Many new Spanish speakers hear "usted" used by other Spanish speakers, but often don't know what it means, when to use it, and how to use it.
"Usted" is simply another subject in the Spanish subject chart and it means "you". Wait, does that mean there are two subjects that both mean "you" in Spanish? Si, señor (yes sir).
So at this point the important question to answer is when and how to use Usted. Ana is going to answer all those questions for you in the video below. ¡Buena suerte!
Learning Spanish should be fun, a little challenging, and extremely rewarding. The eSpanishTeacher philosophy is that students should first build a foundation in Spanish verbs and verb conjugation. Once the foundation has beeb built, the student will be in such a great position to move forward learning all the other principles that are built upon the foundation.
There are of course many sub-strategies you can employ to facilitate your language skill development. Here are some tips & perspectives from Sasha Little on how you might learn Spanish faster and more effectively.
Here is a summary of 25 important verbs all Spanish speakers should learn as early as possible. If you are equipped with a small number of important Spanish verbs, you'll be surprised how much you can actually say. Learning these is a much more effective approach than simply memorizing a few phrases to get around town.
Remember that you'll receive the eSpanishTeacher 101 Spanish Verbs course when you purchase our Beginner Spanish course. This course will teach you to use the 101 most common verbs in the entire Spanish language and you'll get plenty of practice speaking out loud.
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If you're learning the Spanish language for the first time or refreshing your language skills after years of not using them, here are 5 things you need to know to get the most out of your early Spanish education.
5. Number & Gender
In English, nouns, articles, and adjectives don't have to agree in number & gender. But in Spanish agreement between these three is of the highest importance. The advice to new speakers is to make understanding this principle a priority and start using it right away. You'll make mistakes in the beginning, but don't hold back because your hard work early on will pay off soon. If this is confusing, let me break it down for you:
La bicicleta roja es buena = The red bike is good
La = article
bicicleta = noun
buena = adjective
Las bicicletas rojas son buenas = The red bikes are good
Las = article
bicicletas = noun
buenas = adjective
Understanding basic pronunciation is vital to proper Spanish speaking. To avoid forming bad habits that will make you look foolish down the road, start learning & implementing proper pronunciation in the things you say now, even if it's difficult. Spanish is great because with only a few exceptions, most of the letters in the Spanish language are pronounced exactly the same every time. So once you've memorized the proper pronunciation, it will become natural and you won't give it a second thought. But native Spanish speakers will notice right away and give you credit for the importance you've placed on pronunciation. For help with pronunciation, check out my Beginner course.
3. Step into the Darkness
As with learning any new skill, many of us begin our learning experience with a lot of energy, excitement, and enthusiasm. But over time as reality sets in we find that learning & developing skills is not always easy, so we become discouraged. No doubt you'll encounter this...everyone does. Those that successfully navigate these moments have something in common.
I've always believed that anything worth doing is not going to come easily, which means it's worth our time to have patience, set a lot of small & realistic goals, and persevere through the difficult moments because that's where the most growth and learning takes place.
I learned early on that it's crucial to develop a "stick-to-it-ness" when it comes to learning Spanish. Instead of getting discouraged by the obstacles you're certain to encounter, consider them "moments of truth" where your true character will be revealed. When I hit roadblocks in the early days, one trick I used often was to know that the answer exists somewhere. I didn't have it, so I needed to get it. Don't get me wrong, learning Spanish is not nearly as difficult at advanced algebra or quantitative analysis. It's more similar to learning to play an instrument where you might fumble with the notes but with a lot of repetition and practice the masterpiece will finally reveal itself.
So when you face those moments of unknown (any moment where you find your progress is stopped by missing pieces), don't give up. Taking a step into the darkness means that you are willing to identify a few things you can do to solve the problem and start taking action to pursue those steps. Doing this will reveal clues and information that will fill in the puzzle and allow you to make progress. Stepping into the darkness is a skill that helps in many areas of life (business, family, school, relationships) and like any muscle it requires training and development. Over a time if you are developing this muscle, you'll get really good at working through barriers, whether it's related to the Spanish language or some other aspect of life.
2. Practice Practice Practice
One of the best strategies to start speaking Spanish fast doesn't require a teacher in a classroom. Instead of sitting and listening, start speaking the language! You might ask, "well how do I speak the language if I don't know it yet?" Good question. The answer is to find one of your favorite books in Spanish, a book with a story that is familiar to you, so that you can still follow the story as you read. Then, in a quiet, private location, read the book out loud in Spanish. That's right, read the Spanish text out loud!
Not only will this help your pronunciation, but it will help you hear how the language flows. It's a form of training your ear and tongue to hear and mimic the Spanish language. I often hear people who learn English as a second language that one of the best aids for them was watching TV in English. Reading a book out loud is similar to this.
1. Master verbs
One of the skills new Spanish speakers should prioritize is that of conjugating verbs properly. Learning and speaking using conjugated verbs is not difficult--especially in the present tense--and mastering this skill will have immediate returns. Learning to conjugate verbs in Spanish doesn't take long and it does more than any other skill to improve you ability to communicate complete thoughts, significantly expanding your vocabulary along the way.
As a student Student of the Spanish language, one of the first things you'll learn is the subject pronoun chart or table (see graphic). This is a simple chart that displays the eight Spanish subject pronouns. For simplicity's sake, I refer to these as the Spanish subjects.
On this blog post, I want to focus on two Spanish subject, "Usted" and "Tú". Both mean "you", however, they are used in different circumstances.
First, we'll start with "Tú" because it's the more common of the two subjects. It's used most often and has the meaning that is most similar to your understanding of "you" in English. This is the version of "you" that is used in friendly, less formal situations where you likely have close or casual relationships with the people you are speaking with. It's also used in informal social settings, like going out to dinner with friends or people who are roughly your same age who you might not know.
Tú eres mi amigo = You are my friend
Tú cantas con mi padre = You sing with my father
Of all the Spanish subject pronouns, "Usted" is perhaps the most difficult to understand, which is why we need a solid understanding of of "Tú" first.
Usted means "you" but is considered the formal version of "you" and has the added effect of giving an extra level of respect or formality to the person with whom you are speaking. In other words, use Usted when you are speaking with someone in a formal setting or someone who deserves an added degree of respect beyond your every day accquantiances, friends, and family. Whether or not someone deserves an added level of respect varies based on who you are, your level of familiarity, your respective ages, and social status. You're probably asking yourself, "Does the Spanish language discriminate based on social standing?" The answer is a simply yes, it does.
Usted es mi jefe = You (formal) are my boss
Usted tuviste mucho éxito durante el año pasado = You (formal) had a lot of success last year
If you a college student, you'd likely address your professors using "Usted". Likewise, if you were speaking with a government, corporate, or religious official, you would likely address that person using "usted". And in some case, you speak to the elderly using "Usted". There are exceptions to all these rules, but this is the general idea. Newer, less friendly relationships would lend to using Usted. Also, high-ranking officials in any organization would expect to be spoken to using "usted", at least until you became more friendly with the person. You would also speak to police officers and other public employees using "Usted".
Friends and family typically would not speak to each other using "usted", unless it's a very young person speaking to his/her grandparent or parent. A teenager likely would not use Usted when speaking to a parent, however, a younger child might when being scolded. Likewise, bumping into someone on the street or in a store would not be an occasion to use "Usted".
A good rule to follow is that the less familiar you are with someone that you meet in a formal or professional setting, the more likely you should use "Usted" until you become more familiar.
Don't worry if you get it wrong. The best way to perfect your understanding of these two subjects is to use them a lot in your daily practice.
Hablar is a common Spanish verb that means "to speak" or "to talk". It's a very simple -AR verb and likely one of the very first verbs you would learn in any beginner level Spanish class. Here is how to conjugate the verb hablar:
Yo hablo - I speak
Tú hablas - You speak (informal)
Él habla - He speaks
Ella habla - She speaks
Usted habla - You speak (formal)
Nosotros hablamos - We speak
Vosotros habláis - You guys speak/ You all speak (informal)
Ellos hablan - They speak (group of males or group of mixed gender)
Ellas hablan - They speak (group of females)
Ustedes hablan - You all speak / You speak (formal)
A few examples using hablar, translated from Spanish into English:
Ellas hablan con los chicos. - They speak with the boys.
Yo hablo por teléfono con mi madre. - I talk on the telephone with my mother.
Ustedes hablan todos los días. - You talk every day.
One verb that should become part of your vocabulary very quickly is poder. Poder is the Spanish verb that means to be able to. This might not sound like the typical Spanish verb to you and you'd be right. It's not easy to image poder like is to run, to eat, to write. Some verbs are very visual and can be imagined easily. Poder is not one of these. It actually falls into the category with other vague verbs such as to have, to be, to know, etc. Another way to look at is is that poder is the verb that means to can, such as I can, she can, you can.
You may have heard the phrase Si, se puede, which comes from the verb poder. Essentially this phrase means Yes, you can or You can do it! It's common in Spanish to have someone say this as a form of encouragement. Here is a breakdown of how the verb is conjugated and it's translations into English:
Yo puedo - I can
Tú puedes - You can (informal)
Él puede - He can
Ella puede - She can
Usted puede - You can (formal)
Nosotros podemos - We can
Vosotros podéis - You guys can (informal)
Ellos pueden - They can (group of men or mixed)
Ellas pueden - They can (group of women)
Ustedes pueden - You all can (formal)
When the verb poder is used, it is typically followed by another verb. This is because we normally say You can [verb], like in You can run, You can eat, You can write. So in Spanish, you'll want to follow the conjugated form of poder with an unconjugated verb. To see what I'm saying, here are some examples of sentences using the verb poder:
Usted puede hablar. = You can speak.
Nosotros podemos tocar la música. = We can play music.
Yo puedo cantar. = I can sing.
Vosotros podeís estudiar. = You guys can study.
Spanish verb conjugation is perhaps the most crucial concept for beginner students. So much of what new students learn centers on understanding how to conjugate Spanish verbs. This is because verbs and subjects are the foundational elements of sentence structure and therefore are the foundation of virtually everything you say in Spanish. It’s no different for English—by the way—we just don’t often realize it.
Subject Pronouns or Subjects
In Spanish, conjugating verbs is simple, but it does require some explanation as well as a good deal of verbal practice before you’ll understand it completely. Conjugating verbs always begins with the subject of the sentence because we need to know who is acting out the verb. You may hear your Spanish professor refer to subjects as 'subject pronouns', but I think that term confuses people. In my simple mind, they are subjects and it doesn't need to be any more complicated than that. So the subject is the noun (person, place, or thing) that is doing the verb (action word). Common subject are I, you, he, she, it, we, they, etc.
Verbs are the action word of a sentence, such as run, eat, play, speak, etc. Usually verbs are simple to imagine in your mind. For example, it’s easy to imagine someone running, eating, playing, and speaking. These would all be examples of verbs in their infinitive (pure) form: to run, to eat, to play, to speak.
Spanish Verb Conjugation
Conjugating verbs requires that you match a subject with a verb. And the most important thing to remember is that the subject determines how the verb is conjugated.
When you conjugate a verb, you remove the to and replace it with a subject. In other words, you actually change the verb from its infinitive form (to eat) to a conjugated form when matching it up with a subject. You also sometime change the ending of the verb slightly, such that He + to eat becomes He eats. Or She + to run becomes She runs.
This is the essence of verb conjugation, which is the foundation of the Spanish language. It may seem simple in English, but conjugating in Spanish actually presents a couple more challenges because 1) it’s not your native language and 2) the conjugations are much more complex than simply adding an “s” to the end of each verb. This is a quick blog post meant to help you understand the basics of conjugating verbs in Spanish. For a more in-depth look at this topic, as well as a more personalized explaination, verbal exercises, and instant feedback, check out my Beginner Spanish course.In Spanish, a simple example would look like this:
Subject: Ella = she
Verb: Comer = to eat
Ella + Comer = Ella come = She eats
To accomplish the example conjugation above, these are the steps we take:
1) Identify the subject
2) Drop the “-er” ending from the verb Comer.
3) While adding the subject, conjugate the verb Comer according to the subject.
You can use this subject chart to identify which ending corresponds to which subject. Also, I've included a chart on conjugating verbs in the present tense for reference.
"Ser" is perhaps THE most common verb in the Spanish language. In my Beginner Spanish course I explain that there are two types of verbs: simple and vague. The simple verbs are simple to understand because you can visualize them easily. These are verbs like "to run", "to play", "to eat". You can easily visualize someone running, playing, or eating. But the other type of verb, the vague verbs, are not as easy to understand because they don't have such a visual meaning. "Tener" as is "Ser". It just so happens that some of the most common Spanish verbs--to have, to be, to do, to know--are vague verbs. This is important to know as you learn all about Spanish verbs, but don't worry as it will come easily as you study the language and practice speaking Spanish.
The true meaning of "Ser" is "To be", however, the easier way to remember it is to think of it as the I am, you are, she is verb. It literally is the verb used to communicate is, are, and am. This is how the verbs is conjugated:
Yo soy - I am
Tú eres - You are (informal)
Él es - He is
Ella es - She is
Usted es - You are (formal)
Nosotros somos - We are
Vosotros sóis - You all are (informal)
Ellos son - They are
Ellas son - They are (group of females)
Ustedes son - You all are (formal)
Here are some examples of phrases using the verb "Ser":
Yo soy maestra. - I am a teacher.
Tú eres bondadoso. - You are kind.
Nosotros somos estudiantes. - We are students.
Es la una. - It's one o'clock.
I speak with a lot of people who want to speak Spanish, most of whom ask questions about the language and wanting my recommendations for an effective Spanish course. It’s common for these people to be curious about how difficult it is to learn Spanish. They aren’t asking how difficult it is to learn the language in full. What they really want to know is ‘how long will it take me to learn enough Spanish to feel comfortable getting around in a foreign country or in a light conversation with a native Spanish speaker?’
How long it takes you to learn conversational Spanish depends on you. Are you someone who can recognize patterns, enjoys music, and understands basic math? If you said yes, then your chances of learning Spanish quickly are very good.
Having an appreciation for patterns, music, and math are important because they help you understand the building blocks of the Spanish language—Verbs. Spanish Verbs, along with subjects, are some of the most basic elements of the Spanish language and having a clear understanding of them will help you speak Spanish more than any other concept. And once you understand the relationship between subjects and verbs, you ability to speak and grasp the more advanced concepts greatly improves.
When setting out on their journey to learn Spanish, many students ask ‘where do I begin?’ Formal Spanish language courses taught by your community college or in a textbook will start by teaching you how to say things like ‘the’, ‘a’, and ‘and’. Then you’ll advance to—dare I say—nouns! By the end of week one you’ll be saying things like, ‘the dog’, ‘the food’, and ‘the house’. My Beginner Spanish course takes a different approach, however. The first four lessons of Beginner Spanish aim to solidify the student’s ability to match a subject with a verb and then create a basic sentence. After just an hour you’ll be saying things like ‘I eat the cookie’ and ‘we watch the movie.’ Shortly thereafter you’ll be able to ask and answer questions in complete sentences.
This type of verb-based learning has two benefits. First, it puts a lot of Spanish words into your vocabulary very quickly so as to prepare you for actual conversations you might have. Second, it establishes a foundation in your brain that helps you understand all the subsequent Spanish language concepts that you will learn.
This is where we chat about all things Spanish. Feel free to ask a question, challenge me, passionately disagree, or rant about whatever. Just make it interesting.