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4 Time Wasting Spanish Study Mistakes… And How You Can Avoid Them

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    You only have so much time in a day.

    Once you’ve dedicated yourself to learn Spanish, you want to make sure you are using your study time effectively.

    Unfortunately, there are many distractions that can pull you away from your goal.  You may feel like you’re doing something, but in the long run there are certain things that are a huge waste of time.

    I’ve learned that even though some of these may seem like good ideas, they aren’t the most efficient ways of studying.

    Here is a breakdown of some time wasters I fell victim to, along with strategies you can use to make better use of your time.


    Time Waster #1: Reviewing the Spanish Word of the Day

    You may find a site or an app that offers to send you a Spanish word of the day or flash it on your screen every morning.

    Initially, you feel like “hey, I’m learning some vocabulary here.”

    But a week, or even just a few days later, try to see if you can remember all of those “words of the day.”

    I know it seems like a good idea, but you will rarely retain this vocabulary.

    One: it’s often a pretty random word selection.  One day the word is ver (to see), the next day it’s mantequilla (butter).

    I subscribed to one of these “word of the day” services once, and 3 days in I received a message with the word for wasteland.

    When would I ever have a need to use that word?

    I don’t think I’ve ever even used it in English.

    I immediately unsubscribed from this useless service.

    Unless you have an application with vocabulary that is relevant to you (with spaced repetition built in), you are wasting your time.

    Solution #1: Learn Vocabulary You Actually Need and Quiz Yourself Often

    It’s best to find words that are relevant to you and your interests, and to learn them in context.

    To memorize a new word, you would have to be exposed to it more than once and in different contexts.  This will help to embed it in your long-term memory.

    First, find examples of how the word is used in the real world.  Searching the Internet for articles, websites, or even noting how a phrase is used by a language partner, friend, or tutor are all good ways to do this.

    Next, practice making your own sentences using the new word.  This will help reinforce the new vocabulary and create another association in your mind.

    Finally, review what you’ve learned. The best way to do this to maximize retention is to quiz yourself.  Recalling information is the best way to learn, even if you don’t get the answers right all the time.

    Try writing your own fill-in-the-blank sentences with the new word you are learning as the missing word.  You can also write out the word with blank spaces for certain letters, and later quiz yourself by filling in the missing letters.

    If you want a proven system for memorizing new vocabulary, check out Make Words Stick by my friend Olly Richards. In it, he breaks down exactly how to learn new words and some really great technology you can take advantage of to learn wherever you are.


    Time Waster #2: Passively Watching TV and Listening to the Radio

    Early on in my Spanish study, I would try to watch the morning news in Spanish.

    There’s a morning show in Univision that’s in a Good Morning America type of format.  There are many segments on different topics, and it’s done mostly in a relaxed, conversational style.

    This proved to be a struggle for me, because with so many people talking at the same time and interrupting each other, I wouldn’t understand much of what was said.

    The same thing goes for the radio.  Listening to the local Spanish language music station left me feeling confused and overwhelmed.  I thought by continuing to watch and listen I would eventually just pick up the language by osmosis.

    I soon learned that mindlessly listening to the language when you don’t understand is counterproductive.  Your brain gets inundated with incomprehensible input, and quickly tunes it out.

    While sometimes this type of exposure is good to just get used to the sound of the language, it’s not a long-term strategy.  To really improve listening comprehension you need to concentrate deliberately and for shorter periods of time with focused attention.

    Solution #2: Regularly Consume Content You Like AND Understand

    Find things that are on topics you like at your level.

    A good rule of thumb is that if you are reading or listening to something, and don’t understand more than half of what’s being said, you should stop and find something a little easier.

    This doesn’t mean you understand every word, but you should be able to follow the main ideas and note new useful vocabulary to look up later.  This should not be every other word.

    It’s important that you are interested in the content so that you are motivated to learn it.  I love the Radio Ambulante podcast because it has interesting topics with full transcripts, and an English version of most stories. I listened to an episode about  Miss Rizos, a natural hair salon in the Dominican Republic.  As a natural hair stylist this peaked my interest, so listening to the interview over and over again to improve my aural comprehension wasn’t boring.

    I was excited each time I listened and understood more.

    A great place to find content on a variety of topics appropriate for different levels is Spanish Pod 101.  Each podcast episode is indicated as either beginner, lower intermediate, upper intermediate, and advanced.  Even as a more advanced learner you may find some new vocabulary and interesting topics in the lower levels.

    Once your listening comprehension is at a high enough level, you will be able to enjoy movies, radio, and TV shows in Spanish. But you have to train your ear first.


    Time Waster #3: Focusing Too Much on Verb Conjugation

    It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the different verb tenses and conjugations in Spanish.

    Initially, you may feel like you have to learn them all.

    In the beginning, though, this is not a good idea.  It’s easy to get bogged down with trying to memorize huge verb charts.

    But how often will you need to use the verb negar in the pluscuamperfecto?

    I’m guessing maybe never.

    I’d also argue that learning vosotros is a complete waste of time. It’s just one more annoying verb conjugation learn, and only relevant if you plan on visiting Europe. And even then, Spainards will understand if you use ustedes.

    Solution #3: Master the Important Verbs and Tenses, Just be Familiar with the Others

    Most of the time in conversation, you will be talking to someone else (tu or usted) directly or talking about yourself (yo).

    Master these in the present tense, then move on to understanding the past tenses.

    Only focus on learning more forms of verbs that are commonly used in other tenses.  For example, it’s useful to know the command form of verbs like venir, dar, and ir because they are used often (for example, dame (give me), ven aca (come here), and vete (go away)).

    Similarly, you’ll want to memorize verbs that are both irregular and common.  Tener is an example of a very useful and common verb that is irregular, meaning it doesn’t follow the usual patter for ‘-er’ verb conjugation.

    In general, it would be helpful to understand the patterns of verb conjugation instead of memorizing every single verb chart.

    For vosotros, I recommend having a basic awareness of it so you will detect when someone uses it with you, but don’t make it a regular part of your vocabulary. In Latin America it’s not widely used, if at all.

    I would also recommend spending a short study session to familiarize yourself with voseo.

    I was under the false impression that voseo, a variation of the tu form, was only used in Argentina.  I’ve also been told it’s an archaic use of the language.

    I was surprised when I heard it in Central America chatting with a friend from Costa Rica.

    I even heard vos used in one of my favorite songs by Dominican artist Romeo Santos, Mi Santa (very last line).

    No one taught me this and I don’t know why. It’s not in textbooks, but it is used in other parts of South America and Central America.  In my opinion, if people are still actively using it in several countries, it’s not that archaic.

    Again, I wouldn’t recommend using it in your day-to-day speech, but you should be aware of it so you recognize it when you see or hear it.


    Time Waster #4: Changing Your Social Media Language to Spanish

    Previously I attempted to use Facebook in Spanish but I soon got bored of it and switched back to English.

    This is because most of my Facebook friends speak English.

    Instead of a Spanish immersion experience, it was just odd seeing “Me gusta” replace the “like” button.

    It wasn’t too effective.

    Furthermore, many tech and social media terms are derived from English so there isn’t much useful vocabulary you will learn just by switching the language on Facebook, Instagram, or any of your smart phone apps.

    Solution #4: Find Things That Interest You and Follow/Like Them

    If you want true digital immersion or just an increase in exposure to content in Spanish, look for the Spanish version of things you already do in English.

    If you read the new online everyday, find the Spanish version your favorite news site.

    A good way to use Facebook is to join groups of people that are learning or teaching Spanish.

    You can also look for groups that are in line with your interests.  For example, I found a parenting group on Facebook in Spanish by searching for “consejos para padres.”

    You can also “like” pages of organizations or topics that interest you in Spanish. This increases your exposure to written Spanish and expands your vocabulary in areas that are actually relevant to you.

    Liking pages, following people,  and finding groups with common interests in Spanish will put the language directly into your newsfeed.  It’s a smart, effortless way to make Spanish part of your daily life.


    I hope you’ve found this information useful, and that these tips will help you make the most out of your Spanish study time.


    By the way, if you want more details on how to make efficient use of your Spanish study time, download the free e-book Learn Spanish in 15 Minutes a Day.


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