Spanish for Beginners

Many people start a Spanish for beginners model but fail to make good progress.  There is unfortunately no fail-proof formula to learn Spanish in 5 minutes, no matter what other online programs may tell. But, you can reach conversational fluency faster by focusing on the most effective things to learn.

We’ve put together a short Spanish for beginners guide of the 4 most efficient areas to focus on for making the fastest progress with your Spanish.  You may feel in a rush to learn as much as possible, but don’t give in to the impulse.  Master these fundamentals first, and then use them, as this will move you to Spanish fluency faster than checking off test questions and moving up the level ladder.

1.  Learn the most commonly used words

When you learn Spanish vocabulary, most lessons have you start by memorizing words in easy-to-form groups like animals, furniture, or parts of the body etc. But it turns out these aren’t always the most useful.  Other words that are more difficult to represent in groups but are used more often.  For example, think about words like like something (algo) or thing(cosa), maybe (quizá), or after (despues).

Take the time to memorize these words before remember more generic grouped words.   We’ve provided a list of the most commonly used words in Spanish in a previous post.  As an example, here are the first 10:

por (12)
con (13)
como (16)
todo (22)
pero (23)
más (24)
este (29)
otro (31)
ese (32)
ya (36)

2. Learn the 12 most important verbs in the present tense

There are a small number of verbs in Spanish that are so prevalent, they are essential to gaining fluency. Learn them by heart,without any hesitation, to be able to quickly  recall them when you need them. You will be able to use them as fast substitutes when you’re looking for a word you don’t know.

Common verbs conjugated in the present tense

Ser – to be
Estar – to be
Tener – to have
Hacer – to do / to make
Poder – to be able to / can
Decir – to say / to tell

Ver – to see
Dar – to give
Saber – to saber
Querer – to want
Necesitar – to need
Ir – to go

Ser Estar Tener Hacer Poder Decir
yo soy estoy tengo hago puedo digo
eres estás tienes haces puedes dices
él/ella/ud es está tiene hace puede dice
nosotros somos estamos tenemos hacemos podemos decimos
vosotros sois estáis tenéis hacéis podéis decís
ellos/ellas/uds son están tienen hacen pueden dicen
Ir Ver Dar Saber Querer Necesitar
voy veo doy quiero necesito
vas ves das sabes quieres necesitas
va ve dan sabe quiere necesita
vamos vemos damos sabemos queremos necesitamos
vais veis  dais sabéis queréis necesitáis
van ven dan saben quieren necesitan

Refreshers From the Course: 
Spanish conjugation (Spanish Spanish – free signup!)
Regular present tense verbs (free!)
Irregular present tense verbs

3. Learn verbs in the infinitive to use with starter verbs

There is an important and useful rule in Spanish regarding infinitive verbs (truth be told it’s the same in English but most native speakers don’t notice)

The rule is this:
verbs that follow conjugated verbs are expressed in the infinitive

The infinitive is the non-conjugated form of the verb. In English, the infinitive form generally includes the word ‘to’, as in ‘to walk’ or ‘to eat’. In Spanish, the infinitive form is the verb form with the original ar, er and ir endings. So in Spanish, caminar (to walk) is in the infinitive form, as is comer (to eat).

For example:

I want to walk to the supermarket
Quiero caminar al supermercado

I need to buy a car
Necesito comprar un coche

I can count to ten
Puedo contar hasta diez

The Starter Verbs

There are a few verbs that very often precede the infinitive.  They are also very useful for basic conversation, so learn them well.  The beauty is, you can memorize these conjugations and then substitute any infinitive verb into the sentence.  Notice that the start of the previous phrases: I want …, I need …, I can …

So for example:

I need …
necesito ir al hospital
necesito comer
necesitamos salir

I want …
quiero ir
quiero pagar
quieren salir

I can …
Puedo pagar
Puedes venir
Pueden conducir

I like … (*)
me gusta comer
me gusta viajar

Also in question form and negation
¿Puedes ayudarme?
¿Quieres comer?
No quiero comer
No me gusta bailar

(*)The verb gustar is unique in its construction, but also follows the basic infinitive rule.
Refreshers from the Course:
Infinitives – Lesson 13

Learn The Infinitives

The following is a example list of more than 35 common verbs in the infinitive to be used with starter phrases.  Eventually you will learn their conjugations, but first thing’s first …

abrir – to open
– to dance
beber – to drink
caminar – to walk
cantar – to sing
cerrar – to close
cocinar – to cook
comer – to eat
comprar – to buy
conducir – to drive
conocer – to meet
correr – to run

creer – to believe
dejar – to leave / to quit
disfrutar – to enjoy
dormir – to sleep
empezar – to begin / to start
encontrar – to find
escribir – to write
esperar – to wait / to hope
hablar – to speak
jugar – to play
llamar – to call
mirar – to watch/look

morir – to die
pagar – to pay
pensar – to think
poner – to put
salir – to leave / to go out
seguir – to follow
sentir – to feel
tomar – to take
trabajar – to work
vender – to sell
venir – to come
vivir – to live
volver – to return

Another Important Starter verb for the Future


As you learned above, the verb ir means ‘to go’.  We can use the verb ir to express the future tense by conjugating it in the present tense, followed by an infinitive verb.  The verb ir is always followed by a prepositional ‘a’.

For example:

Voy a ir = I am going to go
Voy a comer = I am going to eat
Voy a pensar = I am going to think
Vas a cocinar = You are going to cook
Va a jugar = She is going to play

Refreshers from the Course:
The verb ir  (Survival Spanish – free signup!)
Present Tense Irregulars – Lesson 4

4. When you’re ready for the past tense, master the present perfect

Present Perfect: I have been / I have gone etc.

When you’re ready to move on and tackle the past tense, we recommend you start with the present perfect in Spanish for a few reasons:

  • It’s the easiest to learn since there’s less to memorize
  • It’s very commonly used (more often then in English)
  • Even if you use it incorrectly, you’ll still get your point across

The present perfect is generally used in Spanish to represent things that have happened recently in the past or past actions that are still connected to the present.  For example:

Ya he comido = I have already eaten
Ha perdido sus llaves= She(he) has lost his keys
¿Has ido? = Have you gone?

But it is generally used with more frequency than that strict definition, and how often it is used can simply vary by country. This is why, instead of confusing yourself about which past tense to use and when, as a Spanish beginner, learn the present perfect as a default.  It won’t make much difference and it’s better than getting stuck mid-sentence in a conversation looking for the right past tense conjugation.

See next how it is formed.

Forming the Spanish present perfect

The present perfect is one of the 3 main past tenses in Spanish (the other two being the preterite and the imperfect). It is formed by conjugating the verb haber (to have) in the present tense and adding the past participle.

To form the past participle, add the endings of either ‘ado’ (for ‘ar’ verbs) or ‘ido’ (for ‘ir’ and ‘er’ verbs). There are also a few important irregular past participles which need to be memorized. See the tables below.

Present tense of Haber

Past Participles

AR (ado) ER (ido) IR (ido)
cantar – cantado conocer – conocido vivir – vivido
empezar – empezado creer – creído ir – ido
llamar – llamado vender – vendido dormir – dormido
etc. etc. etc.
abrir – abierto
decir – dicho
escribir – escrito
hacer – hecho
morir – muerto
poner – puesto
ver – visto
volver – vuelto

Refreshers from the Course:
Past Perfect – Lesson 18

Now You Can Speak in the Past, Present and Future

By just concentrating on these 4 areas, you have a range of expression that allows you to speak in the present, past and the future. So there is no excuse for not starting conversations in Spanish as a beginner, albeit they may still be short shallow ones for a while. So go ¡habla!


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