Many of us drive long commutes to and from work five (or more) days per week. Does this time have to be wasted? Or can we put it to better use, perhaps by studying Spanish while driving?
Luckily, there are many ways to liven up your commute and make it a more productive part of your day. In this article, I’ll go through some of the best options for learning Spanish while driving.
Safety first. If you’re driving, your attention needs to be primarily on the road. Here are some tips to help you learn Spanish while driving safely:
- Don’t try to use a program that requires frequent pausing, repeating, typing, looking at images, or other actions from you.
- Don’t choose a super involved or challenging program. You don’t want to be so focused on your language lesson that you start missing exits. Instead, your commute might be a great time to brush up on yesterday’s lesson, to practice simply repeating after a native speaker, or to enjoy listening to music. The precise program and lesson you choose of course depends on your level, but I recommend saving the super challenging stuff for when you’re back home.
- Obviously don’t watch videos while driving.
I mostly recommend using your commute as a supplement to your main Spanish study. Learning challenging new concepts takes a good deal of concentration and can compromise your driving. Instead, use your commute to review.
If you learn some Spanish songs, your commute is also a great time to listen to them and sing along!
Once your Spanish is more advanced, you can enjoy listening to Spanish-language podcasts or audiobooks. Again, I recommend choosing podcasts or books that you find relatively easy to understand.
Now that I’ve covered safety, I’ll move on to some specific programs you might want to try!
First up, there are plenty of audio-based programs that you can play in your car.
Pimsleur is a popular one, with audio-based lessons of half an hour each. Pimsleur courses tend to move pretty slowly and have a lot of repetition, so many learners find that the level of concentration demanded is ideal for driving.
Rocket Spanish is another great program offering audio lessons, each about 20 to 30 minutes. These lessons open with an engaging Spanish conversation, and the hosts then discuss the conversation in detail, breaking down each element and prompting you to repeat words and phrases.
Language Transfer’s Complete Spanish is another high-quality audio program—and it’s free! This platform is the creation of language enthusiast Mihalis Eleftheriou, who has devoted considerable time to finetuning his courses and method.
There’s even a program called Behind the Wheel Spanish! I like this program for commutes because, well, it was designed just for this purpose. It’s pretty simple, introducing a phrase (e.g. “What is your name?”) first in English and then in Spanish (¿Como te llamas?). You can repeat after the speaker to practice your pronunciation and help you remember everything.
Don’t be shy about speaking Spanish aloud while driving! That’s one of the best things about practicing in your car: You have a bit of privacy so you can work on your pronunciation without anyone else listening in.
Listening to Spanish podcasts is another good option for working on Spanish during your drive. Podcasts are one of my favorite ways to work on my listening comprehension and get a better ear for the Spanish language.
Notes in Spanish has lots of material at a variety of levels and on a wide range of topics, from shopping and money to useful conversation starters. As you listen along, you’ll hear examples of how Spanish is used in common real-life situations.
Then there’s Coffee Break Spanish, another fantastic podcast with episodes on all sorts of topics. If you’re a beginner, you’ll learn how to answer basic questions such as ¿Dónde vives? ¿De dónde eres? and ¿Cómo te llamas? If you’re more advanced, there’s plenty of content for you too, including a series chronicling the adventures of María and Alejandro.
Many, many commuters rely on audio books to alleviate the boredom of a long commute. Why not try one in Spanish? You may be able to pick up some Spanish audio books at your local library if you’re lucky.
Some audio books are crafted for novice learners, intended to teach the language. And others are simply awesome books in the Spanish language. You may also find Spanish translations of popular English-language books.
Pick something appropriate to your level and get listening! Audio books are easy to find nowadays through resources such as Audible, Loyal Books, and Libro Móvil. There are so many to choose from that you’re sure to find one that piques your interest.
Spanish-language music is incredibly popular, and you can find all sorts of amazing songs to enjoy. I’m a big fan of bachata music myself and will listen to anything by Romeo Santos and Prince Royce. “Colgando en tus manos” by Carlos Baute is another of my favorites.
Other big names: Shakira, Luis Fonsi, Enrique Iglesias, Marc Anthony…The list is pretty much endless. For some inspiration, check out this list of Billboard’s Top 50 Latin songs of all time.
I suggest taking the time to learn the words (and meanings) of a few of your favorite songs. The phrases and idioms you learn will be permanently stuck in your head. Songs are also great because you often pick up on new details every time you listen.
Depending on where you live, you might be able to listen to local Spanish-language radio stations. If you’re a total beginner, you probably won’t get too much out of this, but if you’re intermediate level and up, it’s worth tuning in.
You might end up listening to the news, a morning show, sports updates, music, or who knows what else!
Set your GPS to Spanish
I only recommend this if your Spanish is good enough that you can understand directions! Otherwise, it’s likely to be an exercise in frustration and wrong turns. Alternatively, turn your GPS on for a route you already know well (e.g. the commute you drive every day), and let the Spanish language instructions narrate what you’re doing.
How much Spanish can you learn while driving?
I think it would be hard to reach advanced fluency solely via studying while driving. People tend to learn best when they are actively engaged and fully concentrated, which is simply impossible when you’re behind the wheel.
Make an effort to allot some time each week to Spanish study outside the car as well. Perhaps 20 minutes per day when you’re at home in the evening. During this dedicated study time, you can work through a comprehensive Spanish program such as Rocket or Pimsleur and introduce yourself to new words, phrases, and concepts.
During this time, you can also do activities that require reading or writing: Read a Spanish novel, write sentences using new vocabulary, or try out a crossword puzzle.
Then, use the time in your car to reinforce, review, and practice listening and speaking aloud.
Long commutes can be a major drag. Don’t let all that time go to waste! Reclaim it for yourself, whether by listening to your favorite Spanish songs or following along with a Spanish podcast.
Results might come more slowly, since you’re busy driving and can’t devote your full attention to language learning. However, never underestimate the power of consistency and repetition.
Think of all the time you spend in a car each year. Let’s say your commute is one hour total every day, five days a week, and you work 50 weeks out of the year. That’s 250 hours per year.
With slow and steady progress on a regular basis, you’ll make serious improvements. Buena suerte, and happy driving!