The Poor Bastard’s Guide to

Learning Spanish
How I LearnedSpanish

By Ramses Oudt

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FOREWORD ........................................................................................................................... 3
ABOUT ME............................................................................................................................. 4
DREAMING ABOUT SPANISH .............................................................................................. 5
FIRST WEEKS OF COLLEGE ................................................................................................. 6
FINDING NEW METHODS .................................................................................................... 8
GOING SPANISH ONLY ..................................................................................................... 10
HAVING FUN CHANGED ME ............................................................................................. 12
IGNORING GRAMMAR ....................................................................................................... 14
HOW USING AN SRS HELPED ME REMEMBERING THINGS ........................................ 16
CONCLUSION ..................................................................................................................... 19

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Hello and thank you for downloading this free eBook. I’ve written this
eBook to give you an overview of how I learned Spanish, how you can
learn Spanish as well, and what to look out for when learning Spanish
or any other language.
I decided to keep this eBook short so that it doesn’t waste your
precious time you could be spending on Spanish. I also tried to answer
some of the most frequently asked questions I get.
In short: my language learning method is quite different than most
methods. It’s not unique, it’s not new, but it’s simply a method not
many people use. It includes a home-based immersion environment,
not studying grammar and just having fun learning Spanish.
Many people think that in order to learn a language well, you have to
go to the country where they speak that language. I always thought this
was a myth, and I busted it twice: once learning English to fluency and
once learning Spanish to fluency.
I’ve never been to an English speaking country but still speak it with a
good accent and I have no trouble writing in English as if it were my
native tongue.
As for Spanish: I lived in Spain for a brief period, but learned mostly at
home in the Netherlands. While learning Spanish I finally realized that
getting a lot of input and having fun is the key to getting fluent in any

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My name is Ramses Oudt and
I’m a college student and part-
time teacher. I was born and
raised in Hoorn, a city about
20 kilometers north of
Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
In fact, I was never a fan of
foreign languages and was
happy with my English skills
(the only foreign language I
learned when I was a kid)
until some years ago.
But somewhere in March 2007 I decided I wanted to learn something
new, another language. I tried Russian, and failed. I tried Arabic, and
failed again. The main problem was that I didn’t really have any
motivation to learn those languages and didn’t know where to start. So
in March 2007 I decided to major in Spanish and become a teacher.
For almost three years now I’ve been writing my own blog about
learning Spanish and sharing my thoughts on language learning in
general. The blog is very concise, but I wanted to offer you something
more, more details and in one nice to read format.
In this free eBook I’ll explain how I started learning Spanish, how that
went, and how I really learned Spanish. I strongly believe that
everyone can learn any language, as long as you use the right method,
put in enough time and are motivated.

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This whole adventure started with the fact that I wasn’t happy with my
studies in 2007. At that time I was majoring in Network Engineering
and I didn’t see myself working for some big corporation and doing
nothing more than working with computers instead of with real
So I turned to a good friend of mine for advice. He told me that he
always thought of me being the perfect teacher. Coming from a family
of teachers this didn’t sound weird to me at all. But what would I
teach? Network Engineering? No way! I needed something new,
something fresh.
Again I asked that friend for advice and he asked me what I liked and
what I had done in the past. He knew I tried learning other languages
but failed. So he suggested looking for a language I really wanted to
learn and study that.
So I surfed the internet, looking for colleges that were offering both
language and teacher training programs, and eventually saw a Spanish
program which would be perfect for me. You have to realize that I
didn’t speak a word of Spanish at that time and that I was mainly
looking for a cool subject to teach that would also enable me to earn
enough money to live from.
Over the next weeks I thought a lot about learning Spanish and
eventually teaching it, so I decided to just go for it and fill in an
application form for that college. Some weeks later I received a letter
stating that I had been accepted for the Spanish program.
I was so happy that I immediately started buying courses to learn
Spanish, downloading music in Spanish, and getting movies in Spanish.
But I never really used them; it was more dreaming I did than actually
learning something.
And dreaming it stayed until the first day of Spanish classes began. Of
course I tried to do more, like learning some standard phrases and
such, but it just didn’t work and the first day of Spanish class I still
didn’t speak a word of Spanish.
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The first weeks of college were close to what must be hell. Everything
was in Spanish, even the classes that were supposed to be lectured in
Dutch. No, it wasn’t funny to sit there and not be able to even
understand one word.
Every day I would come home with my head hurting and without any
energy left to prepare myself for the classes the day after. So what did I
do? I’d watch television, a lot. But none of that television watching was
done in Spanish. No, instead I chose to “reward” myself for sitting
through all those classes in Spanish.
I’d watch movies in English, in Dutch, in German, but not in Spanish. If I
was watching something in Spanish it would be subtitled. Still, I
thought I was learning some great amount of Spanish. After all: I
already could say something and knew a bunch of verbs and how you
have to conjugate them.
When the first week of exams was approaching I panicked. I didn’t
know what to do, nor did I know what to study or where to start. So I
just opened my grammar books and started cramming all the verb
tables, all the spelling rules, all the irregular verbs, structurally
ignoring the example sentences.
If I would just learn all the rules and a bunch of words I’d be fine, I’d
pass the test. Unfortunately I didn’t. I didn’t pass a single test. Even
worse, I wasn’t even able to give a correct answer for a great majority
of the questions asked.
I became depressed, without knowing what to do next. So I decided to
cram more, but just taking more time for every tense. And it kind of
worked. In the end I was dreaming about Spanish verb tenses. When I
got up in the morning I used to think about Spanish verb tenses, and I
could draw every table from memory.
But did I speak Spanish? I was trying to speak it, but my accent was
shipwrecked and every sentence had at least two or three errors in it.
So no, I didn’t speak Spanish.
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And still, I believed that these college classes were helping me. I
wanted to believe that they would eventually help so that I’d become a
fluent speaker of Spanish.
But the reality was that I found the
Spanish classes boring. It isn’t that
the professors weren’t putting effort
in it, and it wasn’t that I didn’t put
effort in it. It’s just that grammar-
centered lessons are fruitless, but I
was craving for more Spanish.
Some weeks later I had resits. I failed again, all tests. I was devastated.
I couldn’t believe that I had put in some two months of cramming and
wasn’t even able to pass a simple test.
At that time I wasn’t worrying about not being able to speak Spanish.
Instead, I was just looking for a way to pass tests. And I found that way,
and that way also helped me to learn real Spanish.

“I’d watch movies in English,
in Dutch, in German, but not
in Spanish. If I was watching
something in Spanish it would
be subtitled. Still, I thought I
was learning some great
amount of Spanish.”
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Because I felt my Spanish was going nowhere I was desperately
looking for a way to teach myself some Spanish to get back on track.
My initial plan was to learn enough Spanish myself to be able to
understand the classes in college and then just depend on their
Spanish program again. At that time I didn’t know that I’d become way
better at Spanish, and best of all: without the help of college.
To understand how other people learn languages, I decided to join the
forum How to Learn Any Language (HTLAL) and read other people’s
experiences learning Spanish and similar languages. It was clear that
there wasn’t some kind of magic trick to learn Spanish fast and the
people on the forum seemed to each have their own method.
So again I tried courses. First I tried Pimsleur, then the free FSI course,
then Barron’s Spanish course, then I tried making flashcards for
individual words, and eventually I tried Rosetta Stone.
It’s no surprise that I didn’t learn much and I felt really bad. So again I
consulted the HTLAL forum and read page after page after page.
Eventually I read something about this crazy dude called Khatzumoto.
Apparently, this Khatzumoto guy had taught himself Japanese within
18 months. The thread wasn’t specifically about his method, but rather
about one feature of it: flashcards. Someone stated that he had
memorized almost 10,000 flashcards. As if that wasn’t crazy enough;
he didn’t memorize 10,000 words, but 10,000 sentences.
I really thought this guy was either a scam or just crazy. 10,000
sentences? Who was he kidding? It’s impossible to learn 10,000 words
within 18 months, let alone 10,000 sentences!
Reading further I discovered he had a website called Again, I wasn’t impressed as I was looking
for a website to read about Spanish, not that Japanese language that
only nerds seem to like. But I kept my skepticism to myself and started
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It seemed that he didn’t invent this method himself, but rather
combined ideas from a linguist named Stephen D. Krashen and some
Poles who had started their own website called about
learning English.
I read for one week straight, neglecting most of my school work. I
couldn’t believe someone learned Japanese using this method, yet it
sounded so logical.

When we learned our native language we got massive input, then
practice, and eventually practiced our skills by learning about basic
grammar (but only after becoming fluent). This ‘AJATT’ (All Japanese
All The Time) method sounded like total immersion on steroids.
Did I immediately change my environment to create a real Spanish
environment in my own home? No, not really. Immersion seemed too
hardcore for me to do, and I couldn’t neglect my Dutch friends.
It wasn’t until I went to Spain for three weeks to practice my very basic
Spanish that I made a 180° turn and realized that something had to
I had already lost a huge amount of time trying to learn Spanish, so
now it was time to make up for that using the true immersion method
Khatzumoto and those crazy Poles propagated. I was ready to go
Spanish Only.

“I tried Pimsleur, then the free FSI course, then Barron’s
Spanish course, then I tried making flashcards for individual
words, and eventually I tried Rosetta Stone.
It’s no surprise that I didn’t learn much...”

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Going Spanish only wasn’t easy. In fact, it was really hard to do. I’m a
huge fan of punk rock and music from the sixties (Canned Heat,
Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, etc.) so it wasn’t easy to leave all that
behind. But I did.
I deleted all my mp3s that weren’t in Spanish, I gave away DVDs that
didn’t have a Spanish audio track, and basically changed everything
around me to Spanish. Magazines? Only in Spanish. Chatting online?
Only in Spanish. Having lunch at college? Only with my Spanish
speaking classmates.
It was really difficult as I still didn’t really understand much of the
Spanish in class or on television, but I just went on with it. Every day I
felt worse, thinking that it wouldn’t work, that I was doomed to fail.
And again, I just went on with it.
I used to spend at least four to five hours watching television in
Spanish per day during that period. At first I thought it wasn’t working,
but somehow it did. I began to understand more and more, but still
wasn’t enjoying most shows. I missed those Hollywood shows I used
to watch in English.
At that point I didn’t know that pretty much every Hollywood
production is available in a dubbed version as well. Luckily I soon
discovered Friends in Spanish, then Dawson’s Creek and other shows I
used to watch.
But because it was really hard for me to get those on DVD (and because
I had a limited amount of money in the bank) I turned to ‘piracy’
(officially it’s still not forbidden to download in the Netherlands). I
thank the great people of for all the work they’ve put in
putting all kind of shows and movies online, in Spanish.
Still, it wasn’t easy to switch to dubbed shows as over the years I had
gotten used to the actors’ voices. But still, instead of watching
materials I’d never seen, I’d watch movies I’d seen countless times
before. And that worked.
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Because I already knew the story I could easily pick up words and
expressions, words and expressions that would’ve taken me weeks and
lots of work to understand. Now it was enough to see a movie once and
understand a lot of the story. But because I liked the movies, I just
watched them over and over again, further ingraining the grammar
and vocabulary.
On the way I had some minor breakdowns in which I’d return to
English for a while and didn’t do as much Spanish as I wanted to. But
the longer I succeeded at just keeping things Spanish, the more I
noticed it became easier to do so.
In the end it was weird to do things
in English or Dutch. I just preferred
things to be in Spanish. Movies,
shows, magazines, books, music, and
above all, conversations. My family
called me crazy, but my Spanish
speaking friends were praising me for the rapid progress I was making.
I was on fire.
Really, I recommend anyone going Spanish only as soon as possible.
Don’t look back to your English-language environment, there is actual
fun in Spanish, you just need to find it. For me it was important to have
shows and movies in Spanish that I really liked, otherwise I’d still be
some random guy from the Netherlands that spoke English and Dutch
pretty well but no other language at all.
Now that I speak Spanish I have so much fun and it has definitely
opened a whole new world to me. All thanks to going Spanish only.
Finally, there’s one more thing that I want to talk about with you. You
know what that is? Having FUN!

“I thank the great people of for all the work
they’ve put in putting all kind
of shows and movies online, in
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I grew up with English classes, French classes and eventually German
classes. I’d always liked English, it was like my second mother tongue.
I’d watch movies in English, shows in English, listen to music in
English, read books in English and speak in English with other people
as much as I could.
But by going to English class in high school my love for English cooled
down a bit. Lots of grammar rules were thrown at me, and I didn’t
understand even one of them. French was a hell, and don’t get me
started about German. No, I didn’t like my language classes in high
Unfortunately, by the time I started with Spanish, I thought it would be
necessary to go to class or at least do some course to learn this cool
language. So I got myself several courses to start learning it (see the
chapter Finding New Methods) and eventually went to college, but
there was just no fun in learning Spanish this way.
In the end I thought it’d be best to just quit this Spanish experiment
and look for a ‘real job’, like Network Engineer. I was so wrong at that
point, but I didn’t realize it back then. So I just went on with the classes,
punishing myself for every day I didn’t make clear progress.
I had lost one thing out of sight: having fun. I was already reading
Khatzumoto’s blog, but didn’t capture one all important thing: having
fun is essential.
Before going Spanish only I really thought that classes were the only
way to go. I’d never thought of having fun as a substitute. So I just
followed my professors’ advice and never went further than they told
me to go.
But then it struck me: what if these people
around the internet were right? That having
fun could really be a substitute for classes?
That going Spanish only really was possible
and that it would be the best way to learn
Spanish? Yeah, that would be really cool.
“I didn’t capture
one all important
thing: having fun
is essential.”
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Although going Spanish only helped me tremendously, if it wasn’t for
having fun I would’ve never learned this cool language.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned in these three years is that when people
talk bad about you (your methods, the time you put into learning
Spanish, your passion), it still doesn’t matter.
We’re here to learn Spanish for various reasons. My reason was to have
a goal in life; teaching kids this great language with a rich culture. But it
was also about enjoying the process of learning the language, of getting
to know that culture myself. I’d lost that out of sight.
Having fun really changed me. Because I spend so much time on
learning Spanish, it’s just impossible to see language learning as a
chore. I need to feel happy when doing it. It also made my classes
better; I’ve grown as a teacher. When I’m in front of a class full of
young kids, they feel my enthusiasm. They see I love this language and
that I enjoy helping them getting better at it.
I urge you to do the same. I’ve written this eBook to tell you how I
learned Spanish, but above all to tell you that you shouldn’t think that
classes are the only way to go. Some classes are great, with great
teachers who help you get better at Spanish instead of just trying to
throw a huge amount of grammar at you. But unfortunately most aren’t
that good.
I wanted to tell you that you can learn Spanish on your own. And you
can. Just keep in mind that it doesn’t come easy, you do have to work.
But changing your environment to a Spanish environment does
wonders. Add having fun to that and you’re set to become fluent.

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One of the most heard complains about learning another language is
that it’s just too hard to learn another grammar. Many people don’t
understand the terms used in grammars and generally find it very
boring and confusing to do all kind of grammar exercises.
I was no exception. Being in college, majoring in a foreign language,
means going to grammar class and drilling all kind of verb tenses, rules
for adjectives, adverbs, nouns, word order, etc. In fact, I used to have
three(!) classes where I was exposed to grammar exercises. No wonder
I wanted to quit this Spanish thing as soon as I started it.
Luckily, some articles by Stephen D. Krashen changed my view on
grammar and made me believe that it’s possible for adults to learn the
way a language works (the grammar) through exposure.
So instead of going to grammar class, I’d spend more time on getting
Spanish input. One thing I did do was learn the example sentences in
the grammar books I had to study. This meant spending a lot of time
with my grammar books, without actually studying them.
My classmates were flabbergasted when I told them I didn’t study and
that I was learning Spanish like babies learn their mother tongue (with
the exception that I was reading a lot). They said it was plain stupid to
not study grammar, because it leaves someone with broken language.
Anyway, about six months later, after learning lots of example
sentences and getting loads of input, I was able to speak in a
grammatically correct way. Again, my classmates were amazed when
they heard me talking after the summer holidays. No one had
progressed this much, and they thought I was lying about not studying
Still, the fact was that I hadn’t studied any grammar apart from the first
months in college. After that, I only took in, only used the example
sentences in textbooks, and just never worried about grammar.

Page| 15
It took me about two years to finally
study grammar again. I felt that I hit a
point where I was understanding pretty
much everything that was thrown at me,
that I was able to express myself well, but
that certain structures were still too
advanced for me.
That was the point I got out my grammar
books again and started reading the
explanations for very advanced
grammatical structures. I didn’t
memorize any of these explanations, I just read them. Then, I’d add the
example sentences to my SRS (read the last chapter to see what an SRS
is) and review the sentence in question every few days.
This helped me a lot as I was able to put the structures in practice after
just reading the explanation two or three times and learning and
reviewing the example sentence.
Still, this was only possible because I already had a feel for the
language. I tried learning grammar right at the beginning, and I failed.
Later on I more or less studied advanced grammar, and used examples
to reinforce the structures. But without being fluent already, I would’ve
never been able to learn those advanced structures.
So if you’re planning on learning Spanish on your own as well, just
ignore the grammar entirely. I know it sounds good to learn all the
verb endings and rules for gender, etc., but the fact is that it’s of no use
in the beginning and that you’ll learn those structures through
immersion anyway.
Then, only when you’re fluent, read the rules, but don’t memorize them.
It’ll just make so much more sense, and at that point reading about the
rules won’t confuse you but will rather help you to get better.

“Luckily, some articles by
Stephen D. Krashen
changed my view on
grammar and made me
believe that it’s possible
for adults to learn the
way a language words
(the grammar) through
exposure to the
Page| 16
SRS stands for Spaced Repetition System. You could compare an SRS to
flashcards, with the difference that the user has no direct control over
which cards to review. Instead, you give feedback to the software for
each item you see, after which it calculates how often you need to see
that specific item in order to learn it.
Using an SRS is all about not forgetting things. It isn’t really to
memorize things, as that is often done in another way. This means that
you see a sentence, memorize its parts (words you don’t know,
grammar you don’t understand yet, etc.), put it in your SRS, after which
you won’t forget it.
I’ve been using an SRS for over two years to remember certain words
and grammatical patterns. It didn’t serve as a replacement for raw
input, but it did reinforce things I had problems with. Understanding
the past tenses in Spanish isn’t easy, and drilling it by doing grammar
exercises doesn’t work. Instead, I’d add sentences to Anki (the SRS
software I use) to help me get a feeling for Spanish grammar.
Adding only sentences to an SRS is very important. I started out with
reviewing single word items, and learning grammar on the side.
However, that causes you to think about grammar, which is bad (well,
maybe not really bad, but it’s not something that you want to happen).
I tackled this by getting a lot of input and not worrying about grammar,
but I still was forgetting certain things and didn’t have a feeling for a
bunch of past tenses in Spanish.
That’s where the “sentence method” helped me. I discovered this
method on the AJATT blog and it sounded logical right away. It isn’t
that you memorize 10,000 sentences (the number Khatzumoto
recommends), but you review them many times, burning the
grammatical pattern and words in your brain.
It’s easy to go extreme with this method, as it looks like studying. Many
people think that studying is the only way to learn a language well, and
I thought the same. I’d spend 3 to 4 hours per day adding sentences,
reviewing them, and adding some more sentences. I was so obsessed
with my SRS that it wasn’t funny anymore.
Page| 17
So, although I recommend that everyone uses Anki or another SRS, you
have to be careful to not go overboard with it. Using an SRS is a
supplement to your study. Adding and reviewing sentences using an
SRS shouldn’t take up more than one hour per day; the rest is reserved
for input. Input is the only way to really learn a language, the SRS is
only suited to reinforce the things you already know.
This is what an item looks like in my deck:

After about 500 sentences I switched over to Spanish-Spanish items,
where the ‘back’ of the card would be a short explanation in Spanish,
the definition of certain unknown words, etc.:

It’s easy to add everything you see, as you probably want to remember
everything. However, if you’re getting a lot of input in the form of
television, music and books, adding everything you encounter to your
SRS isn’t necessary. In fact, there are many people who have become
Hay descuento en los viajes para la tercera edad.
Descuento es una rebaja.

Las personas que son de la tercera edad no tienen que trabajar
porque tienen más de 65 años.
No quiero verte.
Not want [I] see-you.
I don't want to see you.
"No" always comes before the verb.
"Quiero" is the first person singular (present) of "querer".
"Ver" means "to see" (verb)
"Te" refers to "you".

Page| 18
fluent in a language without ever using an SRS or flashcards. Still, I
strongly believe that using an SRS can speed up your language
learning, simply because you’re “attacking” your brain on several
An SRS is a slave, not a master. Don’t
fall into the trap I fell in. There was a
time that I only added new sentences
to my SRS, reviewed them, and never
got enough input to really keep
myself going.
In case you’ve limited time, go for
input first. An SRS is to reinforce the
things you already know, but what if
you’re not learning new things? You
can’t depends on software like Anki
to teach you new things, you learn
new stuff by watching television,
listening to music, reading books, and
looking up unknown words in the
I’ve written a lot about using an SRS on my blog, so be sure to check
out these articles:
1. What’s an SRS?

2. I Have an SRS, Now What?

3. How to Learn a Language From Scratch Without Studying

4. What Sentences Do I Add To My SRS?

5. Frequently Asked Questions About Sentences

6. Writing Down Your Sentences
“Although I recommend
everyone to use Anki or
another SRS, you have to be
careful to not go overboard
with it. Using an SRS is a
supplement to your study.
Adding and reviewing
sentences using an SRS
shouldn’t take up more than
one hour per day; the rest is
reserved for input. Input is the
only way to really learn a
language, the SRS is only
suited to reinforce the things
you already know.”
Page| 19
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this free eBook. I’ve tried to keep it
short and easy to read while communicating the most important ideas
and lessons that I’ve learned.
Don’t forget to visit my blog I update it regularly
and you can participate in the comments section in the various
discussions we have going on. In the past two years I’ve learned a lot
about language learning from my readers, so don’t be afraid to
I’d also like to use this last page to say thanks to some of the greatest
language bloggers out there. Without them I couldn’t have done all this,
including writing my blog and this eBook.
Thomas Hjelm and Peter Carroll of and They’ve been an inspiration and are always there to
help me with my blog and other projects. These guys are great!
Khatzumoto of He has been something
like a mentor to me, although he probably didn’t know that until
recently. Because of him I became serious about learning Spanish.
Thanks mate!
Tomasz P. Szynalski and Michal Ryszard Wojcik of
These guys probably don’t know me, but their site has been a great
source of information for both me and thousands of other people.
Again, if it weren’t for them I would’ve never learned Spanish this
John Biesnecker of This fantastic guy mostly helped
me during my short Mandarin experiment, but I’ve learned a lot from
him about learning languages in general and becoming better at using
an SRS.
My readers over at I’ve learned so much from
them, especially in the comments, that I can’t thank you enough.
Please, please, keep sharing your experiences and commenting at my
blog. I really appreciate your input!
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