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8 Essential Tips for Learning Spanish

by Lukas Gohl Aug 4, 2011
5. Read to expand your vocabulary.

Reading is one of my favorite ways to learn. It’s a constant stream of new information that exposes you to grammatical structures, usage and vocabulary.

The best site I’ve found for reading is Practica Español by Instituto Cervantes, the Spanish government’s organization for the promotion of Spanish language and culture. Here you’ll find a smorgasbord of current news articles sorted by difficulty levels and categories to suit your interests.

The interface is sleek. If you don’t know a word, double-click to get the definition. There are also activities paired with the articles for targeted acquisition of vocabulary used within the articles.

6. Learn pronunciation rules.

Spanish is pronounced how it’s spelled. This makes pronunciation a snap compared to English, where there are all sorts of exceptions. First, learn the alphabet, then the rules of stress. There’s a lot more to it than this, but the three big stress rules are:

1) If a word ends in a vowel, n, or s, the natural accent falls on the second-to-last syllable.

Example: burr-I-to

2) If a word ends in a consonant other than n or s, the natural accent falls on the last syllable.

Example: por fav-OR

3) Whenever there is an exception to either of the two rules above, an accent mark is used.

Example: jo-SÉ

7. Don’t think too hard about the subjunctive mood.

Any student who has been introduced to the subjunctive knows it’s traumatizing. For the uninitiated, the subjunctive is “used in subordinate clauses to express various non-temporal states such as desire, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, necessity, or action that has not yet occurred.” Just reading that makes my head explode!

The reality is 99% of Spanish speakers use the subjunctive without thought and couldn’t explain it to you if you asked them to. Learn it and practice it, but comprehension and mastery will come naturally in time.

8. Keep it fun and interesting.

Learning any language takes persistence and practice. If your studies turn into a chore, then you won’t get much out of them. Don’t hesitate to mix up the routine and do something fun to reward your hard work and reignite your passion for Spanish.

Some Suggestions

Take a class on Latin American or Spanish history. Communication is more than words; it is a bridge to understanding. You won’t truly be an effective communicator until you try to understand Spanish speakers themselves.

Learn to cook authentic dishes, play Spanish guitar, or dance Salsa. Experiencing cultural elements will make you more comfortable speaking the language.

Are there immigrants in your community? Volunteer at non-profit organizations promoting culture or helping people in need. It will give you a practical opportunity to use your Spanish and you’ll feel good for making your neighborhood a better place.

(Mostly Free) Resources for Learning Spanish

Online Lessons: 
I wouldn’t endorse learning solely from website lessons or expensive software, but they can be nice supplementary tools. QueOndaSpanish has great free beginner lessons as well as practice games. If you’re looking for an online community approach, try Busuu.

 Find a good Spanish-English dictionary. I use Spanishdict (both the website and the iPod app). If you’re into that analog paper book thing, the Merriam-Webster dictionary is worth the investment.

Practice Exercises
: I highly recommend the Practice Makes Perfect book series (particularly Spanish Verb Tenses and Spanish Vocabulary), which explains difficult concepts in plain English and is full of activities to hone your skills. EnglishnSpanish has great drill activities for the most common verbs and words used in Spanish. 

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