Those one-word-a-day language learning apps may feel convenient, but thematically, they’re all over the place, delivering a chain of unrelated words: envelope, tired, January, receive, onion. Focus on a single theme each week. The mind naturally clusters connected words together, so learning, say, types of weather in one lesson, and parts of the body the next, works in tune with your brain’s natural system for classifying information. However...
It might seem logical to study opposites together: hot/cold, expensive/cheap. It isn't. A learning hiccup called 'cross association' can occur, when you learn two words so closely together you end up mixing them up. If a Spanish student learns 'always' (siempre) and 'never' (nunca) together, they might later draw on one word when they mean to use the other. Instead, study the more common word first (eg: deep) and, once it’s retained, learn its opposite (shallow).
Dissect new words
When encountering a new word, take a look at its structure. Many words consist of prefixes and suffixes, and an understanding of these parts of speech is advantageous. The French word désagréable, for example, contains the negating prefix dés- and the adjective-forming suffix –able. Studying these affixes can help you to understand conjugation and structure, and make educated guesses when encountering new vocabulary.
Read, read, read
Reading helps you revisit learned vocabulary, and see those words in new sentences and contexts. One excellent source of foreign language exposure is through graded readers, which are designed specifically for language learners. Another good source is advertisements or menus, which tend to use short, colloquial text.
One mnemonic learning trick for new vocabulary is the Keyword Method. Drawing on a similar-sounding word in your native language, visualise a picture or scene to go with the new vocabulary. For example, on a trip to Moscow, I remembered the Russian formal hello, “Zdravstvujtye” (Здравствуйте) with the mental image of a stressed vulture. These visualisations are often abstract, ridiculous, and embarrassing to admit, but they work, especially for longer words.
Focus on phrases
Linguist Michael Lewis encourages language learning in lexical chunks, rather than on a word-by-word basis. A good portion of daily communication involves predictable common phrases: “turn left,” “just a minute,” “nice to meet you.” When studying a new language, memorise these phrases and you'll have a ready arsenal of dialogue, without the stress of having to build and conjugate your sentences from scratch.
In a vocabulary class, yesterday’s vocabulary is more important than today’s. The goal is to transfer the short-term knowledge of new vocabulary into your long-term memory. Review is essential – in the first few days or weeks after learning new vocabulary, recycle those words and you'll entrench them in your memory. A good language textbook or online program will be organised in a way that reviews and applies learned vocabulary in later lessons.
Anne Merritt is an EFL lecturer currently based in South Korea. More by this author:
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Foreign languages: the 10 easiest to learn
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Tired of having the same old “getting to know you” chats?
Already know the basics of Spanish conversation?
Then it might be time to step things up a notch.
If you’re already able to comfortably chat away about where you’re from, what you do and how long you’ve been learning Spanish, then it won’t take much to turn an average conversation into something more exciting.
So, skip over “¿de dónde eres?” and follow these tips to pave your way towards amazingly advanced Spanish conversation.
Hot Tips and 48 Smokin’ Phrases for Amazingly Advanced Spanish Conversation
Conditionals Are Great for Advanced Spanish Conversation
Conditionals may be in the realm of grammar, but brushing up on them opens up thousands of new possible conversation doors, or windows if you prefer.
Remember when you learned the past tense and were suddenly able to discuss a whole new dimension of things? Suddenly you could talk about anything you’d done previously, which is a lot.
Well, getting to grips with conditionals and learning to use them in conversation is similar. You can also give yourself an extra pat on the back for being so incredibly advanced these days and, like, sooo over the past tense.
Adding “ifs” into your conversation allows you to talk about an imaginary world of hypotheticals, which is incredibly useful for having an interesting conversation that isn’t firmly stuck in the present. Perhaps you don’t like your current job, and if you had just a bit more experience – si tuvieras un poco más de experiencia– you would change it – lo cambiarías.
That’s much more satisfying than just saying you don’t like it, right?
Conditionals are also one of the points that many advanced Spanish learners struggle with. You have two options to learn them: you could sit at home and study a grammar book, or you could try them out as you chat. A combination of the two is likely to be your best bet.
Here are a few conditional phrases to get your imagination (and your conversation) in gear:
¿Si pudieras ser una persona famosa por un día, a quien elegirías? — If you could be a famous person for one day, who would you choose to be?
¿Si tuvieras un millón de dólares, que harías?— If you had a million dollars, what would you do?
¿Si pudieras viajar a cualquier lugar en el mundo, donde irías? — If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
¿Si fueras presidente, que cambiarías? — If you were the president, what would you change?
Conversation Topics for Advanced Spanish Conversation
As well as sneaking conditionals in wherever possible, it’s good to have a few conversation topics up your sleeve in case of any awkward gaps in conversation, or in those moments where all your Spanish suddenly flies out of your head and you’re left tongue-tied.
Try memorizing a couple of phrases and questions you find interesting, and you should be able to talk your way out of any sticky situation.
Music is something almost everyone has an opinion on, and can tell you a lot about your conversation partner.
Useful phrases and vocabulary about music include:
el disco entero — the whole album
el recital — the gig
el estribillo — the chorus
la estrofa — the verse
pegajoso — catchy
el éxito— the hit
grandes éxitos — greatest hits
You could say: el estribillo es muy pegajoso pero la estrofa es medio aburrida, igual, es definitivamente el éxito del verano — the chorus is really catchy but the verse is a bit boring. Anyway, it’s definitely the hit of the summer.
Useful questions about music you might like to ask are:
¿Si pudieras formar un súper grupo, quién formaría parte de él? — If you could form a supergroup, who would be in it?
¿Cuál es el mejor recital al que fuiste? — What’s the best gig you’ve ever been to?
¿Cuál fue el primer disco que compraste? — What was the first album you ever bought?
¿Tocas un instrumento? — Do you play a musical instrument?
¿Qué instrumento te gustaría aprender? — What instrument would you like to learn to play?
Travel is another safe area that usually gets tongues wagging. Conversation about travel can also naturally lead to talking about local customs, celebrations and food.
Useful phrases and vocabulary about travel
viajar te abre la mente — travelling opens your mind
un lugar inspirador – an inspirational place
hacer dedo – to hitchhike
ir de mochilero – to go backpacking
un lugar de lujo– a luxury place
Useful questions about travel:
¿Cuál es el lugar más hermoso/interesante que has visitado? — What’s the most beautiful/interesting place you’ve ever been to?
¿Cuál es la mejor/peor experiencia que tuviste mientras estabas viajando?— What’s the worst/best travel experience you’ve ever had?
¿Preferirías pasar mucho tiempo en un lugar, o poco tiempo en muchos lugares? — Would you rather spend a long time in one place, or spent a little time in lots of places?
¿Qué lugar de tu país me recomendarías? — Which part of your country would you recommend I go to?
If all else fails, conversation revolving around TV, film, theater and books could be a good way to engage your partner.
Useful phrases and vocabulary about entertainment
el elenco — cast
la banda sonora — soundtrack
la trama — the plot
protagonista— main character
For example: no solo me gusta la trama de esta película, sino que también me encanta la banda sonora y el elenco es muy talentoso — I don’t just like the plot of this film, but I also love the soundtrack and the cast is very talented.
Useful questions about entertainment:
¿Qué pelicula te gustaba mucho cuando eras niño/a? — What film did you love as a kid?
¿Cuál es tu programa preferido en la tele actualmente? — What’s your favorite show on TV at the moment?
¿Preferirías ser (elije un personaje de ficción) o (elije un personaje de ficción)? — Would you rather be (insert fictional character) or (insert fictional character)?
¿Si fueras (elije un personaje ficcional) que hubieras hecho cuando (elije una situación ficcional)? — If you were (insert fictional character) what would you have done when (insert fictional situation)?
Polite Ways to Agree and Disagree in Spanish
I’m a firm believer that the best conversation involves some sort of debate or disagreement.
If you agree with your conversation partner all the time, on everything, then things can get a little dull.
Saying that, when you do disagree with someone, be sure to choose your words carefully or you could end up offending someone. To help things along, here’s a list of how to agree, disagree and partially agree in Spanish. And for when you really get stuck, you’ll also get some phrases to say you don’t know:
¡Totalmente! — Totally!
Estoy (completamente/totalmente) de acuerdo — I (completely/totally) agree
Estoy contigo — I’m with you on that
Por supuesto — Of course!
Tienes razón— You’re right
No estamos de acuerdo — I don’t agree with you
No lo veo (tan) así— I don’t (really) see it like that
No creo — I don’t think so
Saying you’re unsure or showing partial agreement
Estoy de acuerdo hasta un cierto punto — I agree with you up to a point
Tal vez, pero… — Maybe, but…
No estoy muy segura/o— I’m not really sure
Nunca lo pensé — I’ve never thought about it
No tengo la menor idea — I have no idea
You’ve now got all you need for some seriously advanced conversation. Find yourself a partner, and you’re off!
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you liked learning all this natural-sounding Spanish, then you’ll love FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos like music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks and turns them into Spanish learning experiences. Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos – topics like soccer, TV shows, business, movies and even magical realism, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s Learn Mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on. Then play some fun, interactive learning games like word matches and fill-in-the-blank.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU App for iPad and iPhone from the iTunes store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.
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