The Brain Hack That’ll Boost Your Spanish
by Maria Inês Teixeira
August 27, 2019

How can you learn Spanish quickly?

So you find yourself overwhelmed by endless Spanish vocabulary you promised yourself you would study.

Long lists of random words whose genders you don’t recall anymore.

Flashcards upon flashcards of words you wouldn’t be able to use even if you tried. No…even if  you were offered a thousand delicious tapas. You still wouldn’t be able to. 

We totally get it. Memorising vocabulary is one of the most difficult challenges when learning Spanish. The variety of words, the genders, having to adapt them to the number of objects at any given time…quite a headache! 

But we’ve got your back.

See, most people are just doing it wrong. Are you?

We’ve learned at school that we should memorise vocabulary lists or create flashcards with isolated words. No wonder we can only remember a handful of them now and couldn’t create five sentences in a row to save our lives! Additionally, most people depend on apps that keep testing them for translations and phrases they will never use. Silly things like ‘The fat monkey is waiting for the soup’ just for the purpose of being funny or shareable on social media. That’s great, but it won’t help you in the long run.

So what now?

Chunking in language learning

It is not the first time we have mentioned chunking as a key solution language learners should include in their routine. So what is it? Chunking is about learning complete phrases that people actually use, rather than isolated words. It is also about letting go of translating each and every single word, a bad habit that starts taking a toll on your fluency.

The goal is to start getting used to the way people talk and start reproducing it as soon as possible without thinking too much about what word goes where. Goethe Institut rightfully points out that “Remembering chunks is a more economical process, as it requires less cognitive effort”. And who doesn’t want to save some energy when learning Spanish?

Why chunking works

Our brains are absolutely saturated. Learning a language is yet another process that requires memorising, consuming information, reading a lot, listening a lot and having to recall at all times. Isn’t that tiring? Chunking helps you remove some of that burden. It allows you to get used to phrases almost like they are song lyrics you don’t need to think twice about before you use. Chunking also allows you to split bigger sentences into smaller pieces that are still logical and useful. This makes it easier not to feel overwhelmed. 

How to use chunking to learn Spanish

  • Start with useful phrases, not what is commonly taught. With chunking, you will go for quality and regularity, not levels or study plans. Remember that as you go. Always ask yourself: “Is this phrase something I would see myself using in reality? Is this something I use in my own mother tongue once in a while?”. It is also a clever idea to focus on reaction phrases. This way, regardless of whether your speaking partner or teacher says something positive or negative, you will have a way to show your emotions and react to what has been said. 
  • Keep your eyes and ears open. Start by reading phrasebooks, listening to music, watching movies or series, or taking regular lessons in Spanish where you are required to speak to people. The important part here is that you realise how people talk and start noticing expressions that are used all the time. By this logic, you would be better off learning the expression “Sin problema!” (No problem!) rather than “el problema” (the problem).
  • Do not quit notebooks or flashcard apps just yet. They will be useful to note down phrases as you go. Start by collecting 5 or 6 important phrases you have stumbled across multiple times already in music, movies, series, your language classes or speaking lessons. Register them.

studying-spanish-chunking

  • Focus on pronunciation, tone and out-loud repetition, not just flashcard study. We said it all! Your goal is to read the phrases you’ve been registering on your notebook/app out loud as soon as possible and repeat in order to start sounding more natural. Don’t focus on translating each and every single word. Make sure you understand the right contexts for each phrase and imitate the way native speakers use it. 
  • Put yourself under pressure. This will probably be the most difficult part. It is one thing to be able to use a phrase on your own, in the comfort of your own home. It is something else entirely to be able to use it with a native Spanish speaker in person or over Skype. It is extremely important that you try applying these phrases in a real-life conversation, even if it sounds a little bit forced or fake at first!

5 useful Spanish phrases to get started today

If you are only getting started with Spanish, it is logical that you still do not have much of an awareness of what phrases can be useful or not. That’s okay! We are here to help. You can check these basic Spanish phrases to get your conversation started. You can also include these expressions Spanish speakers use all the time:

Vale! This is an extremely common Spanish expression used to mean ‘agreed’, ‘okay’ or ‘fine’. 

Yo creo que…. This expression means ‘I believe that…’ and you can use it to express an idea or opinion respectfully. It is appropriate in both formal and informal contexts, which is amazing!

Por supuesto! Use this expression to mean ‘Of course!’. 

Claro! This is another common expression to use when you want to say ‘Of course!’. 

Verdad? Use this expression to ask for confirmation at the end of a statement. It would be the equivalent to the English “…, right?”.

Ready to give your Spanish a fluency boost?

Chunking is sure to help you start reacting and replying more quickly and without thinking so hard. However, remember: studying these phrases is not enough. You should start applying them as soon as possible when you speak, and you can easily do it with us by signing up for our last ever Language Marathon! Are you up for the challenge? 

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