5 Tips to grow your Spanish vocabulary FAST!

“While without grammar little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed.” David Wilkins, British linguist.

1. Smarter learning

Before you starting learning Spanish words it would be a good idea to take into consideration the following things:

i) How do you learn best?

There are 3 types of learners and depending on which type of learner you are, you would choose a different way to memorise vocabulary:

Visual: some people learn better by looking at the word and the image – in this case you would use flashcards, pictures and mind maps.

Aural: other people learn better by listening to the language spoken out loud. Activities aural learners would use include listening to podcasts, music, television programmes and other audio.

Kinaesthetic: – other people learn best by actively using the language so this could be acting out a role-play, going to a restaurant, playing a game in the language and so on.

ii) What do you really need to know in the language?

If you just want to learn a few practicalities to get by during a short trip abroad, you don’t need to focus too much on grammar rules. Only learn the key verbs you will need to express your wants and needs and key vocabulary for eating out, hotels and travelling around, catching a taxi and so on.
The Pareto Principle states that: “20% of your efforts will produce 80% of the results” so only a small percentage of your efforts will bring in the greatest results.

2. Start with the easiest vocabulary

i) Cognates

Even as a complete beginner you will already be able to recognise some words as they are the same or almost the same as the word in English. For example, in Spanish cognates include:

el bar – the bar
la cafetería – cafeteria
conversación – conversation
el hospital – hospital
la estación – station
el hotel = hotel

ii) Prefixes and suffixes

Learn the common prefixes that alter the meaning of the word:

hacer = to do
deshacer = to undo

necesario = necessary
innecesario = unnecessary

Just by knowing the prefix –des you now know two words instead of one. The more prefixes and suffixes you learn, the faster you will increase your vocabulary.

iii) Synonyms and antonyms

If when you learn a word, you also learn the complete opposite (the antonym), you can double the number of words you know! For instance, when you learn the adjective for “fast”“rápido” why not also learn the word for “slow”“despacio”?
Similarly, if you learn other words that also mean “fast” you can add variety to your vocabulary so that you are not sticking with the same words all the time.

3. Learn in context

How many times have you been given a list of words to memorise which you have really struggled to do? The key is to put each word in a context of how it would normally be used. Let’s say you are trying to learn the words for professions. Instead of just learning the word for “a waiter” you could put it in a sentence and highlight the key words you want to learn:

Un camarero trabaja en un bar o un restaurante.
A waiter works in a bar or a restaurant.

This way you are not only learning the word for “a waiter” you are also learning related words such as the verb “to work” (trabajar) and the associated workplace – “un bar” and “un restaurante”.

Masculine / Feminine

You could also group words into masculine or feminine nouns by writing them in different colours and on different sides of the page in your notebook.

Topic areas

You could separate your vocabulary learning into topic areas. You might start by learning all the fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and so on.

4. Flashcards

As well as making your own flashcards which although may seem “old school” is also good because whilst writing them out you are already thinking about the word and starting to fix it in your mind. There are many good flashcard apps available to download on your phone, tablet or computer. You can create your own or use sets created by other users.

Spanishdict.com – has a good flashcard creator on its website.
Spanish Flashcards by BN Inc – Google App
TinyCards by Duolingo

Spaced repetition – Anki app

Anki is a brilliant app because it also shows you the flashcards that you find most difficult more often and those that you find easy, less often. You choose whether you want to see the Spanish side of the card or the English first. It times how quickly you answer and you also choose how easy or difficult the card was for you. The app then decides how quickly it will show you that card again. To learn it better you will need to see it sooner and more often, helping you memorise the more difficult words more quickly.

5. Visualisation

Create images in your mind associated with the word you are trying to learn. This is a great way to learn for visual learners. Other ideas include creating mind maps or cartoons involving the word you want to memorise. You could find photos and write captions below them using the word being learnt.

The key to successful learning is finding what works best for you as we all learn differently. Don’t be afraid to change how you learn every so often. You don’t want to get bored sticking with the same routine all the time. You can always go back to previous methods after a few weeks or months.

If you want to learn more about how to learn vocabulary quickly and easily you can download this blog post along with many more tips via the sign up page on the home page www.vivalanguageservices.co.uk. You will also receive free weekly tips for learning Spanish.

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