Every beginner in Spanish hears the same advice: Start by learning greetings.

This is actually terrible advice.

Learning greetings first will always lead to a dead end. Let’s talk about why, and then I’ll show you the strategy that you should use INSTEAD so that you can actually become fluent in Spanish.

Why a Beginner in Spanish Gets Stuck

If you’ve memorized some greetings in Spanish but still can’t have a conversation, there’s a simple explanation.

The traditional way of teaching a language is to go topic-by-topic. You start by imaging a conversation between two people that covers a variety of topics. Then you teach topically based on that imaginary conversation.

For example, let’s say you’re dreaming of some day having a 10-minute conversation with someone you’ve never met. This is what you picture:

  1. Start by greeting them.
  2. Talk about occupations and hobbies for a few minutes.
  3. Ask for directions to the nearest restaurant or café.
  4. Say goodbye.

Based on that agenda, it seems to make sense to teach greetings first, then teach some phrases for talking about occupations and hobbies, and then teach how to ask for directions.

The problem with this approach is that it simply doesn’t scale.

As soon as the conversation goes in a different direction, you’ll be lost. The other person is definitely going to go off script at some point. And if you’re not prepared to keep up with that, that’s not genuine fluency.

So if you’re a beginner in Spanish, and if you ever want to be able to speak off script, don’t learn by topic. And don’t start with greetings.

Here’s what you should do instead.

What Every Beginner in Spanish Should Know

Believe it or not, Spanish speakers don’t greet each other constantly. In fact, greetings don’t appear in Spanish dialogue much at all. (Or, at least, not NEARLY as often as a “beginner Spanish” lesson might lead you to believe.)

But there ARE a few words and phrases that occur all the time when Spanish is spoken. In fact, here’s a mind-blowing statistic:

There are just 12 words that make up 24% of ALL words spoken in Spanish.

That means that these 12 words are used in EVERY conversation on EVERY topic. If you can master them, you’re on your way to talking about everything under the sun in Spanish — not just a few scripted topics.

These words will completely unlock the language for you. If you start with those, then no matter which way the conversation turns, you’ll be prepared to keep up and speak along.

After all, after you’ve said hola, there are basically infinite topics that you could talk about in Spanish. And if you try to plan specific scripts for infinite contingencies, you’re definitely going to give up.

But after you learn and master the most common words in Spanish, everything else you learn will be easier. For example, you can start learning greetings, occupations, and hobbies, and suddenly the topic you’re learning will make sense. You won’t just be memorizing scripts anymore. Instead, you’ll deeply understand WHY Spanish phrases are put together the way that they are.

You’ll be able to make up your own Spanish sentences on the fly, like a native Spanish speaker.

And best of all, if someone you’re talking with goes off script, you’ll understand why they made the choice that they did, and you’ll be prepared to respond in fluent Spanish.

It all starts with the 12 words at the top of the frequency list:

  1. que
  2. de
  3. no
  4. a
  5. la
  6. el
  7. es
  8. y
  9. en
  10. lo
  11. un
  12. por

As a warning, learning these 12 words isn’t easy as learning, let’s say, 12 scripted greetings. That’s because you actually have to learn how to put them together on your own… just like native speakers do when they make up sentences on the fly. You have to reprogram your brain and start structuring your sentences not like an English speaker, but like a Spanish speaker.

My next article goes through the 12 words every beginner in Spanish needs to learn, and it will train you to do just that. In just 30 minutes, you’ll learn how to use these 12 words like a native speaker. Most importantly, you’ll learn how to start THINKING in Spanish, which is the most important skill for learning the language.

Are you ready to finally become fluent in Spanish? Start the Accelerated Spanish course for free.