How to Learn to Speak Spanish Spanish is a beautiful language with a long history and over 500 million speakers worldwide. It is one of the easier languages for speakers of English to learn, due to both language's shared Latin roots. Learning another language requires time and dedication. The satisfaction you'll feel after having your first proper conversation in Spanish will make it totally worth the effort! Here are some great ideas on how to learn to speak Spanish and have fun in the process!
Master the Basics
1 Learn Spanish pronunciation. The Spanish alphabet is identical to English, but the pronunciation of each letter is significantly different. Some of the sounds are difficult for English speakers because they don't occur in that language. A good way to
start learning Spanish is to learn how to pronounce each letter of the alphabet. From there, you can learn how to pronounce words. Phrases and then whole sentences, which come next, will be a lot easier. See below for the phonetic pronunciation of each letter in Spanish.:
A = ah, B = beh, C = seh, D = deh, E = eh, F = ehfeh, G = heh, H = ah-cheh, I =ee
J = hoh-tah, K = kah, L = eh-leh, M = eh-meh, N = eh-neh, Ñ = eh-nyeh, O = oh
P = peh, Q = koo, R = eh-reh, S = eh-seh, T = teh, U = oo, V = -beh
W = oo-bleh-doubleh, X = eh-kees, Y = ee gryehgah and Z = theh-tah.
Note that the only letter in the Spanish alphabet that does not exist in English is the letter Ñ, pronounced eh-nyeh. It is a completely separate letter from the letter N. It's closest approximation in
English would be the "ny" sound in the word "canyon."
2 Learn to pronounce letters of the alphabet in Spanish. Once you learn the pronunciation rules of
Spanish, you will be able to pronounce any word in that language.
ca, co, cu = kah, koh, koo. ce, ci = theh, thee or seh, see
ch sounds like English ch
ga, go, gu = gah, goh, goo. ge, gi = heh, hee
h does not sound. Hombre is pronounced ohmbreh
hua, hue, hui, huo = wah, weh, wee, woh
ll sounds like English y or like English j. Calle is kahyeh or kah-jeh.
r at the beginning of a word and rr in the middle of a word are rolled. See How to Roll Your "R"s
r in the middle of a word is like tt in butter in an American accent. Loro = lohttoh.
que, qui = keh, kee
v sounds like b
y sounds like English y or like English j. Yo is yoh or joh.
See How to Pronounce Spanish Letters and Certain Sounds.
3 Learn numbers next. Knowing how to count is an essential skill in any language. Learning to count in
Spanish isn't hard, as the names of numbers in Spanish are similar to English. Numbers one through ten are listed below: ď‚ˇ
One = Uno, Two = Dos, Three = Tres, Four = Cuatro, Five = Cinco, Six = Seis, Seven = Siete, Eight = Ocho, Nine = Nueve, Ten = Diez.
Be aware that the number one -- "uno" -- changes when it's used in front of either a masculine or feminine noun. For example, the term "one man" is "un hombre", while the term "one girl" is "una chica".
4 Memorize simple words. The wider the vocabulary you have at your disposal, the easier it is to speak a language fluently. Familiarize yourself with as many simple, everyday Spanish words as possible - you'll be surprised at how quickly they build up!
One of the easiest ways to do this is to use cognates - words that share a similar meaning, spelling and pronunciation in both languages. Learning Spanish cognates of English words is a great way to rapidly increase your vocabulary, as 30%-40% of English words have a Spanish cognate.
For words without cognates, try using one of the following memorization methods: When you hear a word in English, think of how you would say it in Spanish. If you don't know what it is, jot it down and look it up later. It's handy to keep a little notebook on you at all times for this purpose. Alternatively, try attaching little Spanish labels to items around your house, such as the mirror, the coffee table and the sugar bowl. You'll see the words so often that you'll learn them without realizing it!
It is important to learn a word or phrase from ‘Spanish to English’ as well as ‘English to Spanish.’
That way you will remember how to say it, not just recognize it when you hear it.
5 Learn some basic conversational phrases. By learning the basics of polite conversation, you'll very
quickly be able to interact with Spanish speakers on a simple level. Jot down some everyday Spanish phrases in a notebook and make a point of learning between five and ten of them every day. Here's a few to get you started:
Hello! = ¡Hola!
Yes = Sí
No = No
Thank you! = ¡Gracias! -- pronounced "grah-thyahs" or "grah-syas"
Please = Por favor
What is your name? = ¿Cómo se llama usted?
My name is... = Me llamo...
Nice to meet you = Mucho gusto
See you later! = ¡Hasta luego! -- pronounced "ahstah lweh-goh"
Goodbye = ¡Adiós! -- pronounced "ah-dyohs"
Study Basic Grammar
1 Learn how to conjugate regular verbs. Learning how to conjugate verbs is a major part of learning how to speak Spanish correctly. Conjugation means taking the infinitive form of a verb (to talk, to eat) and changing its form to indicate who is performing an action and when that action is being performed. When learning how to conjugate verbs in Spanish,
the best place to start is with regular verbs in the present tense. Regular verbs in Spanish all end in either "-ar", "-er" or "-ir", and how each verb is conjugated will depend on its ending. An explanation of how each type of regular verb is conjugated in the present tense follow below:
Verbs ending in "-ar". Hablar is the infinitive form of the Spanish verb "to speak." To change the verb into the present tense, all you need to do is drop the "-ar" and add a different ending, which varies depending on the subject pronoun. For example:
"I speak" becomes yo hablo
"You speak (informal)" becomes tú hablas
"You speak (formal)" becomes usted habla
"He/she speaks" becomes él/ella habla
"We speak" becomes nosotros/as hablamos
"You all speak (informal)" becomes vosotros/as habláis
"You all speak (formal)" becomes ustedes hablan
"They speak" becomes ellos/ellas hablan
As you can see, the six different endings used are o, -as, -a, -amos, -áisand -an. These endings will be the same for every single regular verb that ends in "-ar", such as bailar (to dance), buscar (to look for), comprar (to buy) and trabajar (to work).
Verbs ending in "-er". Comer is the infinitive form of the Spanish verb "to eat." To change the verb into the present tense, drop the "-er" and add the endings -o, -es,-e, -emos, -éis or -en, depending on the subject pronoun. For example:
"I eat" becomes yo como
"You eat (informal)" becomes tú comes
"You eat (formal)" becomes usted come
"He/she eats" becomes él/ella come
"We eat" becomes nosotros/as comemos
"You all eat (informal)" becomes vosotros/as coméis
"You all eat (formal)" becomes ustedes comen
"They eat" becomes ellos/ellas comen
These six endings will be the same for every regular "-er" verb, such as aprender (to learn), beber (to drink), leer (to read) and vender (to sell).
Verbs ending in "-ir". Vivir is the infinitive form of the Spanish verb "to live". To change the verb into the present tense, drop the "-ir" and add the endings -o, -es, -e, -imos, -ís or -en, depending on the subject pronoun. For example:
"I live" becomes yo vivo
"You live (informal)" becomes tú vives
"You live (formal)" becomes usted vive
"He/she live" becomes él/ella vive
"We live" becomes nosotros/as vivimos
"You all live (informal)" becomes vosotros/as vivís
"You all live (formal)" becomes ustedes viven
"They live" becomes ellos/ellas viven
These six verb endings will be the same for every regular "-ir" verb, such as abrir (to open), escribir (to write), insistir (to insist) and recibir (to receive).
Once you have mastered the present tense, you can move on to conjugating verbs in other tenses, such as the future tense, the preterite and imperfect past tenses and the conditional tense. The same basic method used to conjugate the present tense is also used for each of these tenses - you simply take the stem of the infinitive verb and add a particular set of endings, which vary depending on the subject pronoun.
2 Learn how to conjugate common, irregular verbs. Once you get the hang of conjugating regular verbs, you are off to a very good start. However be aware that not all verbs can be conjugated using the normal rules - there are many irregular verbs, each
with their own unique conjugations which follow no rhyme or reason. Unfortunately, some of the most common, everyday verbs - such as ser (to be), estar (to be), ir (to go) and haber (to have (done)) - are irregular. The best thing to do is simply to learn them by heart:
Ser. The verb "ser" is one of two verbs in Spanish which can be translated as "to be". "Ser" is used to describe the essential characteristics of something for example, it is used for physical descriptions, for time and dates and for describing characters and personalities, amongst other things. It is used to describe whatsomething is. The present tense of the verb is conjugated as follows:
"I am" becomes yo soy
"You are (informal)" becomes tú eres
"You are (formal)" becomes usted es
"He/she is" becomes él/ella es
"We are" becomes nosotros/as somos
"You all are (informal)" becomes vosotros/as sois
"You all are (formal)" becomes ustedes son
"They are" becomes ellos/ellas son
Estar. The verb "estar" also means "to be" but is used in a different context from "ser". "Estar" is used for states of being - for example, it is used to describe conditional states such as feelings, moods and emotions, as well as a person or thing's location, amongst other things. It is used to describe how something is.The present tense of the verb is conjugated as follows:
"I am" becomes yo estoy
"You are (informal)" becomes tú estás
"You are (formal)" becomes usted está
"He/she is" becomes él/ella está
"We are" becomes nosotros/as estamos
"You all are (informal)" becomes vosotros/as estáis
"You all are (formal)" becomes ustedes están
"They are" becomes ellos/ellas están
Ir. The verb "ir" means "to go". It is conjugated in the present tense as follows:
"I go" becomes yo voy
"You go (informal)" becomes tú vas
"You go (formal)" becomes usted va
"He/she goes" becomes él/ella va
"We go" becomes nosotros/as vamos
"You all go (informal)" becomes vosotros/as vais
"You all go (formal)" becomes ustedes van
"They go" becomes ellos/ellas van
Haber. The verb "haber" can be translated as either "I have" or "I have done", depending on context. The present tense of the verb is conjugated as follows:
"I have (done)" becomes yo he
"You have (done)(informal)" becomes tú has
"You have (done) (formal)" becomes usted ha
"He/she has (done)" becomes él/ella ha
"We have (done)" becomes nosotros/as hemos
"You all have (done) (informal)" becomes vosotros/as habéis
"You all have (done) (formal)" becomes ustedes han
"They have (done)" becomes ellos/ellas han
Learn Spanish gender rules. In Spanish, like many other languages, every noun is assigned a gender, either masculine or feminine. There is no surefire way to tell whether a noun is masculine or feminine from sound or spelling, so it's necessary to learn the genders as you learn the words.
For people it is possible to make an educated guess as to whether a noun is masculine or feminine. For instance, the word for "girl" is feminine, la chica, while the word for "boy" is masculine, el chico. This is called natural gender.
Very few words for people have a grammatical gender. For example, el bebé (the baby) is masculine and la visita (the visitor) is feminine. This is also valid for female babies and male visitors.
In addition, nouns that end in the letter "o", like el libro (book), are usually masculine and words that end in the letter "a", like la revista (magazine) are usually feminine. However, there are many nouns
that do not end in either "a" or "o", so this is not always helpful. ď‚ˇ
Any adjectives used to describe nouns must also agree with the gender of the noun, so adjectives will change their form depending on whether a noun is masculine or feminine.
4 Learn how to use the definite and indefinite articles. In English, there is only one definite article "the", and three indefinite articles "a", "an" or "some". In Spanish, however, there are four of each. Which one a speaker uses depends on whether the noun they are referring to is masculine or feminine, plural or singular. ď‚ˇ
For example, to refer to "the male cat" in Spanish, you would need to use the definite article "el" - "el gato". When referring to "the male cats", the definite article changes to "los" - "los gatos".
The definite article changes again when referring to the feminine form of cat. "The female cat" uses the definite article "la" - "la gata", while "the female cats" uses the definite article "las" - "las gatas".
The four forms of indefinite article are used in the same way - "un" is is used for the masculine
singular, "unos" is used for the masculine plural, "una" is used for the feminine singular and "unas" is used for the feminine plural.
Immerse Yourself in the Language
Find a native speaker. One of the best ways to improve your new language skills is to practice speaking with a native speaker. They will easily be able to correct any grammar or pronunciation mistakes you make and can introduce you to more informal or colloquial forms of speech that you won't find in a textbook. ď‚ˇ
If you have a Spanish-speaking friend who is willing to help, that's great! Otherwise, you can place an ad in the local paper or online or investigate whether there are any pre-existing Spanish conversation groups in the area.
If you can't locate any Spanish-speakers nearby, try finding someone on Skype. They might be willing to exchange 15 minutes of Spanish conversation for 15 minutes of English.
2 Consider signing up for a language course. If you need some extra motivation or feel you would learn better in a more formal setting, try signing up for a Spanish language course.
Look out for language courses advertised at local colleges, schools or community centers.
If you're nervous about signing up for a class by yourself, drag a friend along. You'll have more fun and also someone to practice with between classes!
Watch Spanish films and cartoons. Get your hands on some Spanish DVDs (with subtitles) or watch Spanish cartoons online. This is an easy, entertaining way to get a feel for the sound and structure of the Spanish language. ď‚ˇ
If you're feeling particularly proactive, try pausing the video after a simple sentence and repeat what has just been said. This will lend your Spanish accent an air of authenticity!
If you can't find any Spanish films to buy, try renting them from a movie rental store, which often have foreign language sections. Alternatively, see if your local library has any Spanish films or ask if they would be able to source some for you.
4 Listen to Spanish music and radio. Listening to Spanish music and/or radio is another good way to surround yourself in the language. Even if you can't understand everything, try to pick out keywords to help you get the gist of what's being said.
Get a Spanish radio app on your phone, so you can listen on the go.
Try downloading Spanish podcasts to listen to while exercising or doing housework.
Alejandro Sanz, Shakira and Enrique Iglesias are some good Spanish singers.
5 Learn about the Spanish cultures. Languages exist in a dialogue with culture, so certain expressions and mentalities are inextricably tied to cultural origins. The study of culture may also help prevent social misunderstandings.
Consider taking a trip to a Spanish speaking country. Once you feel comfortable with the basics of Spanish speech, consider taking a trip a Spanish speaking country. There's no better way to immerse yourself in a language than to hang-out and chat with the locals! ď‚ˇ
Be aware that every Spanish-speaking country has a different accent, different slang, and sometimes even different vocabulary. For example, Chilean Spanish is extremely different from Mexican Spanish, from the Spanish of Spain, and even Argentine Spanish.
In fact, as you advance in your Spanish proficiency, you may find it helpful to focus on one particular flavor of Spanish. It could be confusing if your lessons continually shift among word meanings and pronunciations for each country. However only about 2% of Spanish vocabulary is different in each
country. You must concentrate in the remaining 98%.
7 Don't be discouraged! If you're serious about learning to speak Spanish, keep at it - the satisfaction you'll get from mastering a second
language will far outweigh the difficulties you encounter along the way. Learning a new language takes time and practice, it won't happen overnight. If you still need some extra motivation, here are some things that make Spanish easier to learn than other languages:
Spanish uses the Subject-Object-Verb word order, just like English. This means that it's easier to translate directly from English to Spanish, without having to worry about rearranging the structure of the sentence.
Spanish spelling is very phonetic, so it's usually quite easy to pronounce a word correctly, just by saying it like it's spelled. This is not the case in English, so Spanish learners of English have a much harder time pronouncing words correctly when reading!
As mentioned before, about 30% to 40 % of words in Spanish have an English cognate. This is because
of their shared Latin roots. As a result, you already have an extensive Spanish vocabulary before you even get started - all it needs is a few tweaks and a Spanish twang!
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Published on May 10, 2016
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