Best Ways To Improve Your Vocabulary In Spanish
Do you sometimes feel discouraged when you can’t remember Spanish words and phrases? In this article, you will read about ten of the best ways to improve your vocabulary in Spanish.
1. Make connections
– How do you say ‘unicorn’ in Spanish?
– What does ‘chocolate’ mean in Spanish?
– And how do you say ‘vocabulary’ in Spanish?
Ok, that’s enough. You get the point. There’re many similar words in English and Spanish. ‘Cognates’ is the name of these words.
Another type of terms you may want to know of are ‘false friends.’ They might sound similar, but they mean entirely different things. Examples:
- Embarazada (pregnant) vs. embarrassed
- Estar constipado (to have a cold) vs. constipated
While cognates will make your life much more comfortable, and ‘false friends’ much harder, they’re not the rule. You’ll still need to learn language-specific words.
Making connections or associations helps increase memory retention. This idea is behind methods such as the Keyword Method. You construct a visual image that connects the term you want to learn with a familiar, concrete word that is close phonetically.
You want to learn the word fábrica, which means factory in English. Which name sounds similar to fábrica?
Exactly! Fabric! It’s time for you to construct a visual image that connects both terms, fábrica, and fabric.
We love to categorize stuff. Even people. Why not words?
Grouping words together according to some meaningful criteria, is one of the best ways to improve your vocabulary in Spanish. This strategy is typical of textbooks. Each chapter presents a theme with a list of 15-20 relevant words or expressions.
Look at these words:
Natación (swimming), armario (closet), baloncesto (basket), manzana (apple), balonmano (handball), mesa (table), pera (pear), silla (chair), plátano (banana).
Now, look at them again.
- Fruits: manzana (apple), pera (pear), plátano (banana).
- Sports: baloncesto (basket), balonmano (handball), natación (swimming).
- Furniture: armario (closet), mesa (table), silla (chair).
Don’t you think it’s easier to recall them now?
As you can see, remembering words is less complicated when you’ve grouped them. Whenever you want to learn a bunch of words or expressions, try to organize them into meaningful categories.
Practice makes the master.
Patrick Rothfuss —
Acquiring vocabulary requires practice.
You can actively seek opportunities to interact with other Spanish speakers. It could be your classmates, native speakers, or other people. Online or face-to-face. You choose.
By actively using the language in real-life situations, you will pick up words naturally, without studying.
Do you feel insecure when you have to speak Spanish in front of others? Then try with WRITING.
Some ways to practice your writing skills in Spanish are:
- Joining WhatsApp groups
- Commenting on forums
- Using apps like HelloTalk
Don’t worry about making tons of mistakes; it’s also part of the learning process! 😉
4. Listen to/Watch Spanish Media
Do not expect miracles. Binge-watching TV series in Spanish won’t make you fluent in the language. At least, not if that’s your only learning strategy. We all wish it were so easy!
Yet, consuming native media helps you:
- Get familiar with a more authentic use of the language.
- Identify a lot of vocabulary from the context (and the subtitles).
- Recognize colloquial expressions that are key to oral communication.
- Improve your listening comprehension skills.
- Get to know the Spanish/Latin American culture better.
On the other hand, one must acknowledge that especially beginners can have a hard time trying to understand media content made for natives. If that’s your case, just keep adding new words to your vocabulary.
Be patient. Do not get pessimistic if you don’t understand anything right away. It will come. Everyone goes through this at some point.
5. Use a dictionary
I wonder how to say ‘cool’ in Spanish.
What does ‘guay’ mean?
Consulting a bilingual dictionary is a common practice among language learners.
I love Wordreference. It’s convenient to find:
- Equivalents in English, French, Italian, German and Portuguese
- More accurate usage
- Synonyms and antonyms
- Grammar information
- Forum discussions
You can look up words from books, TV shows, movies, music, or just random words.
Whenever you encounter a new term you don’t understand, look it up as soon as possible. Write it down and review it multiple times.
6. Take notes
Taking notes implies:
- Writing down the translation of a word.
- Adding any useful information related to it: expressions, phrases, or comments on how to pronounce, etc.
Taking notes will help you remember new words by having a more profound impression of them.
Especially in the beginning, you can successfully learn tons of words and expressions by memorizing them. I mean, by intentionally learning them by heart.
I used this strategy myself when learning English and Norwegian.
However, as I continued to learn and expand my knowledge, things got more complicated.
At some point, I got bored and preferred to focus on other learning strategies such as:
- Reading native material such as newspapers
- Writing a journal
- Speaking with natives
8. Be selective
Less is more.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (architect)
As a beginner, you want to build up a solid vocabulary foundation first. Then continue growing from there.
Don’t worry. It’s more straightforward than it sounds. You only need to start with the most common terms of the different ‘conceptual categories.’
Let’s take an example: food. Which of the following Spanish terms would you say native speakers use more often?
- Carne (meat)
- Migaja (breadcrumb)
Based on the Instituto Cervantes’ curriculum, the first one, carne, belongs to an A1 level (beginner), and the second one, migaja, to a C2 level (advanced).
Sure, you can learn the term migaja even if you’ve just started to study Spanish.
However, chances are you’ll be more likely to use the word carne than the word migaja.
Try to learn words and phrases that native speakers use daily first. Once your foundation is in place, keep increasing your vocabulary by learning concepts from the A2 level.
Whenever you wonder whether or not making an effort to add specific concepts or expressions to your vocabulary, ask yourself:
- Can I use them daily?
- Are they particularly relevant to me?
- Do I need them for my academic success?
- Can I use them in oral communication?
If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of this question, you should try to learn them.
Reading is excellent for learning vocabulary with context.
However, if you want to acquire new terms and expressions faster, you need to:
- Read books, websites, newspapers, magazines, or any other Spanish content that spark your interest.
- Be attentive with new terms or phrases and look them up.
Do you know the Spanish word “despacito”? That’s because you’ve listened to it a million times before.
However, most of the time, we instantly forget the new words we see or hear.
To store new terms in our long-term memory and use them correctly, we need to see them several times in different contexts.
That’s why one of the best ways to improve your vocabulary in Spanish is to rely on a wide variety of learning strategies.
What do you think are the best ways to improve your vocabulary in Spanish? Please, leave a comment!