The Pickup Artist’s Guide to Learning Spanish in 3 Months
You get off the plane and immediately catch her eye. The hot, sticky air compels your body to sacrifice more moisture as it attempts to claw back to homeostasis against the tropical sun. You follow her entranced to the luggage carousel. The crowd magically opens to reveal a place to wait for your bags, right next to the gorgeous Latin goddess.
She turns, smiles, bats her enormous lashes surrounding her milk chocolate, larger-than-life eyes, and says the following, “Hola guapo. ¿Cómo te llamas?”
It is at that point that you wish with every fiber of your rapidly pounding heart that you had invested your time in those Spanish classes when you had the chance.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish,” you blurt out in a pitchy, trembling voice. “Do you speak English?”
Not your best pick up line. She gives you a quizzical smile, cocks her head to the side to study the terrified whites of your eyes, and says very simply, “No.”
She then grabs her luggage from the carousel, turns, and walks out of your life forever, leaving you only with the memory of the most amazing legs you’ve ever encountered.
Don’t let this happen to you!
Do I have your attention yet? Good. Do you see why knowing Spanish is important? Excellent!
It’s no secret that breaking through the language barrier can be intimidating, even downright scary. I mean, it’s hard enough for us to communicate in our own language sometimes, right?
Is this how you feel? Are you scared of moving to the Latin tropics because you find the idea of the nuances of a new language about as overwhelming as teaching a burro how to catch a sombrero like a frisbee? Don’t worry! Your brain is much less stubborn and inclined to be distracted by the flowering weeds than your attempt at equine to canine translation education.
It’s actually very easy to become fairly proficient in Spanish in less than three months. In fact, you really only need to learn 1% of the roughly 100,000 words to unleash your own Antonio Banderas impersonation and speak about 90% of the spoken word. Don’t believe me? Read on dear doubter!
Many people feel intimidated by learning a new language and moving to a place where trying to convey your pressing need to use the restroom is not immediately apparent. While Google Translate is a great app in a pinch, it really betrays any attempt you make to not look like a gringo.
If you want to gain a certain comfort with a new language, it’s time to dive in. You’ll be impressing that saucy hot local you just met with your talented tongue’s linguistic skills in no time, instead of watching her walk away!
If the advantage in the ability to communicate well enough to order a burrito instead of chicken feet doesn’t convince you to give a new language skill your time investment, there are more subtle ways learning Spanish, or any language, can be worth your time.
For one thing, it just makes you smarter. It has been shown that the act of learning a new language increases cognitive benefits such as concentration and the ability to tune out distractions. Studies also show that it can delay diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Of course, there are the obvious social benefits of being able to communicate with people, create new friendships, get driving directions, find clean bathrooms, and in general be the life of the party. And, the best part is, once you learn how to grasp a new language, it makes conquering your next foreign dialect that much easier.
Let Dr. Seuss make you feel better!
I’m a huge Dr. Seuss fan. Did you know Dr. Seuss’ vocabulary for “Green Eggs and Ham” was written on a bet that Dr. Seuss (a pen-name of Theodor Seuss Geisel) couldn’t write a book using only 50 words? Thankfully, children everywhere benefit from the successful outcome of that bet. This was after the completion of Dr. Seuss’ book, “The Cat in the Hat,” which was written on only 225 words.
So, if Dr. Seuss could effectively communicate a book with just 50 words in the English language, when the Oxford English Dictionary states that we have 171,476 English words, it stands to reason that you also don’t need to learn all 100,000 words in the Spanish Diccionario de la Real Academia Español.
Why Spanish lingo math translates better than the Pareto (80/20) Principle.
Many people are aware of the Pareto Principle. It simply states that for any effort exerted, 80% of the results will come from just 20% of the effort. Now, while this translates well for business endeavors, the results for learning a new language actually show an even easier equation.
You see, in order for you to be able to understand about 90% of the spoken word and 77% of the written word, you really only need to know the 1,000 most popular Spanish words.
If you feel like getting even more adventurous and double your learning to 2,000 Spanish words, you would increase your knowledge to 85% of all written and 93% of spoken Spanish.
With a 3,000-word Spanish vocabulary, you would be close to 90% of all written and 94% of conversational Spanish.
Do you see how your return on your investment goes down after the first 1,000 words?
Doubling your knowledge base only increases your linguistic talents by 8% in reading and 3% in speaking.
Adding an additional 1,000 words will only give you a 5% return on reading and a 1% improvement in speaking.
Therefore, learning the additional 97,000 words to know every Spanish word that you could possibly encounter, which would take you years to accomplish, will only give you a 10% return on reading and a 6% return on speaking.
If you just want to be able to talk to people and have a working knowledge of the language, it makes sense to focus on your first 1,000 words, and then pick up others as you become more immersed in the culture. After all, if you hear a word you don’t understand, you will have the language skills to ask for clarification and learn on the go.
Essentially, learning just 1% of the Spanish dictionary yields a 90% efficacy rate on understanding the Spanish channel on your T.V. or trying out your pick up lines at the nearest watering hole. Those ratios should encourage you and remove all fear of the Spanish dialect.
Now, let’s break this down even further.
Just focus on learning 100 of the most common Spanish words. Then, set a goal to learn 100 new words every week, while also brushing up on your previous words from past weeks so you don’t forget them.
Learning 100 new words per week translates to just about 15 words per day. If you keep up this schedule, in 10 weeks or about 2.5 months, you will have gained a working knowledge of the 1,000 most commonly-used Spanish words and will be able to comprehend 90% of any Spanish conversation.
To get you started, here’s 100 of the most commonly-used words to commit to memory this week.
1. el / la (def. art.) the
2. de (prep.) of, from
3. que (conj.) that, which
4. y (conj.) and
5. a (prep.) to, at
6. en (prep.) in, on
7. un (indef. art.) a, an
8. ser (verb) to be
9. se (pron.) -self, oneself [reflexive marker]
10. no (adv.) no
11. haber (verb) to have
12. por (prep.) by, for, through
13. con (prep.) with
14. su (adj.) his, her, their, your (fam.)
15. para (prep.) for, to, in order to
16. como (conj.) like, as
17. estar (verb) to be
18. tener (verb) to have
19. le (pron.) [3rd pers. indirect object pronoun]
20. lo (art.) the (+ noun)
21. lo (pron.) [3rd pers. masc. direct object pronoun]
22. todo (adj.) all, every
23. pero (conj.) but, yet, except
24. más (adj.) more
25. hacer (verb.) to do, make
26. o (conj.) or
27. poder (verb) to be able to, can
28. decir (verb) to tell, say
29. este (adj.) this (m); esta (f)
30. ir (verb) to go
31. otro (adj.) other, another
32. ese (adj.) that (m); esa (f)
33. la (pron.) [3rd pers. fem. direct object pronoun]
34. si (conj.) if, whether
35. me (pron.) me
36. ya (adv.) already, still
37. ver (verb) to see
38. porque (conj.) because
39. dar (verb) to give
40. cuando (conj.) when
41. él (pron.) he
42. muy (adv.) very, really
44. vez (noun, f.) time, occurrence
45. mucho (adj.) much, many, a lot
46. saber (verb) to know
47. qué (pron.) what?, which?, how (+ adj.)
48. sobre (prep.) on top of, over, about
49. mi (adj.) my
50. alguno (adj.) some; (pron.) someone
51. mismo (adj.) same
52. yo (pron.) I
53. también (adv.) also
54. hasta (prep.) until, up to; (adv.) even
55. año (noun, m.) year
56. dos (num.) two
57. querer (verb) to want, love
58. entre (prep.) between
59. así (adv.) like that
60. primero (adj.) first
61. desde (prep.) from, since
62. grande (adj.) large, great, big
63. eso (pron., n.) that
64. ni (conj.) not even, neither, nor
65. nos (pron.) us
66. llegar (verb) to arrive
67. pasar (verb) to pass, spend (time)
68. tiempo (noun, m.) time, weather
69. ella (pron.) she; ellas them
70. sí (adv.) yes
71. día (noun, m.) day
72. uno (num.) one
73. bien (adv.) well
74. poco (adj.) little few; (adv.) a little bit
75. deber (verb) should, ought to; to owe
76. entonces (adv.) so, then
77. poner (verb) to put (on); get (+ adj.)
78. cosa (noun, f.) thing
79. tanto (adj.) much
80. hombre (noun, m.) man, mankind, husband
81. parecer (verb) to seem, look like
82. nuestro (adj.) our
83. tan (adv.) such, a, too, so
84. donde (conj.) where
85. ahora (adv.) now
86. parte (noun, f.) part, portion
87. después (adv.) after
88. vida (noun, f.) life
89. quedar (verb) to remain, stay
90. siempre (adv.) always
91. creer (verb) to believe
92. hablar (verb) to speak, talk
93. llevar (verb) to take, carry
94. dejar (verb) to let, leave
95. nada (pron.) nothing
96. cada (adj.) each, every
97. seguir (verb) to follow
98. menos (adj.) less, fewer
99. nuevo (adj.) new
100. encontrar (verb) to find
So, what do you need to be a Spanish rock star?
There are many programs to help you learn Spanish. Just make sure when choosing them, that they have a strong rating to help you learn the language effectively, quickly, and easily. You should evaluate the program carefully to decipher if this is something you can stick with for a few months.
You can have the best material in the world, but if it doesn’t suck you in like a black hole and keep you consistently coming back for more, than you may as well use the books for an expensive door stop.
There is no better way to learn a new language than to immerse yourself fully in the culture. If you can, choose a private tutor and begin actively learning over passively sitting in the classroom. I mean, honestly, how much Spanish do you remember from high school? If it’s anything like my experience, it’s about enough to ask where the bathroom is and sing “La Cucaracha.”
Another way to ensure you pick up your Spanish quickly is to become an active vs. passive learner. Don’t allow yourself to be taught at. Instead, ask questions, get engaged, and really relate to the material covered.
To keep yourself entertained, find ways to read about things in Spanish that you already enjoy reading about in English. If you hate reading about knitting in English, getting through an article about it in Spanish will make you want to stick knitting needles in your eyes to stop the boredom. But, if you love parasailing, then grab a Spanish article about it and take off into that world. You will enjoy the learning experience so much more.
The best way to learn is to actively converse with native speakers. You will learn better talking with someone, and being humble enough to let them correct your pronunciation, than staring blankly at a book.
Just remember to keep your sense of humor through it all. They are allowed to laugh when you mix up the Spanish phrase for “I am hungry” and “I am a man.” Being a women and having this happen, laughing with them was my only option at that moment.
So, why is Spanish one of the easiest languages to learn?
First, many of our English words originated from the Spanish language. You will encounter words that make sense to you, just because you have seen a similar version of them in your mother tongue. Here is a list of English words of Spanish origin that will help you immediately feel smarter about your grasp of Spanish.
Second, most people in Spanish-speaking countries are extremely helpful and will patiently guide you, so that you can pick up on their language. If you can learn a few common phrases that you can utilize to gain further knowledge, you can certainly broaden your base just by befriending a few locals.
I used the phrase “¿Cómo se dice?” which means “How do you say?” along with pointing my finger at an object for which I didn’t know the Spanish name many times in my travels through Spanish-speaking countries. While I may have annoyed my local friends after the tenth question, they certainly were gracious enough not to show it.
If you can get a few of these phrases under your belt, this works like a charm for times when you can’t remember what something is called. And, you will make great friendships just reaching out and asking for help.
Third, the Spanish language only has about 100,000 total words. People actually only use a fraction of this number in daily conversation. While this amount of words may seem intimidating, when you consider that the Japanese or Korean dictionaries have 5 times that amount, you begin to realize that as far as languages go, there could be a much larger learning hurdle to overcome.
Besides, as we already mentioned, learning 1,000 to 3,000 words will get you all the linguistics you need to be conversational.
Don’t let the language barrier stop your adventure!
OK. For all of you doubters who feel you still can’t learn Spanish after reading this, I will play “worse case scenario” with you. Even if you never can roll the romantic “r” sounds of the Spanish language and find it impossible to learn a new skill, you actually don’t have to become bilingual to visit the Latin Tropics. Many people know English and can help you get around quite well.
Not knowing the language is not an excuse to limit yourself to English-speaking countries in your travels. So embrace your pioneering spirit and don’t ever let your lack of language stop you from tasting ever corner of this globe. While I would recommend learning the local lingo to enrich your travel experience, we all know a smile can still speak louder than words anyway.
And, for times when it doesn’t, it’s OK to use Google Translate and embrace your inner gringo. I just can’t promise that you will impress many Latin goddesses.