The Top 10 Spanish hacks
As one of the world's most spoken languages and the second most spoken language in the United States, there's never been a better time to learn Spanish.
Whether you've been studying Spanish for years or are considering giving Spanish a try, the following 10 hacks and simple tricks can help you to learn Spanish fast and effectively.
Hack #1. Start with Sounds
Now that you've decided to learn Spanish, it's time to dig into the language learning process.
But where should you even begin?
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.
Spend some time just focusing on Spanish sounds and spelling so that they are longer foreign to you.
Study the alphabet, work on identifying the letters and pronouncing all of the sounds that differ from English sounds.
Get started with these!
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.
Hack #2. Learn on the Go
Let's face it: you probably have a busy life, and it's difficult to set time aside to study Spanish. Fortunately, however, one of the best ways to take advantage of your free time is to learn Spanish on the go.
A great way to do this is by taking advantage of American academic and polyglot Alexander Arguelles' Shadowing Technique.
This language learning technique involves listening to Spanish with earphones and simultaneously repeating it out loud while walking outdoors. There are three main keys to this exercise:
If you feel shy or embarrassed to do this in public, find a road or path where you can speak Spanish loudly and proudly without many other people around you.
2. Maintain a perfectly upright posture.
According to Arguelles, maintaining a good posture contributes to this method's efficacy.
3. Articulate well and in a loud, clear voice.
This is very important in order to effectively learn the rhythm, structure and sound of the language.
Say the sounds as soon as you hear them. Don't wait for the entire word. In fact, at first you may only catch a small portion of what's being said and sound like you're speaking nonsense.
This may feel silly at first, but its results will amaze you. By speaking aloud as soon as you hear Spanish sounds, you're developing a sense of how the language is structured and sounds, even if you don't understand everything that's being said.
Don't worry if you can't catch and repeat everything. As you improve, you'll gradually begin developing the accent and rhythm of Spanish.
Try it with the first Interactive Audio lesson from Rocket Spanish. You can play it below or download it for free from here, save it to your phone or MP3 player and you're ready to go!
Rocket Spanish audio sample
Some other great tricks for learning Spanish on the go include taking advantage of your morning subway or bus commute by studying flashcards or listening to Spanish audio or radio stations in the car.
Make learning Spanish a part of your life, and you'll be amazed how much time you have to study when you learn on the go.
Hack #3. Learn the Practical Words First
Learning a new language requires learning a lot of new words. There's no way around it. Many people use their "bad memories" as an excuse for not learning a new language, but I 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 words in a language to be able to speak it well. In fact, you don't even need to know half!
Let's take a look at Spanish. There are an estimated 383,000 words in the Spanish language, but the average native speaker has a passive vocabulary (words you can recognize) of about 40,000 words and an active vocabulary (words you use) of less than 20,000. And in Spanish, the average speaker can communicate in most situations with just 300.
That's right, only 300 words!!
We don't even use the majority of our active vocabulary on a daily basis, and only need about 3,000 words to understand 95% of common texts. By extension, just 300 words make up 65% of all written and spoken materials. By extension, 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.
Learn practical vocabulary first, and save yourself time and effort!
Here are some of the most common Spanish words to get you started... (Note that we recommend the Chrome browser for full voice recognition functionality)
Hack #4. Take Advantage of 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 "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. And you can get started with these...
Hack #5. Hooked on Mnemonics
As many who have learned a foreign language already know, simply repeating vocabulary usually just isn't enough. Sometimes, our brains need a little extra jump start to remember tricky words.
That's where mnemonics come in. Basically, mnemonics involve telling yourself a fun, goofy or memorable story, song, or rhyme to associate with a particular word.
For example, one trick for memorizing the words "esta," "estas," "esa," and "esas" (this, these, that, and those) in Spanish is the simple rhyme "This and these both have T's, that and those don't."
Another fun Spanish mnemonic device can help you to learn some useful vocabulary words: "In Spanish, ROPA isn't ROPE, SOPA isn't soap, and the butter is 'meant to kill ya.'" (Ropa means clothing in Spanish and sopa means soup. Butter is mantequilla).
Here's a list of common Spanish mnemonic devices. And remember, if you have troubles memorizing a word, phrase, or grammatical rule, you can always make your own!
It may sound like extra effort, but you'd be amazed at how effective mnemonic devices are in making your learning faster. They're also fun!
Hack #6. Keep a Spanish Vocabulary Notebook and Flashcards
As a teacher, one tip I like to give all of my students is to keep a journal, document, or book with all of the vocabulary they learn in one place.
Not only does keeping a vocabulary journal help you to keep all of your new words and phrases in one place, but the very process of writing down a word and its translation, notes, image or mnemonic device helps you to memorize it.
I've noticed that my students who keep vocabulary journals tend to recall vocabulary much faster and progress much more quickly in their learning.
This notebook can be transformed into study-friendly flashcards by using flashcard generating programs like the FlashCards section in Rocket Spanish for your phone or computer. I like to use my Anki flashcards on my phone to learn on the go when I'm on the bus, walking to work or simply waiting in line at the grocery store.
It's a fantastic future reference for studying, and can be used anywhere and anytime you have a few free minutes.
Hack #7. Find the Patterns
Learn your verb tenses the smart way. Regular verbs in Spanish fall into three different categories:
- verbs that end in "ar,"
- verbs that end in "er,"
- and verbs that end in "ir."
In Spanish, the trick to conjugating verbs (making them agree with their subject and tense) is to learn the different patterns.
To do so, start with the most common verbs and learn the most common tenses (present simple, past simple, and future) first. Focus on the patterns found in regular verbs.
If we take the regular "ar" ending verb hablar (to speak) as an example, that means memorizing all of the verb endings in the simple past, present, and future tenses. We can then use this pattern to predict the endings of all other regular "ar" verbs, like the verb trabajar (to work). For example:
- Yo hablo I speak
- Yo hablé I spoke
- Yo hablaré I will speak
- Yo trabajo I work
- Yo trabajé I worked
- Yo trabajaré I will work
Hack #8. The Scriptorium Technique
Linguist and polyglot Alexander Arguelles developed another excellent technique for improving your writing and speaking skills simultaneously. It's designed to help you to really focus on the individual components of Spanish.
The Arguelles' Scriptorium Technique involves three basic exercises:
2. Saying each word aloud again as you write it.
3. Reading the sentence aloud as you have written in.
The purpose of this exercise is to force yourself to slow down and pay attention to detail and look up anything you don't know. It's important to be thorough and meticulous. Find good source material and then copy it carefully, saying each word out loud as you go. Make sure to take the time to check any vocabulary or grammar that you're not sure about as you come across it.
The Scriptorium Technique is a fantastic way to refine and polish your Spanish language knowledge, especially at intermediate and advanced levels. The key to mastering this technique is to take your time, be as detailed and thorough as possible, and remember... practice makes perfect.
Hack #9. Read, Watch, Listen
Movies, music, television series, the radio, books, newspapers, magazines and anything you can read, watch, or listen to are unbelievably useful for learning. You've probably already heard cases of people teaching themselves a language by watching movies or playing video games, and while these things don't directly teach grammar, they do help learning it significantly.
Reading, watching and listening has a remarkable effect on your brain. Simply by being exposed to the language, 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 knowing that you're learning. After a while, you'll find yourself using 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, listening to the radio, or watching a series.
If you're extra motivated to learn and practice, use the Shadowing Technique and learn on the go while listening to and repeating your favorite Spanish radio station, podcast, TV series or movie. This is a great way to pick up the rhythm, structure, sound and rules of the Spanish language without needing to hit the books.
Hack #10. Interact... Without Needing to Travel
Try to interact in your language on a daily basis. Speaking as much as possible is one of the best tricks to learn a language fast. Here are some great ways to practice speaking (and writing, its slower version) as much as possible:
- Speak with a friend, family member or neighbor in person
- Write a letter or email to a friend, family member, coworker, or yourself
- Visit a local store or neighborhood where your language is spoken and interact with the locals
- Join a weekly or monthly conversation group...or start your own group
- Speak online with a friend, family member, coworker, or fellow language learner (Skype is great for this)
- Contribute to a blog or forum in your target language
- Sing along with music in your target language
- Watch a movie, series, documentary or video and repeat the character's lines
- Read a passage from a book, newspaper, or magazine out loud
- Talk to yourself in your target language (this really works!)
The key is to interact, speak, and think in Spanish as much as possible. This can be done anywhere and everywhere. Make Spanish a part of your daily life!
By following these ten easy language learning hacks, you'll learn Spanish faster, better, and enjoy doing so.
Buena suerte, and happy fast learning!