How to get from beginner to intermediate Spanish? When learning a new language, we can feel stuck at a beginner level and feel like it for many months and even years to come. But why?
What does it mean to be a beginner in Spanish?
Chances are you have already had some exposure to Spanish. Perhaps you studied it in high school or college, or even went abroad to Spain or South America for a semester. You probably studied the numbers, days of the week, the verbs ser and estar, items of clothing, and so on.
However, with this knowledge, were you able to hold a conversation in Spanish? My guess is that you couldn’t and still can’t.
When we think about being proficient in Spanish, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Holding a conversation… with a native speaker! Understanding and being able to produce language that is clearly understood. What a dream!
So, how do you get there?
Here are 5 easy steps anyone can follow to take their beginner Spanish to the next level.
5 Easy Ways to Advance Your Intermediate Spanish Learning
Following these steps you should be able to tell stories, give your opinion about a few everyday topics, speak with more confidence and more fluently.
Step 1: Master the past tenses
If you take a single piece of advice from this post, let it be this! The #1 most important thing you need to do is master the past tenses in Spanish. Past tenses include pasado simple, pasado imperfecto and pretérito perfecto. Why is it so important? One word: Storytelling.
When we speak, most often, we are sharing stories. It’s what we do. We want to talk about our personal experiences, anecdotes, past events, etc. If you are able to master the past tenses in Spanish you will be one step ahead of the game.
To do this, I recommend looking into websites where you can study with flashcards, such as Quizlet. On Quizlet, you can find dozens of ready-made sets of flashcards for all the tenses. Just be sure to choose sets created by teachers to ensure a good practice, and set time aside as often as you can to study your flashcards.
If can, also create your own cheat sheet with every new verb you learn in Spanish, by following the example below:
Let’s say you just learned the verb correr (to run). Put it in a chart like this one:
|Pasado simple||Pasado imperfecto||Pretérito perfecto|
Next, make sure that you are clear on when to use each tense. I find it useful to think of it in terms of timelines.
Pasado simple:___↓___ Specific events in the past.
Pasado imperfecto: |⟷| Routines and habits in the past. Descriptions in the past.
Pretérito perfecto: |_____↗ Events that started in the past and continue or are still true in the present.
Step 2: Learn transition words
Back to the idea of storytelling. In order to tell a story, we need to be able to smoothly transition from one point to another. And the best way to do this is to learn transition words. Transition words included words that help you structure a story as well as time expressions.
Here are only a few high frequency words, but you can find plenty of comprehensive lists on the internet. Words such as:
- Al principio – at first, at the beginning.
- Después de – afterwards.
- Ya – already
- Tan pronto como – as soon as.
- Durante – during
- Al rato – shortly after.
- Anoche – last night.
- Nunca – Never
- Siempre – Always.
- Muchas veces – Often, many times.
Continue with this list of 100+ Spanish Transition Words
Step 3: FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions)
Besides telling stories, what else do we do when we are in conversation with someone? That’s right. We ask questions. That’s why another very important step is to learn how to ask questions in Spanish.
First, know the question words:
Qué – What?
Cúal – Which/What?
Cuándo – When?
Por qué – Why?
Cuánto tiempo – How long?
Dónde – Where?
In Spanish, we don’t use auxiliary verbs to form questions like the English do, did, will…
Instead, we simply raise our intonation at the end of a sentence to indicate that it’s a question. So, if you want to ask someone what they studied in university, you would ask:
¿Qué estudiaste (tú) en la universidad? which literally translates to What you studied in university?
Step 4: Grow your vocabulary
This one is a no brainer. If you want to be able to speak more fluently, you need to know more words in your target language. A simple way to increase your vocabulary is to learn synonyms and antonyms of the words you already know. For example: if you know the word bonito (pretty) some synonyms would include: hermoso (beautiful), lindo (cute) and a few antonyms would be: feo (ugly), horrible (horrible). This is particularly key with adjective words.
Useful tip: As you learn new vocabulary, don’t forget to note whether a word is a feminine or masculine in the case of nouns, and what the form would be for each adjective.
Step 5: Give your opinion.
Lastly, at an intermediate level, we also want to be able to give our opinion about common topics. And one way to master this is to learn verbs to give your opinions and to know some expressions to agree or disagree with someone.
Here are a few:
Yo creo que – I think that…
En mi opinión – In my opinion…
Estoy de acuerdo – I agree.
No estoy de acuerdo – I disagree.
So there you have it… 5 steps toward fluency. Don’t forget to incorporate a listening practice (tv shows, podcasts) to tune your ear, and to do pronunciation practices such as rolling your R’s. There’s no other way but up from here!