The study explored how Spanish is learnt at a South African university by analysing students’ self-reports on the use of language learning strategies. A mixed methods design was used. Considering that learning a foreign language poses particular and distinct challenges (as opposed to learning a second language), special attention was paid to aspects related to the learners’ ability to learn and the actions that they undertake to self-regulate their learning. The study found that the most frequently used strategies as perceived by students were compensation and metacognitive strategies. However, the study only found a statistically significant positive correlation between the perceived use of metacognitive strategies and the final marks received in the beginners’ course. Students who intended to continue studying Spanish also reported using statistically significantly more metacognitive strategies than those who eventually passed the beginners’ course but did not continue.