Spanish 101: Practice and Prepare for Your First Spanish Class

Don’t Be Afraid

Learning a foreign language can be intimidating. If you're worried about going into your first Spanish class, try following these tips to help you get a head start on doing things right in Spanish 101. Practice makes perfect, especially when you're learning something new:

Practice Your Vowels

Spanish only has five vowel sounds, one for each of the vowels (vocals in Spanish). Unlike American English, Spanish speakers never substitute the schwa (“uh”) for a vowel's natural sound. Each letter always, no matter what, retains its characteristic sound.

Which sounds go with which letters is one of the first things you'll learn in Spanish 101. Practice pronouncing vocals clearly ahead of time, and the consonant sounds will follow naturally. Try the following:

a = “ahh” as in “ahh, so…”

e = “ehh” as in “exactly”

i = “ee” as in “peek”

o = hard "o" as in “owed”

u = “oo” as in “woohoo”

Practice opening your mouth and exaggerating the shape of the vowels as you pronounce them.

Identify With Your Masculine and Feminine Sides

Spanish nouns come in two genders: masculine or feminine. So when a direct article is used (in English, the direct article is “the”… as in “the apple” or “the notebook” instead of just apple and notebook) you must know whether to use the masculine or feminine article (el or la, respectively). In fact, most of the nouns you learn and practice in Spanish 101–and onward–will be learned in conjunction with the direct article. You won't be memorizing pared and carro; you'll be asked to remember la pared and el carro.

As a general rule, words ending in “a” receive the feminine direct article (la) and words that end in “o” receive the masculine direct article (el). Here are a few examples:

la mesa (table)

la camisa (shirt/blouse)

el sombrero (hat)

el consejo (council; also can be used to refer to advice)

There are some exceptions to this general rule; you'll pick them up as you go. Here are a few examples of exceptions:

la mano (hand; note that even though “mano” ends with -o, it still receives the feminine article)

el taxista (a male taxi driver; a female driver would be “la taxista”)

el tema (subject, issue or theme; note that even though the word ends with -a, it still receives the masculine article)

Be Polite

Unlike English, Spanish verbs are conjugated differently depending on whether you're dealing with a peer (which would be the familiar “tu” form of the verb) or an elder/superior (in which case you would use the “Usted” form of the same verb). You'll learn the actual conjugation of some basic verbs in Spanish 101. Practice, for now, by getting used to the idea that you'll be dealing with a clear differentiation between familiar and respectful modes of address.

Label, Label, Repeat

Although you learn the fundamentals of a new language in Spanish 101, practice is the key that lets you internalize those new concepts. You can up your odds of success by finding opportunities to practice in everyday life.

  • Before you take your first Spanish class, make sure you've got index cards and sticky notes on hand.
  • Once you've learned a few words to practice, you can turn those index cards into flash cards.
  • Put the Spanish word and a picture of what it represents on the front, then write the English translation on the back.
  • Use the sticky notes to label objects around the house, workplace, and anywhere else you regularly spend time with their Spanish names; remove the sticky notes as you memorize the name for each object.