How to Improve Your Spanish Vocabulary in 10 Easy Steps
Updated: Aug 25, 2020
Learning vocabulary is one of the most important aspects of learning a language. The more words and phrases you know, the more understanding you will have and the more you will be able to communicate! This sounds great, but when you have limited time, how can you take on-board what can feel like an endless stream of new words? Don’t worry. There are some tricks and techniques that can help you learn, and crucially retain, that all important vocabulary. Read on for ten tricks for learning new Spanish words and phrases.
Try to read as much as you can in Spanish. Magazines, websites, the back of Spanish cereal packets – it doesn’t matter what you read. The trick is to look up words you don’t understand and slowly you will find your vocabulary improves!
A cognate is a word that shares a similar meaning and spelling in two languages. Spanish and English both share Latin roots, which means there are many words that fall into this category. There are some that are exactly the same in Spanish. There are also some groups of words for which you can simply change the ending and you will have the Spanish word. The article below is a really helpful summary of the rules for Spanish and English cognates.
Learning cognates can fast track the amount of vocabulary you can learn in a short time. However, beware of false friends. For example, embarazada in Spanish does not mean embarrassed, it means pregnant!
Keep a note of all the new vocabulary you are learning to help you revise it at a later date. This will give you a personalised vocabulary list of words you are most likely to want to use. If you are learning a large number of words in a short time, then repeating and revising those that you have already covered is essential.
4. Vocabulary Themes
Memorising vocabulary out of context can be an inefficient way of studying. Instead, try to group the vocabulary that you are learning into themes. For instance, consider learning the words you would need to describe your evening meal – the food items, the utensils and the experience. The human brain functions by making connections. If you study vocabulary in a way that you can associate with a real lived experience, you will find it easier to remember more words.
Instead of looking at single words in isolation, memorising set phrases can really boost your ability to communicate in a language. Instead of struggling to construct a sentence from scratch you will have a bank of common phrases on the tip of your tongue.
6. Practice Little and Often
The goal with vocabulary is to transfer the knowledge from short term memory into long term memory. Regular repetition of words and phrases really help with this. Revising vocabulary in short bursts can reinforce your knowledge. Apps can be useful in this regard or playing games like pictionary.
7. Flashcards and Post-Its
Flashcards are a tried and tested technique for language learning. You can buy them or use flashcards apps. Equally you could make them yourself. This gives double benefit and you will learn the vocabulary whilst making them as well as whilst using them. Another option is labeling objects, such as those around your house, with their name in Spanish using post-its.
8. Watch a Film
Pick your favourite film and watch it with Spanish subtitles. Jot down any Spanish words or phrases that you would like to remember. This is likely to broaden your knowledge of commonly used phrases and more colloquial terms. When you become more confident you could even try watching a film that you know well dubbed in Spanish. This can be an hilarious experience but is also a fantastic way to pick up vocabulary.
9. Set a Goal
Set yourself an achievable target for the words and phrases you want to learn each week. Many of you will have lots of other commitments and goals. Set a pace that suits you and your life. If you have a Spanish exam coming up then you have a deadline set for you. In this case, try to start studying early and spread out your vocabulary learning across the time you have rather than cramming at the end! This way what you have studied will be retained in your long-term memory and be useful for you for many years to come.
10. Have Fun
Language learning is both easier and more enjoyable when you have fun doing it. If you are finding a particular method for learning vocabulary dull or dry, try something different. You could connect with others who are also learning and practice Spanish together. Play vocabulary games or translate Spanish jokes. This is your own journey to learn another language and should reflect you and your interests.
I hope these tips will help you with your Spanish! Keep a record of your progress so you can see how much regularly practising will improve your fluency. Do get in touch if you have any questions or to share your experience of using these learning techniques.
Hi, I am Karen. I am a languages tutor and blogger. I offer online tuition for students across the UK. I live in Tonbridge, in Kent, with my husband and my son. For me learning Spanish has meant fun, adventure, friendship and fulfilling work. I love sharing all that I have learnt with my students and via my blog. If you would like to receive 10% off your first online lesson, as well as regular updates and tips for learning Spanish, subscribe here.