The one part of learning any Latin-based language that can make you cry Uncle! is the verbs. In English this is not an issue; we don’t conjugate much. In Spanish the verb changes according to who is doing the action and when the action is done. This can seem daunting and at times insurmountable, and all of those dang verb changes with each subject within each tense can make you want to cry in the corner and deem Spanish too damn hard.
As a rule of thumb I assure people that conjugating verbs is not important in the first stage of language learning. In the beginning you do not complicate yourself with learning correct grammar. Instead you want to get your point across however you can. Like a toddler learning language, it is more important to engage and effectively communicate than to be correct.
What we want to understand about verbs in Spanish is how they work. So basically all verbs, even in English, have an infinitive form. This is the verb before you do anything to it. In English the infinitive adds to in front: e.g. to walk, to eat. In Spanish all verbs end in “-ar”, “-er” or “-ir”. So… comer is an -er verb, and tomar is an -ar verb. In the beginning your job is to simply learn the meaning of these words. Collect a couple verbs you need to interact out there. Try them out by just putting them in the sentence as you speak. The listener will do the conjugating in their head and the conversation runs much more smoothly this way than with you trying to remember what to do with the verb.
As you progress, verbs will inevitably become something that must be addressed. At that point, look for patterns in conjugation. For example, ALL we subject verbs end in -mos and all they subject verbs end in -n. Finding patterns is something brains like to do and is much preferred over memorization, which naturally becomes an issue as we age. There are websites like conjugation.com or spanishdict.com, and books like 501 Spanish Verbs to help you identify patterns and see how the verb changes across subjects and tenses.
Getting a handle on verbs is an important part of Spanish language learning. It is something that will take time, patience and a sense of humor. As you read some of the local dual language newspapers, you can begin to make connections between the two languages. Start looking for patterns and picking out the verbs in a sentence, and try to figure out the infinitives. These small steps make big differences in getting a handle on verbs. As you get braver, throw a conjugated verb into your sentence and see what happens.
Learning a language is as much about the act of learning and stretching your brain muscle as it is about communication. These two go joyously hand in hand and you will see that as you learn Spanish you are literally becoming smarter and your brain is becoming more efficient. Don’t let the frustration with verbs get in the way of that. The rewards are too great!
Sylvia Monge owns Spanish for Expats, a tutoring and translation service (spanishforexpatscr.com), and thinks the brain is ridiculously cool. She uses her knowledge and study of the brain to make learning Spanish and English easier, more entertaining and engaging. Join one of her classes and learn Spanish while realizing your potential.