Rocket Languages Blog The Top 10 Spanish Language Hacks: Learn Spanish in Half the Time

The Top 10 Spanish Language Hacks: Learn Spanish in Half the Time

jason-oxenham-ceo

Spanish Hacks!

As one of the world's most spoken languages and the second most spoken language in the United States, there's never been a better time to learn Spanish.

Whether you've been studying Spanish for years or are considering giving Spanish a try, the following 10 hacks and simple tricks can help you to learn Spanish fast and effectively.

Hack #1. Start with Sounds

Now that you've decided to learn Spanish, it's time to dig into the language learning process.

But where should you even begin?

The answer is simple: sounds. Learning how to hear, pronounce and spell Spanish sounds is a great place to get started even before you begin memorizing words and their meanings.

Spend some time just focusing on Spanish sounds and spelling so that they are longer foreign to you.

Study the alphabet, work on identifying the letters and pronouncing all of the sounds that differ from English sounds.

Get started with these!

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See the whole Spanish alphabet here. You can also listen to pronunciation guides on YouTube, watch movies or series with subtitles in Spanish and read along to learn to recognize and repeat sounds.

Hack #2. Learn on the Go

Let's face it: you probably have a busy life, and it's difficult to set time aside to study Spanish. Fortunately, however, one of the best ways to take advantage of your free time is to learn Spanish on the go.

One of the best ways to do this is by taking advantage of American academic and polyglot Alexander Arguelles' Shadowing Technique.
 

This language learning technique involves listening to Spanish with earphones and simultaneously repeating it out loud while walking outdoors. There are three main keys to this exercise:
 
1.    Walk outdoors as quickly as possible.
If you feel shy or embarrassed to this in public, find a road or path where you can speak Spanish loudly and proudly without many other people around you.

2.    Maintain a perfectly upright posture.
According to Arguelles, maintaining a good posture contributes to this method's efficacy.

3.    Articulate well and in a loud, clear voice.
This is very important in order to effectively learn the rhythm, structure and sound of the language.

Say the sounds as soon as you hear them. Don't wait for the entire word. In fact, at first you may only catch a small portion of what's being said and sound like you're speaking nonsense.

This may feel silly at first, but its results will amaze you. By speaking aloud as soon as you hear Spanish sounds, you're developing a sense of how the language is structured and sounds, even if you don't understand everything that's being said.

Don't worry if you can't catch and repeat everything. As you improve, you'll gradually begin developing the accent and rhythm of Spanish.

Try it with the first Interactive Audio lesson from Rocket Spanish. Download it for free from here, save it to your phone or MP3 player and you're ready to go!

Some other great tricks for learning Spanish on the go include taking advantage of your morning subway or bus commute by studying flashcards or listening to Spanish audio or radio stations in the car.

Make learning Spanish a part of your life, and you'll be amazed how much time you have to study when you learn on the go.

Hack #3. Learn the Practical Words First

Learning a new language requires learning a lot of new words. There's no way around it. Many people use their "bad memories" as an excuse for not learning a new language, but I have some comforting news for these people (and even those with great memories): you don't need to know all--or even the majority--of the words in a language to be able to speak it well. In fact, you don't even need to know half!

Let's take a look at Spanish. There are an estimated 383,000 words in the Spanish language, but the average native speaker has a passive vocabulary (words you can recognize) of about 40,000 words and an active vocabulary (words you use) of less than 20,000. And in Spanish, the average speaker can communicate in most situations with just 300.

That's right, only 300 words!!

We don't even use the majority of our active vocabulary on a daily basis, and only need about 3,000 words to understand  95% of common texts. By extension, just 300 words make up 65% of all written and spoken materials. By extension, there are approximately 625 words and their forms that can help you to go beyond a beginner level in any language, and 1,500 that can have you communicating at an advanced level.

So what does that mean for you as a Spanish learner?

By learning the practical words first, you can cut your work in less than half. You'll be able to communicate faster and with significantly less effort.

Here are the 1,000 most common words in Spanish.

Learn practical vocabulary first, and save yourself time and effort!

Here are some of the most common Spanish words to get you started... (Note that we recommend the Chrome browser for full voice recognition functionality)

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Hack #4. Take Advantage of Cognates

Believe it or not, you already know some Spanish words even before you even start studying it. While Spanish may seem like "Greek" to you, the majority of foreign languages actually share some words or roots of words. These words that look or sound like words in your language and have the same meaning are called cognates.

Almost all European  languages share countless cognates with English thanks to their shared roots, history, and evolution. Take the English words "action," "tradition," and "communication," for example. If you change that ending to -ción, you have the same words in Spanish.

These cognates are your friends and can make your language learning much easier and faster.

Here's a handy list of 1001 Spanish words you already know thanks to cognates. And you can get started with these...

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Hack #5. Hooked on Mnemonics

As many who have learned a foreign language already know, simply repeating vocabulary usually just isn't enough. Sometimes, our brains need a little extra jump start to remember tricky words.

That's where mnemonics come in. Basically, mnemonics involve telling yourself a fun, goofy or memorable story, song, or rhyme to associate with a particular word.

For example, one trick for memorizing the words "esta," "estas," "esa," and "esas" (this, these, that, and  those) in Spanish  is the simple rhyme "This and these both have T's, that and those don't."

Another fun Spanish mnemonic device can help you to learn some useful vocabulary words: "In Spanish, ROPA isn't ROPE, SOPA isn't soap, and the butter is 'meant to kill ya.'" (Ropa means clothing in Spanish and sopa means soup. Butter is mantequilla).

Here's a list of common Spanish mnemonic devices . And remember, if you have troubles memorizing a word, phrase, or grammatical rule, you can always make your own!  

It may sound like extra effort, but you'd be amazed at how effective mnemonic devices are in making your learning faster. They're also fun!

Hack #6. Keep a Spanish Vocabulary Notebook and Flashcards

As an English teacher, one tip I like to give all of my ESL students is to keep a journal, document, or book with all of the vocabulary they learn in one place.
Not only does keeping a vocabulary journal help you to keep all of your new words and phrases in one place, but the very process of writing down a word and its translation, notes, image or mnemonic device helps you to memorize it.

I've noticed that my students who keep vocabulary journals tend to recall vocabulary much faster and progress much more quickly in their learning.
This notebook can be transformed into study-friendly flashcards by using flashcard generating programs like Anki for your phone or computer. I like to use my Anki flashcards on my phone to learn on the go when I'm on the bus, walking to work or simply waiting in line at the grocery store.

It's a fantastic future reference for studying, and can be used anywhere and anytime you have a few free minutes.

Hack #7. Find the Patterns

Learn your verb tenses the smart way. Regular verbs in Spanish fall into three different categories: verbs that end in "ar," verbs that end in "er," and verbs that end in "ir."

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In Spanish, the trick to conjugating verbs (making them agree with their subject and tense) is to learn the different patterns.

To do so, start with the most common verbs and learn the most common tenses (present simple, past simple, and future) first. Focus on the patterns found in regular verbs.

If we take the regular "ar" ending verb hablar (to speak) as an example, that means memorizing all of the verb endings in the simple past, present, and future tenses. We can then use this pattern to predict the endings of all other regular "ar" verbs, like the verb trabajar (to work). For example:
 
  • Yo hablo        I speak
  • Yo hablé        I spoke
  • Yo hablaré   I will speak
 
  • Yo trabajo        I work
  • Yo trabajé        I worked
  • Yo trabajaré   I will work
This method allows learners to speak in a variety of different tenses from the very beginning and helps to identify patterns from the start. Recommended!

Hack #8. The Scriptorium Technique

Linguist and polyglot Alexander Arguelles developed another excellent technique for improving your writing and speaking skills simultaneously. It's designed to help you to really focus on the individual components of Spanish.
The Arguelles' Scriptorium Technique involves three basic exercises:
 
1.    Reading a sentence out loud.
2.    Saying each word aloud again as you write it.
3.    Reading the sentence aloud as you have written in.

The purpose of this exercise is to force yourself to slow down and pay attention to detail and look up anything you don't know. It's important to be thorough and meticulous. Find good source material and then copy it carefully, saying each word out loud as you go. Make sure to take the time to check any vocabulary or grammar that you're not sure about as you come across it.

The Scriptorium Technique is a fantastic way to refine and polish your Spanish language knowledge, especially at intermediate and advanced levels. The key to mastering this technique is to take your time, be as detailed and thorough as possible, and remember... practice makes perfect.
 

Hack #9. Read, Watch, Listen

Movies, music, television series, the radio, books, newspapers, magazines and anything you can read, watch, or listen to are unbelievably useful for learning. You've probably already heard cases of people teaching themselves a language by watching movies or playing video games, and while these things don't directly teach grammar, they do help learning it significantly.

Reading, watching and listening has a remarkable effect on your brain. Simply by being exposed to the language, your brain is put to work. It starts trying to understand new words by making connections to previously learned words and seeks to make sense of any new structures. Basically, you're learning without knowing that you're learning. After a while, you'll find yourself using words and constructions that you didn't even study thanks to your brain's ability to soak up vocabulary and grammar while reading a book, listening to the radio, or watching a series.

If you're extra motivated to learn and practice, use the Shadowing Technique and learn on the go while listening to and repeating your favorite Spanish radio station, podcast, TV series or movie. This is a great way to pick up the rhythm, structure, sound and rules of the Spanish language without needing to hit the books.
 

Hack #10. Interact... Without Needing to Travel

Try to interact in your language on a daily basis. Speaking as much as possible is one of the best tricks to learn a language fast. Here are some great ways to practice speaking (and writing, its slower version) as much as possible:
  • Speak with a friend, family member or neighbor in person
  • Write a letter or email to a friend, family member, coworker, or yourself
  • Visit a local store or neighborhood where your language is spoken and interact with the locals
  • Join a weekly or monthly conversation group...or start your own group
  • Speak online with a friend, family member, coworker, or fellow language learner (Skype is great for this)
  • Contribute to a blog or forum in your target language
  • Sing along with music in your target language
  • Watch a movie,  series, documentary or video and repeat the character's lines
  • Read a passage from a book, newspaper, or magazine out loud
  • Talk to yourself in your target language (this really works!)

The key is to interact, speak, and think in Spanish as much as possible. This can be done anywhere and everywhere. Make Spanish a part of your daily life!
 
By following these ten easy language learning hacks, you'll learn Spanish faster, better, and enjoy doing so.

Buena suerte, and happy fast learning!

David K

Thanks this is the most helpful and inspiring article I've read here.  I'm just finishing the Rocket German Premium (Level 1) course and have found it to be tremendously helpful. 

This comes after about 6 month of looking at the most common 1,000 lists in German and using some of these techniques serendipitously. 

I really like the idea of learning a 3rd language, and have had a 7th grade Spanish course, however, I'm just getting to the point in German that I can sort of follow the news and construct and understand simple sentences. My plan has been to move immediately into the Level 2 course.

 Do any polyglots here have an opinion on whether it would better to concentrate all of my learning time on getting to a solid intermediate level in German, or would it be a wise long-term investment in putting  10% to 20%  of my learning time into Spanish.

I've been studying at a fairly intensive rate. For example I've eared 82,17 points and nearly finished level 1 in 25 days.  While also spending time with German Pod 101 doing at least 100 flashcards with several sample sentences each as well.

But I had three years of  German and Latin 40 plus years ago in High School.

There's a fellow out on the "Tubz" that recommends learning 4 to 8 languages at the same time.  He has flashcards that have the multiple languages on the back for several hundred general purpose words and phrases. 

I've found that not knowing the basic sounds and symbols for Chinese, Arabic, and several others limits my ability to benefit from this technique, however, I suspect it could be more useful after having had a basic introductory course in all of the target languages.  Which is sort of my longer-term plan.

At this point, however, my goal has been to gain a solid proficiency in a second language other than English, and by virtue of my background that is German. Originally, I tried starting Chinese, but I just did not have a enough time or training materials and opportunities as I do in German. 

I've started by doing nearly every free course out there. Duolingo, the A1, A2, and A3 certificate course from Vocabulix, Yabla, LingU videos, and even found the University of Michigan has left its first three years of Acedemic programs open on the internet.

I really love learning languages and any week where I can put in at least 4 or more hours a day in a row has an amazing tonic effect on my mind and thinking. it makes me feel extra sharp, focused, and energetic.

Last November on a Black Friday sale I purchased an Amazon Fire portable Bluetooth speaker system so I can pick up global internet radio.  I tune into RBB 87.7 from Wittstock near Berlin, and just keep it on in the background as much as I can where ever I go.  At first the words went by so fast it was just a wall of unintelligible sound that I could only occasionally understand a few cognates.  I couldn't even recognize most of the sounds as distinct words - I perceived most of it as a blur of sounds.

Not now after 8 months plus this intensive study I can actually hear nearly every word as a word and be able to write down the ones I do not understand to look up.  Even without understanding every word I can get the gist of most stories.

Another invigorating experience is that I can now spell better in German than I can in English.  So I can hear even the words I do not understand so well that I can write them down, spelled correctly and look them up on the Collins Eng-German and vice of versa online Free Dictionary which is cool because it includes sometimes as many as a dozen sentences pulled from various newspapers and books which use the target word.

The most powerful thing about the Rocket German Interactive Audio Courses is that they focus on a narrative of sentences rather than all of my previous course which focused on memorizing words and grammar rules.  So I knew several thousand words, and three years worth of grammar rules but was unable to construct sentences and when in Germany felt hopelessly stupid.

Maybe it is also a critical mass of all the previous study, but in the past 22 days of Level  1 Premium sentence work, I seem to have learned enough about the structure of simple sentences that I can understand them and even put together all the conjugations and declensions, dative, and accusative case endings in real time (well maybe a little slower but fast enough to be engaged at a level that becomes exciting enough to sustain motivation through 4 to 8 hours a day at times.

Thanks a lot. (I guess I should make this a review so I can get 500 points.  Even though it seems silly I find that as soon as anyone starts counting things my competitive instinct kick in and my motivation goes way up.)  I got so addicted to the German Pod 101 Flashcard Flip counter that I've got that one up to 65,000 flips. LOL

jason-oxenham-ceo

Hi David - Wow! The way you are approaching German is very inspirational. I am glad to hear that Rocket German has been a significant part of that! As far as your comment about learning 2 (or more) languages at once goes, from what I have researched it seems that most polyglots would recommend learning no more than 2 languages at once and make sure that they are quite different from each other to avoid confusion.

Dan-H24

This is a very interesting post; I always look forward to them. There are several parallels to a book that I have been reading, Forever Fluent by Gabe Wyner. He too recommends learning the sounds of a language first, then building on words, phrases, and grammar. He is also an advocate of the Anki spaced repetition system flashcards. I have noticed people on our forum mention Anki, but I was invested in Quizlet and really didn't explore or understand the advantages of SRS until I read the book (which was also recommended by a user here.)

Long ago I read in the Ideas section here about the Arguelles technique of writing down phrases that I am learning, and do that faithfully, especially while doing the Know It tests. As said, it makes me slow down, think about grammar and sentence structure, and individual words. 

My takeaway from this article on "hacks" is that every language learner has to find the combination of tools and resources that work best for him/her. For me, Rocket Spanish has always been the heart of my learning toolkit, and is currently augmented by reading a first Spanish reader book, listening to Yabla videos, talking with native speakers via Skype and face to face, and stuyding my Anki flashcards (new words, phrases, and grammar to which are added from all of the above).

David K

Hi Dan-H24,

Building on your comment about how every student must find the combination of tools and resources that work best of for him/her, I might add that another reason for finding and having access to lots of different tools and resources is that we can mix-up our learning schedules to keep our motivation up.

I'm currently on the longest continuous streak (2 6 days) of learning an have managed to get 83,535 (About 7,,000 points was from before when I was trying out the free sample sections) My guess is that this is about an average of 2 to 3 hoursa day, but one day I did 10,000 point trying to catch up and pass nong fu is tops the leaderboards in "All Rocket courses" globally for 24 hours, 7 days, 30 days, and is at least pretty high on the year list.

Even though I say I'm not the competitive type anytime someone starts counting something it clicks off something electric in my motivattioin system.

So I did manage several days in the 8,000 to 10,000 a day range which put at number on for those days and that week. (Take that nong-fu) But using just the same tools can be tedious.  I was just getting to the maximum of my tedium limit when I discovered the Flashcard section here.  I had previously been using the German Pod 101 Flashcards (Actually I still do at least 200 a day)  They have a flip counter and in a tremendous spurt last December during a free sample month (their system made a mistake) I got up to 65,000 flash card turns.  The system they used then allow super fast turns. I liked it so much I just recently bought that course too.

But back to building on your point. Doing anything so intensively can lead to "burn out" so it is great to have a variety of tools to switch back and forth between to sustain momentum.

Because from what I gather from jason-oxeham's most excellent article on the time it takes to become proficient, (which is the best article I've seen on the subject and I've read a lot) the reality is to become proficient in a new language takes a heck of a lot of practice.  I've purchased and used a lot of these "Become Fluent in 30 days courses," and while some have been very helpful I am still not even a measurable fraction of "Fluent" or even proficient.  Another Memory Neumonics course  I bought suggests in their marketing material that one can learn a language in their system by starting with just 10 minutes a day.

For example, Duolingo is great for a free course, I did it last fall, however, on their meter I was 50% fluent by the time I finished, while in reality my guess is that it may have been 50% of 1%.  Don't get me wrong. I gained a lot of valuable free knowledge.  The point is that I think real conversational proficiency, and literacy in a new language is measured in years.

If  I remember correctly, on benchmark Jason Oxenham CEO of these Rocket courses, shared in his article in these forums was that the one U.S. Government language proficiency course aimed at getting government workers up to speed ASAP had a six month eight hour a day program over 6 months.

But on the plus side for those in the upper standard deviations of motivation,  ability, and most advanced learning technique who knows what is possible.

So far these Rocket German courses have numerous learning accelerators organized around whole sentences embedded in conversational narratives that have greatly improved my understanding of German Sentence structure.

As an example, of how this has great accelerated my learning, and simplified the complicated array of der, die, das, and ein word and possessive pronoun declinsions, I've been memorizing the matrices of variations for gender, case, and number since three years of high school courses, there must be like over 100 possibilities. Although I could get straight "A's" on tests in Germany, my mind would freeze in conversational settings as my brain tried to remember an to a decision tree search through all of these tables to figure out what to do in that second. 
In this last 26 days of the Rocket German Level 1 course, which I expected to do in a few days as review, I've experienced an amazing discovery.  If you learn it the way the Rocket German course lays it out, the learning challenge is vastly more simple - simple enough to do in real time.

For example, with the Nominative case ein words (and possessive pronouns).  It turns out that when constructing the sentences the indefinite article is going to be either ein or eine, the first if masculine or neuter, and the second if feminine or plural. WTH?!  Can it possibly be that simple?

So I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop when I would get to the "impossible for my brain to do parts."  But as practices the other cases, it terms out that whenever on is using "mit" it seems to be that it is going to be Dative, and that means -em in masculine and neuter,, -er in feminine, and -en in plural.

After dong hundreds of flashcard flips, the "Hear It," "Write It," "Know It" and Quizzes my brain just developed these nearly automatic patterns.  Plus suddenly at the same time I could suddenly start hearing the articles on the radio programs I've been listening to for the last 8 months. Like Magic.

Another example "Am Wochende" is now a unit in my mind.  And just by rote I've figured out that the "time related" terms tend to go in third position in the sentence structure.

Does this make sense?  What I'm trying to communicate i that the main benefit I've derived from this last 26 days of intensive Rocket German practice with real whole sentences is that my brain now has developed a set of relatively easy (or at least doable) protocols for German sentences.

Like, OK, first the noun or noun phrase," (So we automatically know it will be Nominative, What is the Gender? Masculine Der, Feminine Die, Neuter Das, Plural Die) Next the verb. If modal auxiliary then ....

So at any one moment in time the challenge is now finite, simple, and doable.  This stands in stark contrast to the way I've been taught since Junior High Shool, which was ok, start by memorizing this table of all the cases, number, and genders for the definite, article, the indefinite article, the possessive pronouns, before we look at a sentence, oh, but wait we need to learn these verb conjugations for the Present, Past, Future, Present Perfect, Past Perfect, for Indicatives, oh, but wait, before we get to sentences, let's memorize the subjunctive and the Passive Tenses,  here's one or two sentences, Oh, but before really practicing and learning sentences lets also memorize all the conjunctions and if they are dependent, put those verbs at the end, etc. etc.

Blech!  As I think back at how painful and stupid this has been I feel someone should be prosecuted!  (I mean this as a humorous  rhetorical exasperation, not a formal plea for indictments or vindictive retribution so please do not report me to Homeland Security to be put on a watchlist.)

Anyway, sorry to go on for so long, however, I can not describe to you what a breakthrough this has been for me.  Not only in sentence competency, but also motivation, and hope for the future.

I still have a long way to go to proficiency, probably a few years, however, it now seems possible.  I can for the first time see a doable pathway forward that is sufficiently fun and rewarding that it is humanly possible to anticipate sticking with.

An what an amazing experience at 60 years old to be able to listen to German internet Radio Wittstock RBB 87.7 and other News/Talk shows and discover meaningful understanding bubbling up in my brain. 

This is great as it feel like my mind is expanding.  And just in time, too, since a lot of my other organs seem to be shrinking, so I have plenty of spare space to fill up.
Vielen Dank and Auf Wiedersehen.

crisfreitas

It's realy a great post even for another languages learners to follow some steps!
muchas gracias

trutenor

Yes, this post is definitely very useful.  This is indeed something that I can apply to my Japanese.  Then I just add the conjugations and I'm set!

This method really helps for the speaking portions, which I feel is a weak point for a lot of people.  When you don't get as many opportunites to converse with natives in their language, its good to have as many of the basic and common words as possible.

Wow...Rocket, this place just continues to impress me with every visit.  I am so glad I decided to take the plunge and get my first lesson.  I have been impressed since day 1.

jason-oxenham-ceo

Hi Cris/Trutenor - Thanks for the feedback! I know from my own experience that having the confidence to speak out loud can be one of the most difficult things about learning a new language. I suppose it stems from the fear a lot of people have about public speaking transposed to a foreign language.

It's also why we spend time incorporating this aspect into Rocket courses!

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