9 Powerful Reasons to Learn Phrases In Spanish Instead Of Words

Stop memorizing words, and learn phrases in Spanish instead!

Why?

Let me tell you a quick story:

When I was learning English, I remember my teacher giving me a worksheet with a list of words to memorize.

“Learn these words for the next lesson; we’ll have a quiz so be ready for that!”

I’ve never been good at memorization.

And for me, having an exam like that was a huge challenge.

It was a list of irregular verbs, and after a lot of memorization, I passed the test and got a decent grade.

However…

Whenever I had the chance to talk in this language, I would always struggle to recall any of these verbs.

Even worse, I couldn’t conjugate them correctly.

It was very frustrating, but it all changed when I began to learn phrases instead of words.

In this blog post, you’re going to learn why doing this is more powerful than putting a lot of effort into memorization of single words.

From my experience, I can guarantee that if you learn phrases in Spanish:

  • You’ll recall vocabulary easily.
  • You’re going to use grammar more accurately.
  • And words will flow out of your mouth smoothly.

Let me give you 9 reasons I found this to work for me so that you do it as well in your Spanish learning journey.

But let’s define first:

What’s A Phrase And What’s The Difference Between A Phrase And A Word? 

A word is just a combination of letters.

Nothing fancy, or technical here.

A single word is just a group of letters together.

Here are some examples of words in Spanish:

  • “Hola” (Hello)
  • “Cómo” (How)
  • “Estás” (To be)

Now, a phrase is a combination of two or more words.

It doesn’t need to have a subject or a verb.

It’s just a group of words that go together and communicate an idea.

Here’s an example of a phrase:

  • “¿Cómo estás?” (How are you?)

And that’s what I want you to learn from now on, instead of just single words.

Why?

Here are 9 powerful reasons to do it:

1- Spanish Native Speakers Learn The Language With Phrases, Not Words

How many times have you seen a baby memorizing the words his mom wants him to learn?

Or how many times have you seen a kid going through a word list just to make sure he knows the right words for his next conversation?

I’m sure your answer is zero.

Human beings, no matter what language we surround ourselves with:

We learn languages in chunks.

And with chunks, I mean phrases.

You know a phrase in Spanish, would be a chunk of the language. 

If you think about it, kids hear these small pieces of language from the very first time they can perceive sounds with their ears.

For example, to make her baby understand that he needs to eat, a mother wouldn’t say:

“Comer”

A real mom would throw phrases to her kid like:

  • “Toma la sopa” (Take the soup).
  • “Recoge tus juguetes” (Pick up the toys).
  • “Mi bebé hermoso” (My beautiful baby).

Kids never memorize words to learn to speak.

They hear the phrases, understand the idea, and eventually, they produce phrases themselves.

And yes, this is a process that is not something that happens instantly.

But it will have the best results possible.

I guess the bottom line is:

After hearing phrases and absorbing the language, kids always end up acquiring the language they are surrounded with.

  • Children become fluent in languages.
  • They don’t struggle to find words in conversations.
  • Eventually, they become Spanish native speakers.

So if nature is showing us that the way to learn the language is by learning phrases in Spanish instead of single words…

Why would you stick to memorizing words? 


Related: How do Spanish-speaking Children learn to speak? (and how you can do the same to learn Spanish)


2- Learning Single Words Trains You To Rely On Translation

wooden craft with the silhouette of a man reading a book

Here’s another reason to avoid memorizing single words at all costs: 

If you keep doing it, you’re going to end up translating in your head every single time you hear Spanish.

Why?

Well, if you’re doing what I used to do to memorize words, then the exercise goes like this:

  1. You say the word you want to memorize in Spanish out loud, 
  2. And then you say the translation for that word in your mother language.

Some something like this:

“Casa, house, casa, house, casa house”

Notice that, when doing this, you’re Relying on a translation to understand the meaning of a word.

And when you get the chance to have a conversation in Spanish, there won’t be any time to translate.

Conversations go at a fast pace, but memorizing words will slow you down both in:

  • Listening
  • And speaking.

3- Phrases Come With Context

Whenever you learn a word, you would be learning just that:

A word.

A combination of letters related to the equivalent meaning in your native language.

Instead, when you learn a phrase, it always comes with a context.

For example, if you want to learn the phrase:

“¿Cómo estás?”,  

Then you’re going to need to know that people use this phrase when they want to say:

“How are you”.

In your mind, you’re going to know that this phrase will be useful whenever you’re greeting someone.

Much easier to remember!

On the other hand, if you learn only the word “cómo”, you’re going to be left out with a bunch of more questions like:

  • When can I use cómo?
  • What else comes next for a particular idea you want to communicate?
  • Does the verb come after “cómo” or before this word?
  • Etc…

The worst part is that there would be a bunch of possible answers because of languages…

There’s never a unique right answer! 

4- Phrases In Spanish Teach You Grammar

Of course, learning a phrase is not going to teach you a grammar rule.

However, when you memorize a phrase in Spanish, you’re using grammar correctly.

You’ll also notice how words are combined in Spanish.

This way you’ll become familiar with the right structure of the language.

Yet you don’t need to think about the rules.

You don’t need to know where the verb is or what tense you’re using.

You just learn the phrase, use it…

And guess what? 

Automatically, you’ll be communicating a well-structured idea in Spanish.

5- Phrases Teach You Words Themselves

Another thing Phrases do for you is that, if you learn them, you’re going to be learning words.

The best part about this is that you’re not going to need any kind of list or worksheet.

If you focus on learning phrases the words come with them already.

Even better, it’s going to be easier to recall words than if you take a list and work hard to memorize them.

It’s like killing two birds with one stone! 

Like when I learned the word “carry” in English, I remember I memorized that because of a phrase I saw:

“Let me carry that for you”.

I saw it in a movie where a character wanted to carry something for the other person.

I took note of this phrase and memorized it.

It was easier than if I had focused on trying to relate “Carrie” to my mother language’s equivalent (which is “cargar” in Spanish by the way). 

6- Phrases Teach You Pronunciation

Man talking through a tin can

Learning words individually makes it harder for you to know how to pronounce them.

The reason is that you’ll learn pronunciation for just one word.

But when you want to link your new word with a phrase, you won’t know the Rhythm you should use, or how to pronounce linked words.

This will make you sound completely unnatural in Spanish.

Why?

Because when you learn word by word, you’ll tend to inject the Rhythm and the same Cadence of your mother language.

On the other hand, if you focus on learning phrases in Spanish, whenever you hear a phrase, you’ll have a chance to hear how the entire phrase is pronounced.

And since phrases provide you with context, you’ll be able to notice:

  • The tone of the phrase
  • How speakers link words together
  • And the speed natives use to say a certain phrase in a specific context 

7- Phrases Communicate Complete Ideas

When you learn a complete phrase in Spanish, you’re acquiring “a tool ” to communicate ideas effectively.

Just take for example learning a short phrase like:

“Estoy muy cansado”.

Ir will get you ready to communicate “I’m tired” effectively In Spanish.

In fact, if you don’t want to become fluent in Spanish, you could do well with a team of phrases on your side just for the holiday season.

Actually, there are people out there on the internet who devote themselves to gathering useful phrases just for traveling, work, or specific situations.

But that’s not what you want, don’t you?

I know you want real connections and fluency in Spanish.

That’s why you’re here after all!

And there’s a kind of phrase that creates that connection in a very particular way:

Idioms.

Idioms are short phrases owned by specific cultures, regions, or countries that can’t be translated word by word, yet they communicate ideas.

Don’t believe me?

We have these in English too.

Like when you say: 

It’s raining cats and dogs”.

Yes, you can translate that into “Están lloviendo gatos y perros”, but Latinos will not understand the meaning of that phrase.

Instead, Spanish speakers have their idioms.

They use them all the time in daily speaking, and honestly:

If your goal is communication with locals, then idioms are essential for you.

They will help you get closer to the culture and understand people with ease.

I share some of those in the following blog posts:

8- Phrases Create Mental Stories In Your Mind

Imagine you want to learn the word “pie” which means “foot” in Spanish.

You know, like your human feet you use for walking. 

If you try to learn these words solely with your memory, you would probably apply the repetition method I described previously.

You know: “Foot, pie, foot, pie…”

Now, if you insert that word into a phrase, you could get something like this:

“Me duele el pie” 

Translate that, and you’ll get my “foot hurts”.

Pay close attention to your mind, and notice what you get when you say “Pie” vs when you say “Me duele el pie”.

With a single word, you could recall the image of a foot you saw on a flash card.

With the complete phrase, however, you may get a short story of a person touching her foot and feeling pain.

You could even picture the face of a person showing how much it hurts.

It’s a short story, yet it’s loaded with way more information.

Hence it’s going to be easier to remember!

Complete phrases depict short stories, which will boost your memory and help you recall vocabulary easily. 

9- Phrases Are Way Easier To Remember Than Single Words

laptop on table with sticky notes pasted on screen

By now, you already know that learning phrases may do much more for your Spanish than if you stick to the traditional way of learning vocabulary with single words.

Now, I think that the biggest power of these “tools” is the impact they have on your memory.

A single phrase may stick to your mind for a long time.

And I say this from my own experience.

I still remember the exact moment when I learned specific phrases I use today when I speak English.

Like when I was watching a comedy TV show (this was 15 years ago btw).

One of the characters was describing how a cool person had shown up and said “What’s up” to him. 

This moment was so hilarious for me because of how the scene took place.

And that the phrase stuck with me until today!

After hearing it, I looked up for its meaning, and then I began to notice it everywhere.

The reason for phrases to stay in your mind for a long time is because they have lots of information.

As we have seen so far, phrases come with:

  • Context
  • Words
  • Mental images
  • Short stories
  • Correct grammar
  • Complete ideas

And all this info makes it easier for your brain to remember phrases easily.

Much better than forcing words to go into your brain! 

So, now that you know why phrases are so powerful in Spanish learning, here comes an important question:

Where can you find phrases in Spanish? 

And the answer here is everywhere!

You may hear or read phrases in Spanish all around the internet:

  • Youtube 
  • Books 
  • Tv 
  • Music 
  • Podcasts 
  • Newspapers
  • Audiobooks 
  • Etc.

Even courses to learn Spanish with stories are good resources to find them. 

For example, Spanish Uncovered By Olly Richards uses fun stories in Spanish. 

You may check some courses out in y resources page:


Resources To learn Spanish


Wherever you see content in Spanish, you’re going to see phrases that you can learn from.

My advice is to avoid textbooks to learn Spanish.

Why? 

Because they present a language that it’s usually not natural for native speakers.

And mostly, they’ll focus on individual words.

Here’s a blog post where you can find unusual websites to read articles in Spanish.

They might be a great resource to find phrases in Spanish as well:


Related: 10 Unusual Websites With Fascinating Spanish Articles To Read So That You Immerse Yourself In The Language


How Do You Learn Phrases then? 

First of all, get a notebook or use your notes app on your phone.

When I learned English, I was always ready to write down phrases along with their meanings in my mother language. 

And whenever you select the phrase to learn, write it down as you see it.

Don’t change its conjugation.

Just leave it as it is, and memorize that!

Try not to focus on just the words, but notice:

  •  Pronunciation
  •  Cadence
  •  Words linked together
  •  The expressions the speakers use when they say them

Take note of all that and try to imitate the way people throw phrases at each other. 

Conclusion

Using phrases in Spanish to learn vocabulary is way more powerful than focusing on individual words.

Today, you’ve learned 9 powerful reasons to learn phrases instead of words.

Especially if your goal is to become fluent in Spanish, and eventually engage in conversations with native speakers,  phrases will be a powerful learning tool for you.

If you stick to these chunks of Spanish, and imitate the way native speakers learn the language, make no mistake about it:

You will become fluent in Spanish in no time.

Just take your time, write down phrases, and absorb the language!  

¡Nos vemos después! (See you later!)

Diego Cuadros is a blogger and a Spanish online teacher. He uses stories to help Spanish lovers understand fast-speaking native speakers, so they don't freeze and panic in conversations.