Vocabulary, boring? Can be.
Vocabulary, essential? Absolutely.
Do you know enough Spanish vocabulary? Most people, hardly.
But you’re different, FluentU learner!
Vocabulary is totally make or break for your daily transactions, conversations and dealings in any language. The more you know, the more confident and independent you can be in Spanish. Standing on your own two feet never felt so good!
First, let’s explore why this is such a critical topic for Spanish learners.
The Importance of Spanish Vocabulary Development
- It gives your Spanish variety and depth.
- It’s the way to finally achieve clarity in your daily communication, whether personal or professional.
- It keeps you from getting “stuck,” always talking about the same topics (we’re all a little guilty of this).
- It’ll help you leave your language comfort zone, and you’ll be free to be yourself in Spanish.
Vocabulary lists can be dull but, along with pronunciation, they’ll make all the difference in your Spanish fluency. It’s easy to spot the difference between the speaker who adds to their vocabulary and the one that doesn’t.
For you advanced speakers, don’t be fooled by your apparent prowess. Don’t ever assume you know everything. Indeed the higher your level the harder the language curve becomes in relation to vocabulary development.
To actively take the reins in your own learning progress, you’ll need to know how to concoct your own vocabulary lists at home.
How to DIY Your Own Advanced Spanish Vocabulary Lists
So, it all sounds great up until now, but how do we make these awesome vocab lists happen? How can we study from our vocabulary lists effectively so that all the new language really sticks in our memories? Let’s explore these ideas.
The Process for Making Advanced Spanish Vocabulary Lists
1. Pick a topic, challenge yourself: business, politics, graphic design, economy, etc. Choose things you don’t know well!
2. Start with 10 words on the list, memorize them.
3. Add 5 new words weekly. Only do so if you have fully memorized the first 10 words.
4. Write down practice sentences with your words.
5. Read the words and sentences out loud and strive to use them all in daily conversations.
6. Find 2-3 synonyms or variations of each word and write them in parentheses next to the word.
7. Rinse and repeat! Actually, don’t rinse—just repeat, repeat and repeat again with new thematic categories.
This is a great strategy, but to further improve your results I’d recommend you write your words using a pen and paper (no typing). Also, repeat each word once in your head then out loud after written.
With this strategy I’ve successfully memorized multiple Spanish vocabulary lists up to 100 words long. Trust me, it works!
Now let’s look at some homemade lists that can increase Spanish fluency by leaps and bounds both in terms of speaking and comprehension. While constructing your own lists or modifying the ones provided, always keep in mind that it’s good to challenge yourself, but it’s also good to be practical.
Here are three lists to inspire you and get you started working on your own lists! ¡Vamos todos juntos! (Let’s go together!)
Vocab List #1: Advanced Spanish Expressions That You Know in English
One day while going through the painful language curve, my head was pounding and I was certain I had another language headache (that awful pain you get after just barely scratching through another conversation).
I sat down and thought “how can I make this easier for myself?” I came to two conclusions: (1) There will be things in English that I’ll never translate into Spanish because they simply don’t work, and (2) there are great expressions that are common in both languages. I said to myself “I better know those shared ones”…and so should you!
- hablar a sus/tus espaldas (to talk behind his/her/your back)
- mejorar a pasos agigantados (improve leaps and bounds)
- echar una mano (lend someone a hand)
- darse la mano (to shake hands)
- quedarse en blanco (to draw a blank)
- pedir la mano a alguien (to ask someone’s hand in marriage, to propose)
- hacerse rico (to become rich)
- levantarse con el pie izquierdo (to wake up on the wrong side of the bed)
- la gota que rebosó el vaso (the drop that overfilled the cup—just like “the straw that broke the camel’s back”)
- matar dos pájaros de un tiro (kill two birds with one stone)
Try out these new phrases in the following fill in the blank exercise (hint: use the English translations to fill in the Spanish).
1. Estoy de mal humor. ________________________. (I’m not in a good mood. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.)
2. Hola, Ana. ¿Me puedes________________________? (Hi Ana. Can you lend me a hand?)
3. Ver películas con subtítulos es como________________________. (Watching movies with subtitles is like killing two birds with one stone.)
Face it, you need new verbs because you’re simply sick of using ser (to be), estar (to be), hacer (to do) and ir (to go). More than newness, you need variety to add a layer of linguistic riqueza (richness) to your speaking. You’ll finally be able to use the exact verb for the exact activity you want to describe.
My need for variety and precision in Spanish inspired this second list, so take a look.
Vocab List #2: Advanced Spanish Verbs
- puntear (to pluck)
- revelar (contar) (to reveal something)
- imitar (to mimic someone)
- aplazar (postpone)
- evadirse (to disconnect)
- desmayarse (to faint)
- hallar (to discover/uncover)
- estrenar (to premiere *movies/sitcoms*)
- repeler (to repel)
- asfixiar (to choke)
Try out your new verbs in context.
Context A: You want to tell a friend about a great movie that will premiere next week!
“Hay una película buenísima que se va a estrenar la semana que viene!” (There’s a great film that’s coming out next week)
Context B: You want to tell your loved one what you do to disconnect and unwind after a long day.
“Tras un día largo, me evado cocinando.” (After a long day, I like to unwind/disconnect cooking)
Context C: Let’s say you need to postpone a meeting, date or social event.
“Aplacemos la reunión de hoy para la semana que viene.” (Let’s postpone today’s meeting for next week.)
Keep thinking of some more situations using your new verbs, and copy them down somewhere near your vocab list.
Now for another very important list: Connectors! We need connectors to, well, connect our ideas!
They not only add fluidity to speaking but allow you to feel confident by linking up your new words. Connectors are the theme of the third homemade vocabulary list:
Vocab List #3: Advanced Spanish Connectors
- a través de (through, by means of)
- a lo largo de (throughout)
- mas no (but not)
- menos/salvo (except, less)
- junto a ____ (alongside ____)
- *a menos que (unless)
- *con tal de que (as long as)
- mientras que (while)
- desde que (since)
- a pesar de (despite)
*Use subjunctive conjugations following the starred connectors (look at the last example below to see what I’m talking about).
Now let’s play connect the words! Fill in the blanks by using the translations to help you.
_________ que me gusta la política, no me gusta ver las noticias. (Despite liking politics, I don’t like watching the news.)
Me encanta el helado, _________ el de chocolate. (I love ice cream, except for chocolate ice cream.)
Les presto mi coche _________ lleven a su hermano. (I’ll lend you my car as long as you take your brother.)
Now that you have your first three homemade vocabulary lists under your belt, we need to make sure you can memorize and use them.
How to Use Your Advanced Spanish Vocabulary Lists
1. Stick sticky notes around your apartment, making sure to place the words on the physical item whenever possible.
2. Make a recording of the words, sentences and phrases. Listen to it in the morning, on the ride to work or during your coffee breaks.
3. Intentionally use your new words in conversations—drop them everywhere!
4. Make your conversation partner ask you questions containing your new words, and then be sure to respond with the same words in your sentence.
5. Pick a challenging word from your list and write it on your hand so it’s with you the whole day (this visual reminder ensures you’ll never forget it again).
6. For those of you who are musicians at heart, compose a song using your words!
Now get on it and start concocting your own lists with the help of these online sites…
RedMolinos — This website is devoted to teaching Spanish grammar and vocabulary points, providing useful practice exercises and testing learners’ Spanish abilities. It’s somewhat thematically oriented towards “Don Quixote” and Miguel de Cervantes, who the page creator deeply admires. Expect to see sample grammar and vocab questions drawing information from Cervantes’ literary classics! You don’t need to know anything about the written works to succeed here, but this information does add a little color to the exercises.
SpanishVocabTests — This page is exactly what it sounds like: It’s a website dedicated to quizzing and testing your Spanish vocabulary knowledge. It’s all broken down into thematic categories, which is perfect since you’ll be studying from thematic lists.
AulaDiezVocabulario — Similar to the Spanish vocabulary test page above, this all-Spanish website exist to drill thematically organized vocabulary into your long-term memory. This one goes a little deeper into linguistics and pronunciation, in case you’re interested in that level of detail.
And while making your lists, check out this funny sing-along which explores vocabulary variety and all the colorful accents in the Spanish-speaking world.
¡Hasta la próxima, amigos! (Until next time, friends!)
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.