The Most Frequently Used Spanish Words
In addition to the web version, you can download the lesson as a PDF and watch a video about this lesson at the bottom of the page.
The Most Frequently Used Words in Spanish
If you want to learn Spanish quicker than the average, there’s a method outlined here that a lot of language learners don’t know.
Even if this lesson took 10 hours it would still save you time in the long run.
The explanation for why this list is a good idea is what follows below.
The blue box will download the PDF and you can then follow along using the audio below. The PDF indicates the starting point at 10 words, 20 words, 30 and so on…if you want to jump to a certain word quicker.
If you didn’t pick up on it from the title, there’s a good reason why you should make an effort to learn the most frequently used words—they occur most often, obviously.
This means they’ll be far and away the most important and useful ones to pick up from the beginning.
Why Study This List?
A frustrating part of learning Spanish in a traditional classroom is that the course usually treats all vocabulary equally. This is definitely not the case in real world usage.
In a typical course, you’ll learn vocabulary usually by theme. That means learning hundreds of words about the kitchen, food, colors, professions, animals, and so on.
However, a much smaller list of verbs, nouns and adjectives, pronouns and the like get used every single day.
Words like: am, it, were, that, from, who, could, have, food, I’m going, he’s said, she’s eating, coming home, “Are you ready?” and so on, are words that are used with much more frequency.
All words are not equally important
So why treat all vocabulary as equally important and try to learn such infrequently used words?
My advice for faster learning—don’t do it this way.
All vocabulary is not equal. Instead use what’s called a frequency dictionary and learn the top words that are occur in normal conversations every day.
But wait! If you’re not convinced yet, there’s a chart!
The Secret Sauce
The chart is based on a study done in 2002 by Doug Biber of Northern Arizona University and Mark Davies of Brigham Young University.
It analyzed fiction, non-fiction print and oral speech in order to determine the most frequently used Spanish words.
The chart below shows coverage of these categories during a typical conversation based on knowing 1-3000 of the most common words.
Since this is a speaking-focused course, the important category is the oral category at the right.
Breaking it down
It shows that knowing the first 1,000 commonly used words will allow you access to nearly 88% of spoken Spanish.
It goes on to say that memorizing another 1,000 words (2,000 total) will only yield you 5% more. And the next 1,000 (3,000 total) gets you a measly 2% more.
In the economics world they call this diminishing returns. Basically, that increasing one factor (vocabulary, in this case) results in smaller and smaller returns (amount of Spanish understood).
Based on this, it would make sense to initially focus your time on learning, recognizing, and being able to pick up on those first 1,000 words.
Not a silver bullet—just more efficient
Using a frequency dictionary is one way to jumpstart your understanding; it allows you to pick up the most important words and gets you on your way towards conversational fluency.
The strategy is to prioritize your time: start with the most important words, like water, house, work, and people and prioritize those.
Then you can gradually increase your vocabulary just a bit in order to get to the next level.
And that’s where a technique like learning all the perfect cognates and other patterns for near perfect cognates will get you part of the way to learning the critical verbs, nouns and adjectives that are outside of the top 1,000 words.
Together, implementing this lesson with the previous one, allows you to focus on what matters in a time efficient way.
This leaves more time to focus on other critical aspects of Spanish development, like listening comprehension, speaking fluidity and accent reduction.
At the moment there’s only the first 100 words. However, this includes over 175+ example sentences with audio.
The rest of the list will follow soon, so check back later.