Spanish Vocabulary

Learn 10 Spanish words per day and know 2,500 words after one year! (Suggestions for effective studying below.)*

Many words in Spanish and English are similar, but similar words can have very different meanings, so be careful.

Here are the first 10 words to know in Spanish:

el  the

los  the

la  the

las  the

y  and

o  or

no  not; no

de  of; from

que  that; which; who

en  in; on

Words pronunciation: 0:21 (21s)

Why are there four words for 'the'? Because, in Spanish, every noun is either 'male' or 'female.' And everything can be either 'singular' (just one) or 'plural' (two or more). There is no real sense behind what words are male and which are female. Rather than try to make sense of it, your time is better spent just learning the gender of each new noun you learn.

'El' is the 'the' for male things.

'La' is the 'the' for female things.

'Los' is 'the' for more than one object (at least one of which is male).

'Las' is 'the' for more than one object (all of which are female):

el niño  the boy

la niña  the girl

los niños  the boys; the boys and girls; the children

las niñas  the girls

Examples pronunciation: 0:12 (12s)

* Suggestions for Effective Studying

To learn any language, the best method is to do some studying every day. Frequent study allows you to remember what you learned—and then add to it! Infrequent study leads you to forget what you learned—and then have to learn it again.

I recommend doing one of these pages each day. That is usually about ten words. If you can work with those ten words twice a day for 10 minutes—morning bus & evening bus, morning coffee break & afternoon coffee break, after lunch & after dinner—you will remember more and learn more.

It takes a little more time and effort, but I would recommend that you get a spiral notebook and carefully copy down the vocabulary words and definitions (and maybe even the example phrases and translations, as well), with Spanish to the left of a vertical line on the page, English to the right. Just copying this information, carefully and correctly, with the correct spelling and accents, is often enough to help you learn it. Having it all in a notebook will also free you from the inconvenience of always having to be on the phone or the computer!

After studying the Spanish vocabulary and the example phrases, cover the English and try to recall it for each item. (It is also possible to cover the Spanish and test yourself in the other direction, but that is not so important at these early stages, and might even be unnecessarily discouraging.)

Do this each day with the new page, but also quickly review the most recent pages from previous days. This will help you remember what you have already learned and build on it.

As you learn more Spanish, seek out websites, articles, song lyrics, and closed captioning on Spanish TV channels, and watch and listen for examples of what you have already learned. As you learn more, you will, of course, recognize and understand more and more of what you see and hear. Gradually, with continued effort, you will eventually understand almost everything. This may take a couple years or more.

The 2,500 most common Spanish words represent only about 10% of the vocabulary of an adult, college-educated, native Spanish speaker. However, because these are the most common words, these 2,500 words should represent about 90% of the words used in most everyday situations. (You still may be lost 10% of the time, but that's not so bad.) This is the language version of Pareto's Law (the 80/20 rule): understanding 90% of what is said will take 10% of your effort; understanding the remaining 10% of what is said will take 90% of your effort.

Reading and listening are the "easy" parts of language learning. Speaking, and especially writing (!), tend to come later and are very difficult to completely master. So, first, don't worry about completely mastering them. It is, for a non-native speaker, a never-ending process. Second, don't let this difficulty discourage you from continuing to work to get better and better at speaking and writing.

For speaking, start by watching a recorded Spanish TV program or video with the Spanish closed captions or subtitles on, and do your best to repeat after the speaker. If you record yourself doing this, you can play back the recording and probably hear what you are pronouncing correctly (like the speaker) and what you are pronouncing incorrectly. Keep repeating, recording, and listening, and your pronunciation will get better and better.

For speaking and for writing, the more reading (and listening) you do, the more you will learn how Spanish sentences are organized, and gradually how to produce them yourself. In both speaking and writing, though, you have to be aware that when you try to produce Spanish, you will, quite naturally, rely on your knowledge of English. While that can be helpful, more often it will lead you to think, speak, and write by just translating the English sentences you are thinking of, word for word, into Spanish. In most cases, this will not be good Spanish. It is often enough to be understood, but try to focus on learning how things are really said in Spanish, instead of thinking you can just plug Spanish words into the English sentence you are thinking of. Spanish is not just English with different words; it is, except for a few similar words here and there, an entirely different language of its own. Different language, different rules.

© 2017-2018 Chris Marquardt, Spanish Pronto

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Created -- 2017-06-18
Revised -- 2018-11-11