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  • Writer's pictureMargaret Nelson

Essential Tips to Help You Learn Spanish

Learning a new language can be challenging and overwhelming. It can be a difficult process, especially if you don’t know where to start.


I remember this feeling as I started my journey to learn Spanish. The Spanish language has many words to learn, verb conjugations to memorize, and a new culture to navigate. If you’re taking an in-person class, you also have to budget enough time to get to and from the class location. All of this can seem like a difficult, overwhelming chore. If you’re not careful, these worries can leave you frustrated and defeated before you even begin.


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Language learning can be overwhelming.

That is not a reason to give up, though. Spanish opens up many opportunities in your career and personal life, and learning it enables you to appreciate the beauty of other cultures. It equips you to talk to the locals when you’re traveling, volunteer to help those in need, and connect with your Spanish-speaking loved ones. Besides, thousands of people learn Spanish every year. And with support from ReDefiners World Languages, you can learn Spanish online as well.


At ReDefiners, we offer classes in several languages, including Spanish. With our courses, you will learn several crucial skills that will help you become fluent. We discuss the differences between the verbs Ser and Estar. Both mean to be, but you use them in different contexts. You will also learn pronouns in Spanish and how to use them, as well as idiomatic expressions and the differences between Castilian Spanish (the Spanish that’s used in Spain) and Latin American Spanish (which also varies depending on the country or region).


A structured program can ease your anxiety and feelings of overwhelm because it gives you an idea of where to start. Knowing where to start can help reduce any feelings of stress or overwhelm. Before you start your formal classes, it can be helpful to learn the basic phrases. Doing so will help you answer the questions correctly in your first class, which builds your confidence. Below, you’ll find the essential phrases to help you learn Spanish:


  • Hola: Hi/Hello

  • Buenos Dias: Good morning

  • Buenas Tardes: Good Afternoon

  • Buenas noches: Good Evening

  • ¿Cómo estás?: How are you?

    • This is the informal way to ask “how are you?” You would use this greeting with people you know well, such as your parents, siblings, or close friends. It’s also appropriate to use it for people who are younger than you or who are in a lower position of authority. For example, if you’re a teacher, you can use “¿cómo estás?” with your students.

  • ¿Cómo está?: How are you?

    • This is the formal way to ask “how are you?” You would use this greeting for people you don’t know very well, people who are older than you, or authority figures. For example, you would use this version with your boss, police officers, coworkers, religious leaders, and anyone older than you.

  • Mucho gusto: nice to meet you

  • Encantado de conocerlo(la): pleased to meet you

    • Depending on the gender of the person you’re greeting, you’ll either say “encantado de conocerlo” or “encantado de conocerla.” “Conocerlo” is used when you’re talking to a man, and “conocerla” is used when you’re talking to a woman.

    • This is the formal way to say “pleased to meet you.” You would use this greeting for people you don’t know very well, people who are older than you, or authority figures. For example, you would use this version with your boss, police officers, coworkers, religious leaders, and anyone older than you.

  • Encantado de conocerte: pleased to meet you

    • This is a gender-neutral greeting, so you can greet everyone with this greeting.

    • This is the informal way to say “pleased to meet you.” You would use this greeting with people you know well, such as your parents, siblings, or close friends. It’s also appropriate to use it for people who are younger than you or who are in a lower position of authority. For example, you would use this greeting if a friend was introducing one of their friends to you.

  • Me gusta: I like

  • Me gustaría: I would like

  • Te amo/Te quiero: I love you.

    • In Spanish, both of these phrases mean “I love you.” However, they’re used in different contexts. You would use “Te quiero” for most close relationships, such as with your significant other, your children, your parents, your siblings, or your close friends. “Te amo,” on the other hand, is typically used for romantic relationships.

  • Quieres hablar conmigo?: Do you want to speak with me?

  • Ver una película: To watch a movie.

  • ¿Dónde está el baño?: Where is the bathroom?

  • Necesito ayuda: I need help.

  • Desayunar: to eat breakfast

  • Almorzar: to eat lunch

  • Cenar: To eat dinner

  • Cepillo de dientes: toothbrush

  • Cepillo para el pelo: hairbrush

  • Perro: Dog

  • Perrito: puppy

  • Gato: cat

  • Gatito: kitten


These are not the only words and phrases you need to know, but this list will give you a good starting point. Knowing these words and phrases will make it easier to greet people, introduce yourself, and make small talk. Knowing how to do these things will open up new opportunities for interaction and build your confidence.


This is a picture of a white man and a white woman sitting at a coffee shop and talking. They both have cups of coffee in their hands. The man has short brown hair and a short brown beard with some gray hair. He's wearing a blue collared shirt, and he's facing away from the camera. The woman has short brown hair styled in a pixie cut. She's wearing a white top with a cream-colored blazer.
Knowing these words can boost your confidence.

However, there is more to language learning than just memorizing words and phrases. You also have to learn more about the culture and develop your cultural awareness. Hispanic cultures are different from American culture, and you need to learn the differences to be successful.


Here are some tips for interaction:

  • In Spanish, it’s important to know when to use formal and informal greetings. Spanish culture is often more formal, especially when you’re meeting someone new. Even once you develop a relationship with them, stick with the formal greetings. You can use informal greetings with your parents, siblings, and close friends. For other people, such as your teacher, your boss, a religious leader, or someone older than you, use the formal greetings unless they tell you otherwise.

  • Do your homework to learn more about Hispanic cultures. Spanish-speaking countries all have unique cultures and characteristics. What might be appropriate to say or do in Ecuador might not be appropriate in Mexico, or vice versa. The more research you do ahead of time, the better.

  • Take your knowledge and apply it to real-life situations. Doing so is especially important to develop cultural competence. If you’re a new speaker, I recommend taking a few minutes to observe the social dynamics of the situation. How are people greeting each other? Are they talking loudly and laughing? Or are they speaking quietly and calmly? Once you’ve seen how the group is interacting, you can begin mirroring them. You don’t want to copy the other people exactly, but mirroring will help you blend in.

  • If you feel nervous about having your first conversation, it’s okay to tell the other person that you’re still learning. Most people are understanding when it comes to learning a new language. They’re more likely to be patient with you if you make a mistake. In my experience, people will be kind, understanding, and patient, as long as you’re genuinely trying to learn. Most people will be flattered that you’re taking the time to learn more about their language and culture. As long as you remain respectful, there’s nothing to worry about.

  • On a related note, remember to be respectful of the other person’s culture. Behave like you would if you were invited to someone’s home. If you were invited to someone’s home, you wouldn’t run around, criticize the host’s home décor, or destroy the place. You would walk around the house, only touch things with permission, and use your best manners. This is how you should act when you’re interacting in a new culture. This culture might be new and strange to you, but it’s someone’s home, and you’re a guest. Make sure to act like it.

  • Apologize if you accidentally offend someone. Even if you think you didn’t do anything wrong, it’s important to own up for your mistakes.

  • There are two main types of Spanish, Castilian Spanish (which is spoken in Spain) and Latin American Spanish (which is spoken in Latin America). Both versions are similar, but they have different ways of pronouncing words and conjugating verbs. This phenomenon is similar to English. The English that’s spoken in the U.K. is similar to the English spoken in the United States, but each version has different names for different things.

    • In addition, each country has differences in the words and expressions they use. If you’re used to speaking with people from Mexico, you might encounter some confusion when you speak with someone from Guatemala. Both use Latin American Spanish, but they still have their differences.

  • Male pronouns tend to be used more frequently. For example, let’s say that you’re in a room with 10 men and 10 women. In English, you would use the pronoun “them” to refer to this group, regardless of their genders. In Spanish, though, you would refer to this group as “ellos,” which is the masculine version of the word “them” or “they.” Even if you had 19 women and one man in a room, you would use “ellos.” The only time you would use the word “ellas” would be if you’re referring to an all-female group.

  • When in doubt, call the other person “Señor (last name)” or “Señora (last name),” especially if the person is older than you or in a position of authority. Only call them by their first name if they say it’s okay to do so. It’s considered rude to use someone’s first name if they haven’t said it’s okay to do so, especially if you’re in a formal setting or you’re meeting someone for the first time.

  • In the U.S., the term Latinx (pronounced lah-TEEN-ex) has gained popularity in recent years as a gender-neutral substitute for the terms Latino and Latina. In my experience, not everyone likes Latinx, and it’s a term that’s used by a minority of people. I typically refer to someone as Latino, Latina, or Hispanic. Latinx is more of an American word. If you use it outside the United States, the other person might become confused. Because of all of this, I recommend not using Latinx unless the other person has asked you to do so.

  • Beware of false cognates! Some words sound similar in English and Spanish. For example, there’s a word in Spanish called embarazada. It looks like the English word for “embarrassed.” However, that’s not what it means. “Embarazada” means “pregnant.” Misusing this word can cause confusion and embarrassment, especially if you’re a male speaker. To save yourself from confusion or embarrassment, learn the difference between actual and false cognates.

  • Once you get comfortable speaking Spanish, you’re probably going to be eager to use it as much as possible. This desire is a good thing, but make sure you channel it into appropriate opportunities. Unfortunately, many Hispanic people have been the target of racism and xenophobia in the United States, especially in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. As a result, some might not feel comfortable speaking Spanish in public, especially with a stranger. When in doubt, ask if it’s okay to use Spanish. If they say no, accept their answer and move on.


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Learning a new language isn't easy, but it's worth it.

With any language-learning journey, there’s a lot to learn, and it can get overwhelming. With some help and the right strategies, though, you can do it. Before you know it, you’ll be speaking Spanish like a native speaker. It might not be easy, but it’ll be worth it!


 

If you enjoyed today’s post, then consider taking a language class with ReDefiners World Languages! We offer courses in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic. In all of our courses, we teach you how to speak the language and build cultural competency to set you up for success. For more information, please visit our website or email us at info@redefinerswl.org.

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