How To Really Learn Spanish

I am myself a polyglot wannabe, having at least three languages under my belt (and planning on learning some more during my lifetime). But like you, I started with just one. It’s almost never easy to learn anything new, especially a foreign language.

Many years ago, I thought about learning a foreign language and as soon as I mentioned it to my friends, there were four languages they thought I should choose from: English, French, Portuguese and Italian. I learned English at the time. And, If you asked me the same question, I would strongly suggest you learning Spanish because I honestly think it is a beautiful language.

You might not know this, but Spanish is the second most popular native language spoken in the world by over 450 million people. It is also the fourth most popular language spoken in the world. I suggest Spanish because you are already an English speaker, and you will find learning Spanish not that difficult (provided that you put the effort), and I have always admired the romanticism and poetic value of the language.

When I was learning French, I used a lot of textbooks before trying to speak the language, and I realized that I caught up on the language quite easily, but I had issues with the accent and pronunciation of French words. In the end, I learnt French, but I was not as proficient in the language as I thought. It took me a year to become fluent in French (based on accepted indices for measuring fluency).

Learning Spanish is not as easy as it seems; but the first thing you need to do is have an open mind and be ready to make mistakes along the way.

Learning First Phrases in Spanish

When starting anything, it is better to start small. So, if you want to start learning Spanish, it is advisable to start small (from the basics). A good way to do this is to learn popular words and simple phrases in Spanish. There are greeting phrases, phrases used for introduction, phrases used to ask questions and phrases used to start a conversation, or what you may call ice-breakers.

●       Greeting Phrases: The most popular set of phrases used when learning a language is greeting and exchanging pleasantries. If you can learn this, you have done one of the most basic things necessary to learn the language. In fact, it is believed that if you are lost in a foreign land, greet a native using his language; you will be glad you did!

Examples of Spanish greeting phrases include: “Hola” (meaning Hi or Hello), “Buenos dias” (Good Morning), “Buenos tardes” (Good Afternoon), “Buenos noches” (Good night), “Adiós” (Goodbye), “Ciao” (Goodbye), ¡Hasta luego! (See you soon), Hasta mañana (See you later/tomorrow), ¡Tenga en buen dia! (Have a nice day), etc. There are a lot of greeting phrases you can learn in Spanish that are quite easy.

●       Phrases used to introduce self: Words used to introduce self can begin with greetings, but usually are active verbs. Some phrases you can use include “Soy” (I am), “Mi nombre es” (My name is), “¿Cómo te llamas?” (What is your name?), “Me llamo” (also My name is), etc. Again, it is important to note that you can almost always introduce yourself by starting with a greeting.

●       Phrases used to ask questions: After introducing yourself, you might want to keep the conversation going and a good way to do this is by asking questions. Question phrases are also important if you are on a trip and need help in one way or the other. Questions in Spanish are always written with opening and closing question marks.

Examples of simple Spanish questions include “¿Qué?” (What?), “¿Cuándo?” (When?), “¿Quién?” (Who?), “¿Por qué?” (Why?), “¿Dónde?” (Where?), “¿Cómo?”(How?). These phrases have to be used in a sentence for easy understanding. For example, the phrase “¿Dónde?” can be used to ask “¿De dónde viene?” meaning “Where are you from?” “¿Qué?” can be used to ask “¿Qué hora tienes?” meaning “What time is it?” and so on.

●       Phrases to keep a conversation going: Spanish speaking people are quite welcoming, so after introducing yourself you will realize that you become relaxed enough to keep the conversation going. You do not need to stress this one out because phrases needed to keep a conversation can range from greetings to questions to answers.

Examples of phrases you can use include “¿Cómo estás?” (meaning “How are you?”), “¿Qué pasa?” (“What’s happening?”), “¿Y tú?” (“And you?”), “¡Muchas gracias!” (“Thank you very much!”), “¡De nada!” (“You’re welcome!”), “¡Lo siento!” (“Sorry!”), “¿Habla inglés?” (“Do you speak English?”) and so on. You can switch to English if the person you are talking to is fluent in English as well and enjoy the conversation from there.

Learning about Cognates

This is another way to ensure that you are not just learning vernacular, but that you are really learning how to speak Spanish. Cognates are basically words that are similar in different languages; they look alike and sound alike and can even be pronounced in similar ways. Some cognates mean different things even though they are spelt in similar ways. The most similar languages to Spanish are Italian and Portuguese. It is widely believed that if you can speak Spanish fluently, then there is a chance that you will be able to understand Portuguese and Italian quite easily.

Some examples of Spanish Cognates in Italian are;

●       Antarctic: Antártico (Spanish)/ Antartico (Italian)

●       Music: Música (Spanish)/ Musica (Italian)

●       Art: Arte (in both languages)

●       Telephone: Teléfono (Spanish)/ Telefono (Italian)

●       Library: Biblioteca (in both languages)

●       Coffee: Café (Spanish)/ Caffè (Italian)

●       Always: Siempre (Spanish)/ Sempre (Italian)

●       Time: Tiempo (Spanish)/ Tempo (Italian)

●       Earth: Tierra (Spanish)/ Terra (Italian)

Examples of Cognates in Portuguese include;

●       Water: Agua (Spanish)/ Água (Portuguese)

●       Sun: Sol (Spanish)/ Sol (Portuguese)

●       Skinned/Peeled: Pelado (in both languages, but different colloquial meanings)

●       Polvo (in both languages): Means “dust” in Spanish and “octopus” in Portuguese.

●       Largo (in both languages): Means “long” in Spanish and “wide” in Portuguese.

●       Bonito (in both languages): Means “nice” in Spanish and “beautiful” in Portuguese.

●       Exquisita (spelt Esquisita in Portuguese): Means “Exquisite” in Spanish and “Weird” in Portuguese.

There are a lot more cognates in Italian and Portuguese as they are similar. You should try not to mix the cognates as they are just pointers to the similarities between Spanish and other languages.

Immersing in the Language

Another good way to learn Spanish is to immerse in the language. What do I mean by immersion? When it comes to learning a language, studying and learning the words will not just be enough. Continuous reading and listening to resources is a great way to help. Resources that include audio podcasts, videos and even websites now have ways to learn Spanish easily. Examples of websites that provide resources that you can use to learn Spanish include; BBC Language, TakeLessons Live, 123 Teach Me, Study Spanish, SpanishPod101, Fluencia, Conjuguemos, FluentU, Amauta, Cervantes, etc.

There are a lot of websites with great resources that you can choose from. Some of these websites can help you expand your Spanish vocabulary, while some others are suited to help you improve Spanish Grammar and Reading Practice, test your Spanish Skills and so on. Some websites incorporate all these aspects into their online resources. Recently, there have been apps that even make it easier to learn languages like Spanish on the go.

An example of a great app that can help you learn Spanish is LingQ. LingQ is a very popular and effective app that makes learning and practice very deliberate. It is an app that helps you learn languages in an interesting way by leveraging content about topics you really like. You can track your progress in learning while reading and listening to the vast selection of materials available in the the app. You should definitely give it a try.

Deliberate Practice

Ever heard of the phrase “Practice makes perfect”? This is true, especially when learning a new language. Deliberate practice is a great way to improve your learning abilities. Find people that are fluent in Spanish and ensure that you speak the language with them as frequently as possible. Do not be afraid to make mistakes. You must tell yourself that “It’s okay to start with baby steps” and you will find that it is easier to learn that way.

Do not be hard on yourself, especially when you think that the people you are practicing with are very fluent. The secret is to keep speaking the language with people that are more fluent than you, then you know which parts you need to pick up on and improve. You get better this way.

Now, I need to say that you do not need to start learning the language with a familiar person. I believe that using an app first will be better, or attending a language class can be a great way to put structure to your learning process. This way, you can be as deliberate as you can, starting from the beginners’ level, until you get comfortable enough and become quite proficient in speaking Spanish. Also, if you find yourself in a situation where you can speak Spanish, remember that it is not about impressing people but more about understanding, relating and communicating with people.

Ahora que te he dado estos consejos, asegúrate de hacer el mejor uso de ellos para tener una gran experiencia en aprender español. Cuando termines, ¡me agradeces después! (Now that I have given you these tips, ensure that you make the best use of them in order to have a great experience in learning Spanish. When you are done, thank me later!)

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