Language Hacking Spanish: 10 Hacks to Learn Spanish Faster
Language Hacking is now a thing!
From 27th September, my new book Language Hacking Spanish is available in bookstores all around the world.
So, what’s the fuss all about?
Language hacking is all about looking for the faster, smarter ways to learn languages. I’ve been sharing and developing my ideas on language hacking ever since I launched my blog Fluent in 3 Months in 2009.
In short, language hacking is about learning a language through speaking it from day one.
Now, for the first time, I’ve developed Language Hacking into a series of beginner courses for language learners, published with Teach Yourself.
That’s how Language Hacking Spanish came about.
And it’s all about learning Spanish by speaking Spanish.
Rather than go in-depth on how language hacking works (you can read more about that here), I thought I’d give you a sneak peek inside the new course, so you can try out some of the Spanish hacks for yourself.
I’ve included that page numbers so when you get your own copy of the course (order here) you can look them up for yourself.
I’ve collected 10 of my best hacks for learning Spanish fast. Enjoy!
1. Discover the Spanish Words You Already Know (page 9)
Are you convinced you don’t know any Spanish at all? Think again.
If you speak English, then you already know loads of Spanish words. You just don’t realise it yet. Have a look at the following Spanish words and see how easy they are to recognise:
With only minor spelling differences, there are literally thousands of words that are the same between English and Spanish. You can easily figure out whether an English word is the same in Spanish by looking at the ending of the word. Here are a few examples:
- Words ending in -tion in English nearly always end in -ción in Spanish. E.g. admiración, instrucción, nación.
- English words ending in -tude, -or, -ist, -nce or -ty have slightly different endings in Spanish, but are otherwise identical. E.g. altitud, actor, optimista, arrogancia, universidad.
2. Try Memory Hooks to Get Spanish Words Stuck in Your Mind (page 25)
Chances are, the most vivid memories you have in life are the most unusual things that have happened to you. For example, you probably don’t remember what you did on every birthday you’ve ever had, but I bet there are a few birthdays where you did something pretty out-of-the-ordinary (don’t worry, I won’t ask for details). Those will be the memories that stand out the most.
You can learn Spanish vocabulary using the same technique: link the Spanish word to some unusual, funny, or shocking image that you’re sure to remember.
Since it’s words you’re learning, sound association is the easiest way to do this. Say the Spanish word you want to learn several times out loud, until you can think of an English word that sounds like it. Now think of an image that links both words in a memorable way.
For example, to remember that poco means “little”, imagine a silly image of yourself hopping up and down on a little pogo stick. Or if you want to remember that tengo hambre means “I’m hungry”, imagine that you’re so hungry that you could eat ten good hamburgers.
3. Stuck with Spanish Genders? Try this Simple Trick (page 63)
In Spanish, every noun has a gender – either masculine or feminine. Many native English speakers groan at the thought of having to learn Spanish noun genders, but it’s actually a lot easier than you think. Just look at the ending of the word, and you can guess its gender and have a pretty good chance of being right.
You already do this in English with people’s names. How do you know that “Roberto” is a man’s name and “Roberta” is a woman’s name? The ending, of course. Names that end in -o are usually masculine, and those ending in -a are usually feminine.
It’s the same thing with Spanish nouns. If a noun ends in -o, always guess masculine. If it ends in -a, always guess feminine.
But Spanish has more noun endings than just -o or -a:
- If a noun ends in -e, -ma, an accented vowel (á, é, í, ó, ú) or most consonants, guess masculine. Examples: el perfume, el sofá, el programa, el rumor.
- If a noun ends in -d, -z or -ión, guess feminine. Examples: la felicidad (happiness), la nariz (nose), la conversación (conversation).
4. Say Way More in Spanish with These Five Booster Verbs (page 88)
Spanish has many irregular verbs. You can’t use the normal rules of conjugation to guess the different forms of these verbs. It’s just a fact of the language.
Instead of crying about it or miserably forcing yourself to power through the job of learning these verbs, just learn the following “booster” verbs to skirt around the issue altogether!
These verbs can be used with other verbs in their dictionary form, so you can still express many ideas even before you learn a lot of irregular verb forms.
Me gusta (for interests)
To say “I go out every weekend”, you need to know the yo form of the verb “salir” (“to go out”). If you’re unsure of what it is, use “me gusta” and rephrase the sentence to be “Me gusta salir cada fin de semana” (“I like to go out every weekend”).
Voy a (for future plans)
“Voy a” means “I’m going to”, and can be followed with any verb in its dictionary form to express what you’ll be doing in the near future. For example: “Voy a comer” (“I will eat”/”I am going to eat”) or “Voy a salir” (“I will go out”/”I’m going to go out”).
Quiero (for intentions)
For talking about things that you plan to do or want to do, use “quiero” (“I want”). For example: “Quiero ver la película” (“I want to see the film”).
Tengo que (for obligations)
You can use “tengo que” (“I must”) to talk about obligations. Instead of saying “I’m coming tomorrow”, which requires you to know the yo form of “venir” (“to come”), say “Tengo que venir mañana” (“I have to come tomorrow”).
Puedo (for possibilities)
This is a versatile verb that can express abilities, possibilities and requests. For example, “Puedo conducir” (“I can drive”), “Puedo ayudar” (“I can help”), or “¿Puedo decir la respuesta?” (“Can I say the answer?”)
5. Learn these Patterns to Decipher Any New Verb and its Forms (page 107)
There are many Spanish verbs that might look irregular at first sight, but actually aren’t. For example:
- The tú form of “tener” (to have) is tienes (The ‘e’ becomes ‘ie’).
- The yo form of “recordar” (to remember) is “recuerdo” (The ‘o’ becomes ‘ue’).
This seems irregular, but there’s actually a logical pattern to it. You can predict when to change the ‘e’ to ‘ie’ and the ‘o’ to ‘ue’ in these verbs.
How can you predict this? Just ask yourself this question: Does the verb end in -r or -mos?
If the answer is yes, then the verb keeps the single vowel sound.
For example, all verbs in their dictionary form end in -r. So you’ll know that verbs like “tener”, “entender”, “sentir”, etc, keep the ‘e’ instead of changing it to ‘ie’. And verbs like “recordar” and “almorzar” keep the ‘o’ instead of changing it to ‘ue’.
Along the same lines, these verbs in the “nosotros” form end in -mos. Therefore, they will keep the single vowel in these cases too: “tenemos”, “entendemos”, “sentimos”.
But: If the verb does not end in -r or -mos, then the verb often uses the two-vowel sound.
For example, “querer” in its “yo” form doesn’t end in -r or -mos; it ends in -o. So it will become “yo quiero”. Same thing in its “ellos/ellas” form: “ellos tienen”. And the verb “encontrar” in its “yo” form ends in -o, so it becomes “yo encuentro”.
6. Sound More Like a Native Speaker with Conversation Connectors (page 139)
Have you ever been stuck in conversation with someone who kept giving one-word answers, no matter how hard you tried to ask open-ended questions to get them to elaborate a little? It was pretty painful, right?
When you’re a beginner Spanish speaker chatting with native speakers, you might feel like you have no choice in the matter. If someone asks “¿Tienes hambre?” (“Are you hungry?”), you might think that ‘sí’ and ‘no’ are the only answers available to you. You don’t know enough phrases to keep the conversation going, so you have to give one-word answers. Right?
With a few key phrases, called conversation connectors, you can keep the conversation flowing naturally despite your limited vocabulary.
For the above question (“¿Tienes hambre?”), you could reply, “Gracias por la pregunta; sí, tengo hambre, ¿y tú?” (“Thanks for asking. Yes, I’m hungry. How about you?”) This makes the conversation a lot less one-sided and a lot more interesting.
Conversation connectors don’t add extra content to your sentences, but they expand on what would otherwise be a very short answer.
Here are some examples of conversation connectors you can add to your phrases to sound more fluent and natural:
- en mi opinión (in my opinion)
- si entiendo bien (if I understand correctly)
- por desgracia (unfortunately)
- por cierto (by the way)
- además (besides, in addition to)
- o sea … (so …)
You’ll find plenty more conversational connectors inside Language Hacking Spanish.
7. Time Travel – Three Ways to Talk About the Past Using the Present (page 160)
When you’re speaking your native language, verb tenses come naturally. You don’t need to know why a sentence like “I have seen that movie two weeks ago” sounds a little ‘off’. You just know that “I saw that movie two weeks ago” sounds better.
The more you study Spanish, the easier the verb tenses will become. Trust me. But for now, you can use a few tricks to avoid complex verb tenses while still sounding natural in Spanish. There are several ways that you can use the present tense to talk about the past.
One way is to tell a story. To talk about something that happened to you recently, simply set up your story with a time indicator, and then tell the story as if it’s happening in the present. For example: “So, the other day, there I am, minding my own business, when someone comes up to me, and you’ll never guess what happens!” You probably already do this all the time in English to make your stories sound more fun and interesting.
Another way is to use the ‘nosotros’ form of the verb. With only a few exceptions, the ‘nosotros’ form of verbs is the same in the present and past tense! So if you can find a way to pull someone else into your story and tell it from the “we” perspective, this is a very handy shortcut.
Finally, when in doubt, you can always go the I Tarzan, you Jane route . Your verb tenses don’t have to be perfect for others to get the gist.
Think of it this way. If someone said to you in English, “Yesterday…I eat pizza. Delicious”, you would understand what they meant. And others will understand you if you do the same thing in Spanish. So don’t sweat it!
8. Talk Your Way Through Complicated Sentences with the Rephrasing Technique (page 182)
As a beginner Spanish speaker, your phrases will sometimes sound more like a young child than a grown person. But if little toddlers can communicate their wishes through their limited language (“No peas! Yucky! Candy! CANDY!”), then so can you.
It can be frustrating not to be able to elaborate fully, but at least you’re (hopefully!) old enough not to have a temper tantrum about it.
Suppose you have a great sentence all lined up in English – for example, “Excuse me…I’m sorry…I just overheard you speaking Spanish…I’ve actually been studying it for a while…do you mind if I practise a few phrases with you?…I hope I’m not bothering you…”. But your Spanish isn’t advanced enough to translate this sentence. You can ask yourself, “How would a toddler, with limited language experience, say this phrase?”. Then, say it that way.
For example, the above phrases could become “You speak Spanish? Me too! Let’s talk!”.
Anytime you’re not sure how to say a complex sentence in Spanish, break it down into its core idea, and say that instead. You won’t sound like a native speaker (yet), but it’s infinitely better than saying nothing.
Over time, you’ll learn enough to express any thought as easily in Spanish as you can in English. Be patient. It will come.
9. Immerse Yourself in Spanish All Day with Hidden Moments (page 204)
No matter how busy you are, there’s always time to learn a language – even if it’s just when you’re standing in line for groceries, commuting to work, or waiting for your coffee to percolate.
These little bursts of time really do add up over the day. Don’t underestimate them when it comes to your Spanish studies.
If you pulled out your phone and studied an Anki flashcard deck (for iOS or Android) every time you had a spare minute or two throughout the day, you could learn dozens of Spanish words and phrases every day without ever setting aside the time to study!
If your commute to work is 15-20 minutes each way, you could listen to two SpanishPod101 episodes per day no matter how busy you are.
Don’t let these hidden moments pass you by. Take advantage of them to boost the amount of Spanish study you can squeeze in per day.
10. Develop a Cheat Sheet and Go into ‘Autopilot’ During Your First Conversation (page 212)
In real-life Spanish conversations, you won’t usually have a script or a cheatsheet to work from. But you don’t need to go into your very first Spanish conversation completely unprepared.
In fact, if you use a cheatsheet in your first few conversations in Spanish, it will actually help you when it’s time for spontaneous, unscripted Spanish conversations.
How? Well, think of a cheatsheet as being like training wheels for a bicycle. It will help you make the transition from studying Spanish to speaking Spanish. You’ll be less nervous, you’ll have the material you need in front of you, and you’ll be able to use it as you need it in the conversation.
What kind of words and phrases should you include in your cheat sheet? I like to divide my cheat sheet into four sections:
- Essentials: “Hello”, “How are you?”, “I’m well, thank you”, “Goodbye”, as well as typical introductory questions like “Where do you work?”, “Where are you from?”, etc.
- Survival phrases: I’m sorry, I don’t understand”, “Could you please repeat that?”, “Could you type that out?” etc.
- Questions you plan to ask: “What do you do in your free time?”, “What’s your city like?”, etc.
- Any material that you want to practise saying: for example, “me-specific” phrases like your hobbies, your job, or any upcoming plans you have.
Keep the cheat sheet handy during your conversation. Refer to it as often as you need to. A few minutes into your conversation, it will hit you: I’m actually having a real, live conversation with a native Spanish speaker! YES!
Want to Speak Spanish – the Faster Way?
Did you find these Spanish hacks helpful?
Language Hacking Spanish takes you step-by-step through learning Spanish with language hacks.
Right from the start, you’ll learn how to speak Spanish in real life situations.
One early tester of Language Hacking Spanish said:
This book does exactly what it claims to do – gets you speaking from day one! I studied Spanish over 20 years ago but not using the language made me tongue tied and lacking in confidence. This course takes you through manageable steps to enable you to speak Spanish in every day practical (and useful!) situations.
Order your copy of Language Hacking Spanish today.