It has happened to me that, sometimes, I feel like my brain is not helping. Mis dos neuronas se pelean (my two neurons fight one another), and it becomes quite frustrating when learning a new language.
In this article, le enseñaremos al cerebro quién manda (we will teach the brain who’s the boss), and with these 7 tips, you will be learning new Spanish words —and chunks— every day!
1. Don’t learn isolated words, learn chunks in context
Just learning word lists won’t help you much when you end up in an actual conversation, and even if you know some Spanish grammar, you’ll probably still be hesitating and translating in your head.
That’s why it’s way more useful to learn what we call “word chunks”, that is, Spanish word combinations (or phrases) that native speakers use all the time, that almost never change, and that you can learn by heart as a whole.
That way, you can use them immediately in conversations AND you don’t even have to think about grammar!
We call this way of learning Spanish “Conversation Based Chunking”.
Here are some examples of chunks:
- ¡Mucho gusto! (Nice to meet you!)
- ¿A qué hora? (At what time?)
- Por la tarde (in the afternoon)
- Buenos días (Good day)
Memorize these and you’ll be able to speak Spanish fluently MUCH faster!
2. Only learn relevant words and chunks
Even though the phrase “Aquí mis chicharrones truenan” sounds very good, you might want to learn something more polite and practical to say “I’m right and you are wrong”.
So, at least at the beginning, try to focus on basic sentences that are relevant for you and the reason why you are learning Spanish:
- Estoy aprendiendo español. Habla más despacio, por favor. (I’m learning Spanish. Speak more slowly, please.)
- Yo soy de Inglaterra, y ¿ustedes de dónde son? (I’m from England, and where are you guys from?)
- Me gusta mucho viajar. (I love travelling!)
This makes much more sense, since you can use them right away, which also makes them stick better (see my next tip).
3. Use what you’ve learned!
If you use words and chunks, they stick much better than if you just cram them. Say them in context with a native speaker. Escribe algo y usa la palabra (write something and use the word).
When you apply your word knowledge, the words will stick better. It doesn’t matter if you mix Spanish and English at the beginning, the first thing you should do is memorize the words.
Let’s use the verb reír (to laugh) and use it in different contexts:
- La película me ha hecho reír mucho. (The movie made me laugh a lot.)
- Todos nos reímos cuando Lizzie se cayó. (We all laughed when Lizzie fell.)
- No me hagas reír. (Don’t make me laugh!)
If you say these phrases when speaking to a native speaker (or even write to them), then you will remember the word reír much better than if you just repeat it from word lists.
4. Use mnemonic devices
Mnemonics are basically just creative devices that help us retain information. They depend a lot on association with things we already know —something our brain is very good at, and good at doing quickly.
With languages, visual people may imagine words as pictures, or verbal people may use rhymes to help them remember a list, like the months of the year.
Let’s see a mnemonic device:
- In Spanish, ROPA isn’t ROPE and SOPA isn’t SOAP, and the butter’s “meant to kill ya.” ROPA (clothes) and SOPA (soap) are often confused when learning Spanish.
- Butter in Spanish is MANTEQUILLA, which has a similar sound as the phrase “meant to kill ya”.
- “Actor Roberto Dinero has a lot of money” —Dinero means money and De niro sounds like it.
5. Use flashcards or flashcard apps to learn chunks
Flashcards are a great way to memorize and review chunks in a structured way.
An ideal flashcard has a full sentence in Spanish on it, but the chunk you want to memorize like this:
FRONT: ¿____________ (At what time) te levantas?
BACK: ¿A qué hora te levantas?
Then, practice them for a few days in a row and, once you feel like you know them quite well, review them with less frequency. Test yourself by only looking at the English side and seeing whether you remember.
You can also use smartphone apps for this. The one we use in the Spring Spanish Academy is called “Brainscape”.
Here are some other flashcard examples:
FRONT: Estudio español _____________ (in the afternoon).
BACK: Estudio español por la tarde.
FRONT: ¿Qué cosas llevas ____________ (in the suitcase)?
BACK: ¿Qué cosas llevas en la maleta?
6. Color your home with sticky notes!
Another thing that might help you is to stick quick notes alrededor de la casa (around the house).
For example, go to your kitchen and start sticking little notes: microondas (microwave), refrigerador (fridge), vasos (glasses), etc.
You will see that, very soon, you’ll be saying the name in Spanish in your head without even looking at the post-its.
7. Learn the origin of the words
This might be appealing just to me, but when I learn the etymology of things, it tells me not only the origin, pero también una pequeña historia (but also a little story), and I’m a fan of stories.
- Castillo (Castle).
Both words, in Spanish and English, come from the Latin “castellum”, which is a diminutive of the word castrum, meaning “fortified place” and from the same root (cas) as casa (house) —the Latin word “cas” means hut, shelter, or cabin.
The word castle was introduced into English shortly before the Norman Conquest to denote this type of building, which was then new to England. Interesante ¿verdad? (Interesting, right?)
I actually show you how it’s done in my video about los meses (the months). There, you'll find out the origin of the name of each month.
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¡Muy bien! ¿Te gustaron mis tips? (Did you like my tips?) ¿Cuáles aplicas tú? (Which ones do you use?)
Feel free to check out the other videos from me and the other Spring Spanish teachers on our channel.
We also have a free, more in-depth Spanish training on our website where you'll discover the method we use in our Spring Spanish Academy to teach students to speak fluent Spanish. You also get some free sample Spanish lessons there that come straight from our Academy!