How to Learn Spanish

If you’re wondering how to learn Spanish, you’re probably already familiar with the fact that it is more important than ever for Americans to learn to speak Spanish. It is estimated that 417 million people speak Spanish worldwide, making it second only to Mandarin Chinese in terms of a language’s popularity. If you want to communicate with a large number of people in the Western hemisphere, it is now more likely than ever that you’ll have to do so “en Espanol”. The Spanish-speaking portion of the American population is growing in vast numbers so the ability to communicate in Spanish is considered a highly marketable skill.

Learning a language, like learning any new skill, requires time, effort, and exposure. If you commit the time it takes to learn a new language, give it your best effort, and expose yourself to the language as much as possible, you’ll no longer wonder how to learn Spanish — you’ll wonder “Cómo aprender Español.”

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Spanish Vocabulary

How to Learn SpanishThe first step to learning any language is to become familiar with the words that make up that language. There are patterns and recognizable motifs that repeat themselves in any language and if you are exposed enough to them you’ll be well on your way to learning Spanish.

First, the good news — figuring out how to learn Spanish is really just a matter of learning a few hundred Spanish words and how to string them together the right way. Spanish vocabulary has much in common with English, and we even share some words. These similar-sounding words, called “cognates” in English and “cognatos” en Espanol, really gives the English speaker a leg up on the whole “how to learn Spanish” thing. Here’s a few cognates to familiarize yourself with:

  • accident – accidente
  • atmosphere – atmosfera
  • catastrophe – catástrofe
  • circular – circular
  • incredible – increíble
  • office – oficina

Notice how in Spanish there are just a few differences between certain nouns? The word “catástrofe” for instance indicates that the accent falls on the A. Even though the words may look a lot different from the originals, they are practically the same word. And this is a tiny example of the many Spanish-English cognates that exist. There are over 3,400 such cognate pairs that will make you wonder when you worried about how to learn Spanish.

What vocabulary words you won’t immediately recognize as cognates can be memorized by rote. Print up flash cards. Read your favorite Spanish-language soap opera digest. Try to speak Spanish to friends whose Spanish-speaking abilities are greater than your own. Vocabulary’s the easy part of the language learning process, but a crucial one.

Be careful with cognates, though. There are also words called “false cognates” that sound the same in English and Spanish but have completely different and often embarrassing meanings. The most famous example is the Spanish word “embarazada” which literally means “pregnant” even though it sounds like the English word “embarrassed”. This leads to plenty of confusion and laughter. False cognates mean you can’t just breeze through learning cognates and picking up snitches of Spanish from Galavision — you need to get your nose in a book and learn some Spanish words.

Spanish Grammar

Once you have a decent number of Spanish words under your belt, you’ll need to figure out how they fit together to form sentences. Want to know how to learn Spanish? Learn how to conjugate Spanish verbs.

Conjugation is a process by which verbs change depending on the subject. For instance, in English we say “I go to the store” or “She goes to the store”. In Spanish, they have rules, but they are different from English and must be learned from the ground up. For example, in Spanish the sentence “I go to the store” reads “Voy a la tienda”. “She goes to the store” becomes “Ella va a la tienda” Conjugation is one of the tougher parts of learning any language, but with Spanish you have to worry about the seven different verb tenses while in English you’re only worrying about two.

One easy area of Spanish grammar, after the headache of conjugation, is the use of adjectives. English and Spanish use adjectives similarly, with a few big differences. In Spanish, adjectives always go after the noun they modify. Whereas in English we may say “The fat cat chased the brown mouse”, in Spanish you would say “El gato gordo persiguió al ratón marrón” which in English literally says “The cat fat chased the mouse brown.” Just remember to modify a noun by using an adjective AFTER it, and you’ll be fine.

A big hiccough for many English speakers who want to know how to learn Spanish is the whole “el / la” masculine feminine thing. They are called determiners and are really just fancy forms of parts of speech we already use called articles. In Spanish, all nouns have a “gender” which has little to do with the physical gender of the noun — it is a traditional thing.

Nouns that are masculine are preceded by the article “el”, while nouns that are feminine are preceded by the article “la”. Though it is true that sometimes the gender “makes sense” (as when the Spanish word for football is “el futbol” or the word for kitchen is “la cocina”.

There’s an easy trick to remembering what words go with what endings — if a noun ends in an “o” it is generally masculine, and if a noun ends in “a” it is generally feminine.

Knowing how to learn Spanish is more than just a collection of words, rules, and traditions. Travelling to Mexico for Dia de la Independencia won’t give you a grasp of Spanish any more than a 4th of July parade and an English textbook would give a Mexican national a perfect command of English. You’re going to have to put some elbow grease into this project, dig in, learn vocabulary, and practice your skills.

You need to be prepared to have your accent mocked, your word order laughed at, and sometimes to be plain misunderstood. Knowing how to learn a new language is knowing how to deal with frustration. If you can calm down, do some book work, and practice hard, you’ll find that with learning to speak Spanish, “No hay necesidad de temer.”

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