Can you carry a conversation in Spanish? Understand your favorite Spanish movie without subtitles? Most likely not, and your frustrated not having enough of the words you'll use in your real life. Build your Spanish vocabulary with these simple and effective vocabulary building tips. End the silence and defeat, doing just one strategy will increase your word power right away.
Let me guess, when you've got a chance to speak Spanish, you don't know the words to say. Even worse, you try anyways and you sound so stupid. Even two year olds have better conversational skills. How discouraging.
Like, the time I said a bad word to my little niece (chinga instead of changa) on accident. Shame on me. She thought it was hilarious. I had to laugh too, even though I felt bad.
This has to be the number one source of struggle for beginners and even the fluent. A big vocabulary will make it so much easier to understand others and to say what's on your mind, the right way.
Spending fifteen minutes a day on any of these strategies will give increase your vocabulary 100x pretty quickly. Not just in a workbook or fake exercise, but in your real life. Over a years time, this consistent practice will 1000x your Spanish vocabulary.
What's wrong with traditional vocabulary lists?
Most of them, talking about textbook vocabulary lists and drills are torture and ineffective.
- they're full of words that are boring, uninteresting
- a lot of them you'll never use
- they don't fit your interests or routines
- they're missing the context of use
Go tell your friends your name and that you are an American woman with straight brown hair. Wow, that is not impressive! Might be funny if you're a guy. On the other hand, you can share the story about how your friend saved your life. Or tell your friends about what you did last weekend.
In other words, the traditional vocabulary list is a waste of your time and energy. Your ideal vocabulary will have the words you will use the most, that fit you and what is important to you and grow your language skills.
Organic word collections are better
Instead of relying on pre-filled vocabulary lists, you can make your own word collection. A collection is not just a list of words. But rather words that you hand pick and explore the depth of their meaning, create a visual image, include examples of use, and even expand with other related words.
These seven vocabulary building strategies will help you get started creating your own personal Spanish word collection. Fill it up with the words you'll love and use in your real life.
How to Build Your Spanish Vocabulary
If the only book you've used to learn Spanish is a textbook, you've been missing out on some very valuable language learning sources. Simplicity is the key to brilliance. And here you'll see what I mean ---
A few simple vocabulary building strategies are all you need. There is a whole lot of words in the world waiting for you to find them. And put them to use in your real life.
Before we begin put all your textbooks away. Yay!
I see that big smile on your face.
No. 1 Choose an Ordinary Spanish Book
First things, first - you need a source for words. An ordinary but special Spanish book is your main source for new words.
How do you know a your Spanish book is special?
You need to know what makes a book good as a source for vocabulary. We want to stay away from anything that is artificially made for language learners. Instead, we will look for any ordinary book.
- your favorite kind of book
- it must be easy to read
- something that is really interesting to read
- about things you enjoy in your real life
They are full of amazing vocabulary that you'll actually use. Authors have chosen words carefully and crafted them into sentences. An editor corrected any mistakes. The best part is finding these words within an example of how to use them.
Easy Reading Level is Better
A simply written text will make vocabulary building much easier. When you enjoy what you're reading, you will look forward to more time with the text. Harder texts will be frustrating, you'll end up discouraged, get off track and quit.
See what you find in the children's book section for many options.
An ordinary book is perfect for learning new Spanish vocabulary. They have lots of great examples built-in.
Options for Your Core Reading Source
You are not just limited to books. Good core sources come in many different formats. Some of the best reading will come from speeches or conversations that are recorded in print. Everything fits into one of two large categories - fiction (stories) or non-fiction (informational). Also, they cover limitless topics.
Good sources variety of formats:
- documents - constitutions, manifests
- chapter books - children's, historical fiction,
- comic books
- reference books - encyclopedia, thesaurus, dictionaries...
- the Bible
- board books for preschoolers
Good sources variety of topics:
- recreation - hiking, gardening, travel, sports...
- hobbies - crafts, collections, skills, home decor
- education - history, science, health, mathematics, language, art...
- basics - alphabet, colors, numbers, time...
- self-improvement - productivity, motivation, beauty, organization
- current events
We naturally talk about the things we love. The beauty of this kind of source is that you will find useful vocabulary. Because it is meaningful to you. Books are full of dialogue, unique descriptions. Some are even great of examples of persuasive speech. Pick your absolute favorite, and you'll be off to a good start.
No 2. Read the Book Aloud
If you've been searching for vocabulary exercise, reading aloud is a great way to practice using new vocabulary. Saying text aloud trains your ear to listen for the sound of a word and your tongue for how to pronounce a word. In, fact it's practice of a lot of vocabulary at once.
Instead of drilling and rote memory of lists, read aloud to grow new language pathways in the brain. Your memory and thinking skills will improve along with your vocabulary. Books will have more variety of vocabulary.
How to Improve Your Spanish Pronunciation
I cannot stress the importance of practicing oral skills through vocabulary enough. English and Spanish share the same alphabet with the exception of one letter. Yet, they sound different in many ways. This makes pronunciation essential for vocabulary exercises. Not enough time is spent listening and speaking.
Here are two pronunciation resources to help you start:
>>> Beginning Spanish Phonics
This post explains the differences in sounds and offers a printable bookmark with the letter sounds.
A craft to make letter cards and banner of the Spanish alphabet to hang on the wall for phonics practice.
Not enough time is spent on this crucial step from the beginning. As a starting point, learn the correct sounds and do your best to improve as you read. This read aloud activity increases your listening and speaking skills to amazing.
No 3. The Ultimate Spanish Vocabulary List
The best vocabulary list is full of the words you handpick from an ordinary book.
Every ordinary book is stuffed full of all kinds of words. The boring vocabulary list you found in the textbook is gone. I stole it because it's not good for your language learning health. You've got complete freedom to find and choose words important to you. These are the words you'll actually use in your real life.
Let's take a look at the kinds of words you'll run into. Every word fits into one of these seven categories:
The 7 Parts of Speech
- nouns - people, places, activities, and ideas
- verbs - state of being and action
- adjectives - unique details of nouns
- adverbs - qualities of verbs
- pronouns - replacement for nouns
- conjunctions - combining thoughts and details
- prepositions - relationship between words
Think about the specific words from your life - home, work, activities, and interests. And how you describe and connect and disconnect them. Find some for each of the seven parts of speech. This is the vocabulary list you need.
Word Exploration Activity
The ordinary book opens up a whole world of new and mysterious vocabulary. Most of it you won't understand, so you'll be curious.
Regularly, I read aloud Spanish books to my children. Their biggest complaint was - I don't understand what you're saying. Before reading, we chose a few words from the pages to write and draw. I even made them these word exploration sheets. Each of them have a notebook full of them to add new words to their personal collection.
No 4. Spanish and Visual Definitions Only
The key word exploration rule is --- stick to thinking in Spanish or creating images. Be a brain boss by maximizing the language pathways in the brain. You can only do this by not using English. Divide the languages and conquer.
The way you think about the words affects the memory and processing in the brain.
Options for Spanish only definitions
Since beginner's don't have any words to make a definition independently, try one of these alternatives. Creating a visual image in your head and an internal Spanish dialogue is important.
- Write the word.
- Draw a picture of the word.
- Copy the phrase or sentence with the word in it from the text.
- Using the word, write a sample sentence of your own.
- Using a Spanish-Spanish dictionary, copy the definition.
In the beginning this is so hard (seemingly impossible) to do. It's the best thing you can do for yourself. Because you will be motivated by scarcity of words. This will drive you to learn more words sooner. And your ability to communicate will be clearer.
No 5. Find Similar and Opposite Words
Doing a word search like this will 1000x expand your choice of words. From one word, you'll be able to substitute with several other similar or opposite words. Technically, these are synonyms and antonyms.
Every word has unique subtleties in meaning. Similar words are useful for comparison and opposites for contrast. Finding them is really simple with a thesaurus.
Favorite Online Spanish Thesaurus
Enter your word into the search of one of these online sources:
The results will list several related words. Write them down, make note of any differences. You'll see your collection expand quickly.
No. 6 Build on Your Favorite Activities
For the last two strategies, you'll break away from print sources and use your daily life as a source. This means you'll need to translate your life into Spanish. All your favorite things to do and talk about will be the focus of your new Spanish vocabulary. What makes you unique? How do you choose to spend your time? What are your responsibilities at work and home?
I love to do hot yoga and pilates, go to coffee shops, read the Bible, learn about all kinds of curious subjects, travel local and far, the outdoors and getting together with my friends and their kids. At home I do a lot of cleaning, cooking, school planning and I work on my blog
Most of my time is spent on homeschool, parenting, running a household, reading the Bible, hot yoga and pilates, travel, coffee shops, faith, writing, outdoors and friendships.
What activities do you invest your time into?
Make a list of topics and brainstorm the unique vocabulary used for them. Focus on one at a time and use the new words the next time your doing the activity. Even if it means you talk to yourself.
My Favorite Online Spanish-English Dictionaries
Another option is to do a Google search for a topic. Enter the search "Spanish vocabulary for... (your activity)". See if you find any topical vocabulary lists that are helpful.
You are unique and your vocabulary is full of what makes you different - your style, interests, and habits. When you find those words, it will be natural for you to use at home, work or wherever you go.
No. 7 Write Your Script in Spanish
This one will help you to learn new phrases and sentences structures, not just individual words.
Your routine dialogue is the source of new Spanish vocabulary. Again, shift your focus from a text source to the details of your real life. Study yourself and write down your quotes. These can be found in your routines, habits and your personal style. These are the words you naturally use all the time.
Rachel Havana Quoted and Translated
These are some examples of things I say everyday:
- AT BEDTIME: Good night, sweet dreams. Buenas noches, dulces sueños.
- ON A HIKE ENJOYING NATURE, I THINK ABOUT: el cielo claro, el sol brilla, las nubes, el sonido de los animalitos, la sombra
- CLEANING MY HOME: I tell my son - Take out the trash. Saca la basura.
Quote yourself too in Spanish. Just think of all the new chances you'll have to speak Spanish everyday.
Online English-Spanish Translation Resources
Once you write down your most common phrases, then you can translate them into Spanish. Even better, ask a Spanish speaking friend how they say it in Spanish. It may be easier to do a quick search online. These are some good online translation resources:
I warn you, sometimes these tools translate incorrectly. But more often than not they're pretty accurate.
Bonus Strategy - Challenge Yourself to Grow
Do you need some help getting started using these powerful vocabulary building strategies? Join the next challenge, hosted by me, Rachel.
Finally, approaching vocabulary with a focus on the words you'll love and use in your real life works wonderfully. Becoming bilingual in this way is so refreshingly simple and fun.