In the last article I talked about mental preparation. If you are thinking about learning Spanish then it makes sense to think carefully about what you hope to achieve and how you hope to achieve it. This is because the learning process is likely to be a long one and full of trials and tribulations. It is wise not to underestimate yourself.
In this article I’m going to talk about what I did when I was first thinking about learning Spanish. That was about four years ago now. At the time I knew nothing of the Spanish language, so for me it was a case of starting right from the very beginning.
My concepts of how other languages worked were really very basic. I thought all I had to do was to take any English word and simply learn what the equivalent word in Spanish was. Therefore I could simply put the words together and hey presto I would have a complete sentence. It didn’t’ take me long to realise that this basic theory rarely works!
For example, ‘I always buy strong coffee’. In Spanish, ‘siempre compro café fuerte’. In this sentence there appears to be no Spanish word for ‘I’ and the word for ‘coffee (café)’ comes before the word for ‘strong (fuerte)’. This is only a simple example but it shows how my basic theory falls down. The Spanish word for ‘I’ is ‘yo’, but it is often not used in Spanish sentences because the construction of the verb it is used with already tells us that ‘I’ is being referred to ‘compro = I buy’. Secondly, in Spanish, adjectives usually come after the nouns that they are used with whereas in English they usually come before them. ‘strong coffee = café fuerte’.
If you know nothing about Spanish as I didn’t then you might already be a little confused. At this stage it probably isn’t worth thinking too much about how the structure of the English and Spanish languages might differ. You will simply come to realise these differences as you progress through your studies. However, I think it is important to remind yourself right from the very beginning that learning Spanish won’t be as easy as simply matching English and Spanish words!
Of course if you don’t know any Spanish words then you are not going to be able to make any sentences, regardless if they are grammatically correct or not. You need to start learning some words and phrases. Try thinking about some of the most common every day phrases in English.
You could start by learning some common greetings for example – hello (hola) goodbye (adiós), good morning (buenos días), good afternoon (buenas tardes). In these examples you might have noticed that the translation of the English word used for ‘good’ is both ‘buenos’ and ‘buenas’. This is because one is masculine and the other is feminine!! If you are not sure what I am talking about then don’t worry. I will talk much more about gender in later articles.
The point here is that when learning new Spanish words or phrases you are probably going to notice differences in the way they are used that you don’t fully understand. If you are anything like me you will always be asking yourself ‘why?’ My advice is not to get too bogged down in trying to understand these things too quickly. It will probably just frustrate you!
As well as learning useful words and phrases you of course need to make sure that you can pronounce them correctly! The only way you can do this is by hearing some examples. It is important to make sure you pronounce Spanish words correctly right from the beginning. If you don’t then you will pick up bad habits that will become more difficult to shake off later on.
Spanish pronunciation is something you will probably want to study separately during your studies. It is a good idea to do this early on. The good news is that Spanish pronunciation is far less complicated than English pronunciation. I will be discussing this in more detail in later articles.
So, you need to start learning new Spanish words and phrases whilst making sure that you pronounce them correctly. When I first started learning Spanish I bought a basic level Spanish text book. I had about a six weeks before I was about to embark on a long trip to Central and South America and my goal was to finish the book before the six weeks was up. One of the first things the book taught me was how to introduce myself by saying what my name was and where I was from. It came with CD’s so that I was able to check my pronunciation.
In the next article I will talk more about my early studies and some of the pitfalls I encountered whilst trying to plough through a basic level text book in six weeks. I will also talk about the different ways you might want to think about how learning Spanish best works for you. Buying a text book might not suit you. Maybe you would prefer to study online or entirely from audio CD’s! Whatever you choose get yourself started. Start learning some basics. Hasta luego…..