The building blocks of any language is vocabulary and grammar. You can’t be proficient in a new language without these two elements. But when you are first starting there is one element you should focus on as a preference.
If you want to communicate quickly you need to be able to convey an idea.
Communication is ultimately about sharing ideas. The question is do these ideas need to be coherently presented in a nice structure?
No, they really don’t.
Ideas can still be conveyed without well formed sentence structure. It won’t matter if there isn’t a properly formed verb, subject and object. It won’t matter if the action happened in the past, the present progressive or subjunctive mode. And it won’t matter if questions are asked without the appropriate word order.
At The Start It’s Okay To Convey A Message Without Structure
Think about the last time you heard someone speak with poor english as a second language. They could have said:
“Where Taxi?”, “Help find restaurant”, “Need direction?”
You can quickly work out what they need to know or want to find out and then provide help.
Flipping this around, if you went up to someone in a Spanish speaking country and said:
“Necesitar comida”, “Donde restaurante?”, “Hambre”
They are going to know very quickly what you want to know.
Yes, it may be embarrassing and you don’t want to sound bad, but the fact of the matter is you are communicating in another language and it happened very quickly because you know some basic vocabulary.
It is far easier to convey an idea with structure than convey an idea with perfect structure and few words.
If you focus on gaining as many words as possible as quickly as possible, you will be able to communicate. The grammar can come later.
Students Get Caught Up In Grammar
Students can spend a lot of time caught up and confused by Spanish grammar. For example, the subjunctive causes headaches for most students coming from English because we don’t really have an equivalent verb tense. But, the truth is you don’t need it to speak Spanish, you can actually communicate at a high level without it.
Perfectionism is a form of procrastination. Try to avoid spending hours delaying your progress because you can’t get every grammar conjugation memorized. There are more leveraged ways to spend your time at the start by focusing purely on vocabulary.
Eventually You Will Need To Know The Grammar
Of course if you want to approach fluency you are going to have to become competent with grammar. You will have to eventually put in the time memorizing the verb tables and understanding the right context for the subjunctive mode.
But if you are first starting out and you have limited time, get caught up in vocabulary. It is the fastest way to progress. The more words you can absorb the more complex the ideas you can convey.
You may also find that your confidence increases with every new word you can add to your list.
A great way to pick up Spanish vocabulary is to get a Spanish to English reader (a text with both English and Spanish). Start by writing down ten words you have never seen before, find out their meaning then see if can use them in context with a friend or teacher. Put them in a place where you can refer back to them regularly such as a journal.
Also see if you can find associations that make the words more memorable. I’m going to talk in much greater depth in an upcoming post on how to create associations that stick in your mind. But for now look at your list of words and see if there are words that you can associate with objects or ideas that you already know to help make the new words more memorable.