That big test is just around the corner and your maestra (teacher) expects an A+.
Or maybe you are trying to learn Spanish on your own and are starting to think it’s gosh darn near impossible.
There are all those verb conjugations to get down, all that vocab to commit to memory…how do people even do this?
Sorry, unfortunately the language isn’t just going to magically sift into your brain.
But there are ways you can make it a lot easier on yourself.
Here is a guide that will help you study Spanish without tearing your hair out, eating a pint of ice cream or pulling an all-nighter.
Time to learn how to study Spanish effectively.
How to Memorize Through Active Learning
There is no getting around it: To pass your test, get through that Spanish-language novel or get yourself up to a level where you can have a conversation, you are going to need to do some memorization. This does take time, but if you don’t have a lot of it, there are techniques you can try that will help you memorize more effectively. What’s great about these different techniques is that they are all active learning.
Yes, active learning! There are two types of learning: active and passive. If you are actively learning it means that you are physically doing something. Now I don’t mean that you are jogging on the treadmill and reading your textbook, although that’s not a bad idea…
What I mean is that you are performing some sort of activity like writing or drawing.
Passive learning is when you are learning like a sponge. You let the information in and you try to absorb it. Examples of passive learning are listening to audio or reading a book.
I am going to focus on active learning…why? Because it’s more engaging and, in my opinion, more effective. When you are doing something you are engaging multiple senses and that’s going to help your brain get the info it needs fast!
Enough chat! Let’s get to it! Here are a few memorization techniques you can start trying out right away.
Learn 3 New Verbs at a Time
Verbs can seem super scary in Spanish because they are conjugated completely differently than in English. But you don’t need to be afraid of verbs. The best part is that every verb has a pattern. You just need to learn those patterns and then you will have it all down.
So what’s the active learning project we can do here?
Choose three verbs: Pick one verb that ends in -ar, like andar (to walk), one that ends in -er, like comer (to eat), and one that ends in -ir, like escribir (to write).
Now, we are going to write out the conjugations for these three verbs in the present tense:
So if we look at these side-by-side, what can we learn?
1. All of the yo conjugations end with an “o.”
2. If the verb ends in -ar, then you need to put an “a” after the root (as, a, amos, áis, an).
3. If the verb ends in -er or -ir they are basically the same except for nosotros and vosotros.
4. If the verb ends in -er you add an “e” after the root (es, e, emos, éis, en).
5. If the verb ends in -ir you add an “e” after the root except for with nosotros and vosotros, in which case you use an “i” (e, es, e, imos, ís, en).
If you remember those five rules, then you will be a verb master.
We’ve covered the first active learning aspect, writing. Let’s go on to the next, speaking.
Now that you’ve written down the conjugations, you need to say them, and I mean literally say them out loud, over and over and over and over and over again until your tongue is numb.
You are more likely to remember something that you hear and read than something you just read. Remember how I mentioned engaging as many senses as possible? That’s what we are trying to do.
Once you’ve mastered these three verbs, then pick a different -ar verb, a different -er verb and a different -ir verb. The conjugations will be the same with a different root. The above should also give you an idea of how you can work out rules of the language on your own, and seek out patterns that will make learning easier.
Use Picture Flashcards
So we’ve talked about verbs, but what about nouns and other vocabulary? The great thing about nouns is that they are more tangible (at least until you start getting into more advanced, abstract concepts). A great way to study nouns is to create your own flashcards. Go to the store and buy a pack of multicolored index cards (or make your own at home) and just get to it!
Write out, by hand, the word on one side, and on the back draw a picture. Now if you are like me, even a stick figure may be a challenge, but that’s okay! Draw a simple picture that you understand.
Why a picture and not a word?
When you are studying, it will be easier to remember one word and one image than to try to remember one image, one Spanish word and one English word. By writing them on colored paper, your mind will associate those words with those colors, also.
You can go about color coding however you want. Everything green can go on a green card. Or maybe everything about the kitchen will go on a pink card. Do whatever makes sense to you.
With flashcards, it’s important to go over them, take a break and then come back to them. The break can be five minutes, but it’s better to give yourself a good half hour or so to really “forget” the cards. This way you are forcing yourself to put the Spanish words in your long term memory. That will help you out when you go to take that test!
Create a Story
Stories are easier to remember than cold hard facts. Let’s take a look at all of our examples so far and create a story.
Juan va a la cocina. Come manzanas, zanahorias y palta. Ahora Juan escribe sobre comida.
(John walks to the kitchen. He eats apples, carrots and avocado. Now John writes about food.)
This was a simple story talking about the kitchen and food. You don’t have to write a novel like Jane Austen, just get your words and put them together.
If you are feeling really ambitious, create a rhyming poem for extra memorization power. Which brings us to…
Create a Song
Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? Oh, we all have. I bet you have one stuck in your head right now. Why not get a song stuck in your head that will help you with your Spanish? There are tons available online, like this one about the days of the week, but I bet you can guess what’s even better.
That’s right, write your own! Be Taylor Swift for an afternoon.
For the purpose of this exercise, you don’t have to have any musical skills, all you have to do is just attach your own Spanish lyrics to a song you already know. Then even when you hear the song on the radio you will hear your own lyrics.
Create Other Kinds of Mnemonics
Create other kinds of…what? A mnemonic is creating something to help you remember something. I know that sounded confusing, but stick with me. A mnemonic can be a poem, a song (like above), acronym or other word device. It’s something that helps you remember a group of words associated with each other. We have tons of them in English. Never Eat Soggy Waffles always helps me remember North East South West. Or maybe you use your knuckles to remember how many days are in a month.
So create your own in Spanish! Here’s one I threw together for the days of the week (starting with Monday):
|Viernes||Valientes||Who are brave|
|Sábado||Cuando saltan||When jumping|
Yeah, it isn’t perfect, but that’s not the point. The point is that now I will remember the days of the week. It’s best to create your mnemonic in Spanish, but doing one in English is just fine, too.
You can make these up for anything. They will help you remember everything from when to use the subjunctive to if you should use por or para.
How to Maximize Your Resources
We’ve just gone over a list of things that you can do from your home right now to help improve your Spanish. These are great for quick memorization, but if you really want to make your Spanish stick, you are going to want to branch out a bit. Here are a few more ideas to help you study Spanish more effectively with a variety of resources.
Buy a Workbook
A workbook will really help you study. This “Spanish Basic Workbook” is split into sections, which is great for targeted studying. It also has a lot of exercises. The more the better!
Using workbooks is another form of active learning. There are tons available online and probably at your local library! The best thing about a workbook is that there is usually a key at the end so you can check your work and see how well you did.
Listen to Native Spanish Speakers
Now there is a tender spot in my heart for Castilian Spanish, which is what this particular YouTube video is all about. Here she is just telling you about Christmas in Spain. That’s what’s so awesome. There is no lesson or anything strictly “educational.” She is just telling you a story and you are listening to how she speaks.
As you hear native speakers, your accent will improve. Try to mimic the way that they pronounce the words and their accents. This is the key to sounding like a native. You need to know how it’s supposed to sound before you say it, right?
Read Children’s Books
“Are You My Mother?” is a classic and a favorite. If you don’t know this story, pick a different one. The point is, you choose a story that you know and love because then you will understand the grammar and vocabulary without a dictionary right there.
Children’s books are a hidden secret. If you can find a book that you love that has lots of pictures and read it in Spanish you will already know the story and will be able to understand it. Books are great because they put grammar and vocabulary into a real context. You are no longer looking at a list of conjugated verbs, you are reading them in their proper context.
These resources will amplify your Spanish learning and catapult you to fluency.
How to Create a Support Team
You’ve seen this a million times with exercise or with weight loss: Find a team with a coach and check in every day. In no time, you will lose 50 pounds! Well, the same concept goes for learning Spanish.
Surround yourself with other learners. You don’t all have to be at the same phase of learning, either. These can be people in the same class as you, friends on Facebook or total strangers. But you want to have people around you who are trying to improve their Spanish and who want to help you.
There are a lot of these groups out there. So start searching and find one that you like.
Spanish Language Meetup is just one of these groups. On this particular website you can find people in your area and actually meet up with them! How great is that? If there isn’t a group around, you can start one.
Once you’ve formed a group like this, keep up with it and help each other out. Set goals, create activities and maybe even meet up to speak in Spanish to each other. Whatever works.
The important thing with studying Spanish is that you do a little bit every day.
Whether it’s five minutes or an hour, it will help you in the long run.
If you study your Spanish every day, then maybe you won’t be cramming for that next exam.
Maybe you will just strut through that door with your Spanish swag to grab that A+.
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