80 languages.
Duolingo - Also for rank beginners, the most popular online tool for beginner Spanish students is also available for those learning English. The bite-sized lessons use lots of repetition. Gaming elements keep up the pressure to learn.
You can compete with friends, too making it a little like having a study partner. This one is good to gain enough basic vocabulary to form easy sentences and where many people start.
LingQ - A bit more advanced, this is terrific free program with lessons from beginner to advanced, usually in the form of a story to read, with a vocabulary lookup feature. You simply highlight the word to get the meaning.
Lyrics Training - teaches English through music and lyrics to popular songs. The song video is broken up with subtitles in English to follow along. Song artists include Adele, Green Day, Evanescence, Maroon Five and The Chainsmokers and Halsey.
Quizlet - One of my go-to’s when I have 15 minutes to kill for vocabulary, students post lists of vocabulary words or terms of the language they are learning. The program enables you to manipulate the list into flashcard games and other tests-made-fun. Studies have shown you learn three times more from tests than from studying.
Readlang - Readlang’s best feature is its library. Students learning English can select stories in at their level. The program allows 10 free word-look ups per lesson.
Edufone English Podcasts - Now only available on Itunes, these are wonderful little five minute audio lessons formatted with an English Speaker and a native Spanish speaker narrating a scene from everyday life.
For example, “Maria gets Married.” A paragraph of the story is narrated in English, then repeated Spanish. Totally unique in its format, you begin to understand how to practice the language without word for word translation. The diction of the speakers is very helpful for pronunciation.
BUSUU - For intermediates, BUSUU has both language lessons and online language exchange. This site will help English learners with their writing, as the site emphasizes language exchange. They can find language partners, write in the second language, get corrected by native speakers and correct others’ writing for points. Also has mobile app.
My Language Exchange, Conversation Exchange and Language for Exchange are all sites to facilitate finding native speakers to practice with. Generally you speak half the time in one language and half in the other.
Once a person is at beginner intermediate level, exchange partners are an absolute non-negotiable for anyone really seeking to be conversant unless they have daily access to native speakers.
Memrise - The Memrise community of students submits language lesson plans to share. Most of the lesson plans concentrate of vocabulary. Phone app available too. It’s a more visual site for the YouTube crowd.
Linguee - Is a phrase look-up tool that comes in very handy for speaking and writing.
My new absolute favorite: Fast Brain TV on YouTube by Hector Codonero.
Any more-advanced English learner will tell you what a nightmare phrasal verbs are for them. They give my exchange partners in Spain fits. Examples of phrasal verbs are:
- I hung out with him.
- He brought up the subject.
- I worked through the problem.
- It went off the charts.
English uses literally hundreds of phrasal verbs. It seems like half the English language consists of them and it drives English learners crazy, mainly because hey are told they just have to memorize them, hundreds of them. Impossible.
Hector Codonero has a multi-video series on his easier system. He gives all his lessons in rapid-fire native Spanish, is young, knit-capped and guay (Mexican, Chilian maybe?) and very fun to watch.
With just a little imagination and resourcefulness you can make friends of all ages in Mexico as an expat.
Related Links: Sometimes it only takes a joke or a toast in Spanish to keep things moving.
The secret to making friends in Mexico? Start with one.
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Hi, I am a partner with Ventanas Mexico and author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online." Go to any expat forum and you will see people advising you to get started on your Spanish before moving to Mexico. Use this tool to learn pain-free with unique lesson plans every day.
Recently released: "If Only I Had a Place" with my system of systematically renting well as an aspiring expat.