Spanish for Beginners
¡Hola! Welcome to our guide to Spanish for beginners. Ah, Spanish, the language of love, literature and fascinating, beautiful sounds. If your Spanish knowledge is limited to the lyrics of “Despacito” or even “Macarena” and you've decided to learn Spanish, then we've got the perfect beginner's guide to Spanish for you.
In this article, we'll take a look at some Spanish and language learning basics to provide you with the strong foundation you need to start learning Spanish.
Resources for further reading:
If you've decided to learn Spanish or are thinking about learning Spanish, here's all the information you need to get started as a beginner.
Are you still looking for the right resource to learn Spanish online? Why don't you take an absolutely free trial of Rocket Spanish?
The beginner online Spanish course has interactive audio lessons, language & culture lessons and a pronunciation tool to perfect your accent.
Did I mention it's free? No credit card details required!
Why should you learn Spanish?
The first question that many language learners ask is why they should learn Spanish. After all, learning a new language requires a lot of dedication, and a little extra motivation goes a long way.
Here are some of the many reasons why you should learn Spanish:
It's one of the world's 15 most spoken languages. It's estimated that there are over 500 million Spanish speakers worldwide. This makes Spanish one of the top 10 most spoken languages in the world.
It's an extremely useful language for traveling the world. Spanish is spoken on 4 continents. From the streets of Madrid to the shores of Argentina, the islands of the Caribbean and everywhere in between, Spanish speakers can be found in North America, South America and the Caribbean, Europe, and even in a formerly Spanish-occupied part of Africa.
It's your entrance into Europe and international relations. Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in Europe. It's also both a working and official language of the United Nations, the European Union, UNESCO, NATO, the International Red Cross, international courts and the International Olympic Committee.
You'll be one of many fellow Spanish language learners. Spanish is taught on nearly every continent. This means that there are many, many Spanish learning resources out there and you'll have a wide network of other Spanish language learners for support.
It's a great career asset. Spanish is very useful in the business world since many multinational companies in a wide range of sectors use Spanish as their working language. Spain and Mexico are both among the top 20 biggest economies in the world. Spanish is essential for anyone interested in a career with an international organization like the ones we mentioned above.
It opens the door to a rich history and culture. Learning Spanish is your gateway into the fascinating Spanish-speaking world. You'll be able to access the great works of Spanish writers in their original versions, enjoy wonderful Spanish movies, and understand beautiful Spanish songs. This is true for any of the many places throughout the world where Spanish is spoken.
It expands your online world. Spanish is the third most used language on the internet. This means that knowing Spanish can help you find an alternative view of the world through communicating with the millions of Spanish speakers online.
It can help you learn other languages. Spanish is an excellent foundation for learning other similar, Latin-based languages. These include French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and even some English, since about one-third of modern English comes from Spanish. Believe it or not, learning Spanish will help you improve your English vocabulary!
It's easier to learn than you think. You may have heard that Spanish is a difficult language for English speakers to learn, but that's not really the case. Spanish is actually considered the easiest language for English speakers to learn. This is a big benefit if you're hoping to learn Spanish fast!
Learning a new language is really good for you. Learning a new language like Spanish has some incredible benefits for your mind and body. It can help your brain to grow, become sharper, multitask better and even delay the onset of dementia. Check out all of the benefits of learning a language for even more reasons why it's so great.
Now that you know why you should learn Spanish, let's take a look at some of the things you need to know before getting started.
The Spanish Learning Basics
Before learning Spanish, it's important to know a little bit about the language learning basics.
No, we're not talking about knowing how to say "hello," "thank you," and "one beer, please" (although this is helpful, of course). We're talking about knowing a little bit about how languages work and the basic parts of a language.
One of the first steps in learning a language is to learn a little bit about what makes up a language and the unique aspects of the language you want to learn (in this case, Spanish).
Let's take a look at some of the things you need to know before getting started:
The four Spanish skills
It's time to take a look at what it really means to learn a language. So what does learning Spanish involve?
Basically, learning Spanish involves learning four related skills:
- Reading Spanish
- Listening to spoken Spanish
- Speaking Spanish
- Writing in Spanish
Spanish pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary are keys to these skills.
The difficulty of each skill depends on the person. For many, reading in Spanish is easier than writing or speaking, but for some, speaking is the easiest. You'll discover what your strong points are as you start to learn the language.
As you can imagine, learning any one of these skills also helps you to learn the others. They're all very important if you want to become fluent in Spanish.
Give it a try!
If you're a Spanish beginner and are new to the language learning scene, we recommend giving our free Rocket Spanish trial a try.
This is a great way to see what it's like to learn Spanish online, how the lessons and activities work, and figure out how learning Spanish can fit into your life.
Get your feet wet and give learning Spanish online a try.
What do you think? It's kind of fun, isn't it?
If you're hooked on Spanish like we are, it's time to dig and start to learn it!
But where should you even begin?
Spanish for beginners: Where to start
Here at Rocket Languages, we'd like to help you on your Spanish learning journey by giving you a step-by-step guide on how to learn this beautiful language the best and easiest way possible.
1. Set SMART Goals
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.
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 the 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:
|Level Group||Group Name||Level||Level Name|
|A||Basic User||A1||Breakthrough or Beginner|
|A2||Way Stage or Elementary|
|B||Independent User||B1||Threshold or Intermediate|
|B2||Vantage or Upper Intermediate|
|C||Proficient User||C1||Effective Operational Proficiency|
|C2||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.
2. 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.
- Your 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!
3. 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 start?
The answer is simple: sounds. Learning how to hear, pronounce and spell Spanish sounds is a great place to get started even before you begin memorizing words and their meanings.
Unlike in English, the consistency between written and spoken Spanish is rather strong, which means that learning how to write and read in Spanish will help you master the spoken language. However, it’s still a good idea to get familiar with Spanish sounds before moving forward to the second stage and studying writing.
Standard Spanish contains the same 5 vowels as in English, but they’re all short. You also have to keep an eye out for accent marks to tell you where to put the stress in certain words, and while you’re at it, don’t forget about diphthongs, where two vowels combine to form a new sound. Crazy, right?
But don’t freak out—it’s just a matter of studying a little bit, listening to a ton of Spanish, and repeating the sounds until your tongue hurts.
Spend some time just focusing on Spanish sounds and spelling so that they are longer foreign to you.
Study the Spanish alphabet, work on identifying the letters and pronouncing all of the sounds that differ from English sounds.
Get started right here and practice pronouncing these basic Spanish words!
Practice Your Pronunciation With Rocket Record
Rocket Record lets you perfect your Spanish pronunciation. Just listen to the native speaker audio and then use the microphone icon to record yourself. Once you’re done, you’ll get a score out of 100 on your pronunciation and can listen to your own audio playback. (Use a headset mic for best results.) Problems? Click here!
See the whole Spanish alphabet here. You can also listen to pronunciation guides on YouTube, watch movies or series with subtitles in Spanish and read along to learn to recognize and repeat sounds.
4. 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!
Diccionario de la Real Academia Española, one of the biggest and most renowned dictionaries of the Spanish language, contains about 150,000 words.
Do you need to know them all?
Of course not! Don’t waste your time learning words and phrases that you'll never use.
Many experts believe that 300 words may be enough to carry on an everyday conversation in Spanish, which means that very little memorizing will do the work.
That's right, only 300 words!
So what does that mean for you as a Spanish learner?
By learning the 300 most common Spanish words first, you can cut your work in less than half. You'll be able to communicate faster and with significantly less effort.
However, it’s highly recommended that you gradually expand your vocabulary at least to the 1,000 most commonly used words in Spanish. With just 1,000 words, you'll be able to understand about 80% of written texts.
Here are some of the most common Spanish words to get you started...
Note that you should study Spanish greetings, numbers, basic travel questions, how to tell time, the 6 Spanish pronouns and the most practical Spanish verbs as soon as possible to help get you started.
Your Friends - Cognates
Believe it or not, you already know some Spanish words even before you even start studying it. While Spanish may seem like "Greek" to you, the majority of foreign languages actually share some words or roots of words. These words that look or sound like words in your language and have the same meaning are called cognates.
Almost all European languages share countless cognates with English thanks to their shared roots, history, and evolution. Take the English words "identification," "attention," and "direction," for example. The very same words exist in Spanish with the very same ending and just a slightly different pronunciation.
These cognates are your friends and can make your language learning much easier and faster.
Here's a handy list of Spanish words that you already know thanks to cognates. And, you can get started with these:
5. 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 four most practical Spanish verbs:
Ir (to go)
- yo voy
- tú vas
- él/ella/usted va
- nosotros/nosotras vamos
- vosotros/vosotras váis
- ellos/ellas/ustedes van
Ser (to be)
To be (permanent states)
- yo soy
- tú eres
- él/ella/usted es
- nosotros/nosotras somos
- vosotros/vosotras sois
- ellos/ellas/ustedes son
Hacer (to do)
- yo hago
- tú haces
- él/ella/usted hace
- nosotros/nosotras hacemos
- vosotros/vosotras hacéis
- ellos/ellas/ustedes hacen
Tener (to have)
- yo tengo
- tú tienes
- él/ella/usted tiene
- nosotros/nosotras tenemos
- vosotros/vosotras tenéis
- ellos/ellas/ustedes tienen
Then, start to learn verbs that end in -AR, which is one of the easiest endings to conjugate. 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 > Why 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 flashcards to help you with this.
This is a great way to break down rules and make them easier to memorize.
6. Practice, practice, practice
Finally, the cliché saying that "practice makes perfect" has never been truer 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 or email 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
- 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. You can also find some great Spanish learning hacks here to help you out along the way.
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 fun!
Mauricio Evlampieff: Rocket Spanish
Make It Stick With Rocket Reinforcement
Reinforce your learning from this lesson with the Rocket Reinforcement activities!