How To Learn Spanish
Welcome to Spanish, the beautiful and rhythmic language spoken by nearly 430 million people around the world. It's an official, national, or widely spoken language in 44 countries, including the United States. Believe it or not, the United States has recently been cited as the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, after Mexico.
It's never been a better time to start learning Spanish. Now that you've decided to learn this widely spoken language, you may be wondering where to start. After all, learning a language like Spanish is both an amazing and challenging process that requires plenty of dedication, motivation, and helpful learning tools.
Here at Rocket Languages, we'd like to help you on your Spanish learning journey. We'd like to provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to learn Spanish the best way possible.
Step 1: Make a Game Plan
No great achievement ever happens overnight, and learning Spanish is no different. The first step to learn Spanish is to make some smart, realistic goals to help yourself organize your time and plan your studies.
Here are a few tips:
Make SMART Goals
Your New Year's Resolution may be to "learn Spanish," but what does that actually mean? Vague final goals like this are both frustrating and unproductive. After all, how will you know when--and if--this goal is ever achieved? Instead, try making some SMART goals.
SMART goals, as advocated in world of management, are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. In order to best apply this concept to your Spanish studies, it's recommended that you become a little familiar with the European Common Framework that defines the different language levels.
Here's a quick breakdown of the Framework and levels:
Breakthrough or Beginner
Way Stage or Elementary
Threshold or Intermediate
Vantage or Upper Intermediate
Effective Operational Proficiency
Mastery or Proficiency
On average, many speakers are considered "fluent" in a language by the time they've reached a B2 level or higher, a level which allows them to comfortably interact in almost all social situations.
Aiming for a B2 level of a language is therefore a more specific and results-focused goal, and, thanks to the criteria provided by the Common European Framework of Reference, it's also measureable. It's much more attainable than aiming for the vague notion of "fluency" (which, seems to elude even fluent speakers!). It can easily be made time-bound by keeping in mind the criteria needed for each level and making yourself a schedule with your goals in mind.
Make a study plan
Now that you have some realistic goals in mind, it's time to make a study plan. A study plan will help you to organize and maximize your time, keep motivated, set goals, and make sure your brain gets the repetition and structure it needs.
Consider it your very own, personalized plan de ataque.
Before you can make a great plan, however, there are four things you need to keep in mind:
- How much time you can dedicate to learning Spanish. You should ideally set aside a little bit of time to study Spanish every day, although this time may vary. Even just 10 minutes a day can be helpful, but keep in mind that the more time you can dedicate, the better.
- You Spanish learning goals. Would you like to dedicate an equal amount of time to all language learning skills? Or are you more interested in speaking and listening than reading and writing? If you plan to prioritize some skills over others, make sure to incorporate this into your plan.
- Your deadlines. This also plays a major role in determining how much time you should dedicate to learning. If you need to learn Spanish as fast as possible for an upcoming trip or move, then you will need to dedicate as much time as possible to learning the language.
- Your resources. What resources do you have available? Fortunately, we have more Spanish learning resources at our fingertips than ever before. Take advantage of as many resources as possible when making your study plan. The more interactive and fun, the better!
With this in mind, you're ready to make your personalized study plan. Here's what it should include:
- A detailed description of each activity.
- Start and stop times for each activity.
- A description of the skill(s) you are practicing.
- As many fun, varied and motivating activities as possible.
Try and make sure your learning time is free of distractions and your workspace is organized. Schedule short breaks to keep yourself motivated when you're in the middle of long study sessions. Most importantly, have fun with it!
Step 2: Start with Sounds
Once you have a realistic, smart plan for approaching language study, it's time to dig in and start to get your hands dirty.
But where should you even begin?
Spend some time just focusing on Spanish sounds and spelling so that they're longer foreign to you. Work on identifying the letters and pronouncing all of the sounds that differ from English sounds.
Listen to pronunciation guides on YouTube, watch movies or series with subtitles in Spanish and read along, or use the Rocket Spanish voice recognition software to learn to recognize and repeat sounds.
Step 3: Learn Some Basic Vocabulary
The next step is to start recognizing and memorizing vocabulary words. There are several great tips for making the best of your vocabulary learning:
Keep it Practical
Learning Spanish requires learning a lot of new words. There's no way around it.
Many people use their "bad memory" as an excuse for not learning a new language, but we have some comforting news for these people (and even those with great memories): you don't need to know all--or even the majority--of the Spanish words to be able to speak it well. In fact, you don't even need to know half!
There are an estimated 383,000 words in the Spanish language, but the average native speaker has a passive vocabulary (words they can recognize) of about 40,000 words and an active vocabulary (words they use) of less than 20,000. And in Spanish, the average speaker can communicate in most situations with just 300 words.
That's right, only 300 words!!
Just 300 words make up 65% of all written and spoken materials. There are approximately 625 words and their forms that can help you to go beyond a beginner level in any language, and 1,500 that can have you communicating at an advanced level.
So what does that mean for you as a Spanish learner?
By learning the practical words first, you can cut your work in less than half. You'll be able to communicate faster and with significantly less effort.
Here are the 1,000 most common words in Spanish.
Meanwhile, here's a few to get you started:
Learn practical vocabulary first, and save yourself lots of time and effort!
Your Friends Cognates
Almost all European languages share countless cognates with English thanks to their shared roots, history, and evolution. Take the English words "action," "tradition," and "communication," for example. If you change that ending to -ción, you have the same words in Spanish.
These cognates are your friends and can make your language learning much easier and faster.
Here's a handy list of 1001 Spanish words you already know thanks to cognates.
Take advantage of them!
Step 3: Dive into Grammar
Now that you've got the Spanish sounds down as well as some basic vocabulary, it's time to start tackling grammar.
Don't worry! We'll help make it as fun as possible.
Here are a few things that can help:
Keep it Practical and Live in the Present
Just like with vocabulary, it's important to make sure you learn the most practical Spanish verbs first. These are the verbs that you use the most in your everyday life. Instead of plunging into all of the different and complicated conjugations, make your life easier by learning the present tense first.
Start by learning the present tense of the five most practical Spanish verbs:
Then, start to learn the patterns for the verbs with regular -ar ending, which is one of the easiest endings to learn. Some of these verbs include:
Break Down the Grammar
Grammar provides the rules for the game in a language. It helps us tell a story. While Spanish grammar may seem complex, it can actually be broken down into three basic operations:
- Adding words (You are learning Spanish > Are you learning Spanish?)
- Changing existing words (I learn Spanish > I learned Spanish)
- Changing the order of words (Spanish is fun> Is Spanish fun?)
That's it. That's not too bad, right?
Keeping this in mind, we can use the grammar explanations we learn to help us break down the rules into easily memorized chunks.
When studying verb tenses, for example, practice saying the same sentence using every different pronoun in the same tense. Then, practice changing the sentence into a negative sentence and into a question. Later, you can then practice saying the same sentence in different tenses with the same pronoun, in the negative form, in the question form, etc. You can even make your own flash cards to help you with this.
This is a great way to break down rules and make them easier to memorize.
Step 4: Practice, Practice, Practice
Finally, the cliché saying that "practice makes perfect" has never been more true than in the language learning world. Learning Spanish involves a lot of practice, but there are a few great tips to practice without even needing a passport.
Read, Watch, Listen
Movies, music, television series, books, newspapers, magazines and anything you can read, watch, or listen to are unbelievably useful for learning.
Reading, watching and listening has a remarkable effect on your brain. Simply by being exposed to Spanish, your brain is put to work. It starts trying to understand new words by making connections to previously learned words and seeks to make sense of any new structures. Basically, you're learning without feeling like you're learning. After a while, you'll find yourself using Spanish words and constructions that you didn't even study thanks to your brain's ability to soak up vocabulary and grammar while reading a book or watching a series.
One word of warning, though: if you really want to get useful grammar and vocabulary, make sure that what you're reading, watching or listening to is modern and in a dialect that you would like to learn.
Interact...Without Needing to Travel
Try to interact in Spanish on a daily basis. This can involve:
- Speaking with a Spanish-speaking friend, family member or neighbor in person
- Writing a letter to a friend, family member, or coworker in Spanish
- Writing a letter in Spanish to yourself or keeping a journal in Spanish
- Visiting a local store or neighborhood where Spanish is spoken and interacting with the locals
- Joining a weekly or monthly Spanish conversation group or starting your own group
- Speaking Spanish online with a friend, family member, coworker, or fellow language learner
- Writing an email in Spanish
- Contributing to a blog or forum in Spanish (Rocket Language has some great forums for this!)
- Singing along with Spanish music
- Watching a Spanish movie or series and repeating the character's lines (you can use Spanish subtitles to help)
- Reading a passage from a Spanish book, newspaper, or magazine out loud
- Talking to yourself in Spanish (this really works!)
Unlike other academic subjects, learning Spanish is a continuous, never-ending adventure that requires constant practice. Don't live in fear of making mistakes.
In the language learning world, mistakes are a sign of progress. Mistakes help you to learn faster. Don't worry about upsetting native Spanish speakers for being too "bold" and trying to speak with them in their native language. Don't worry if you say something that sounds a little strange. Just go for it!
Odds are, they'll love it and want to help you. Don't let fear get in your way. Interact in Spanish as much as possible, and you'll be amazed by the results.
No matter what, make sure to keep your studies fresh and fun. You'll stay motivated and learning Spanish will be faster, easier and more enjoyable than you expect!