Verbs are essential for communication – without them, we can’t say much at all. When it comes to learning Spanish, verbs require quite a bit of attention, because they have a lot of different forms.
Learning to conjugate verbs involves memorization and practice to remember all of the conjugations for each verb tense.
The first and fundamental method for learning to conjugate verbs is with formal classes. In most Spanish lessons, the instructor takes you through verb tenses one by one. You learn the verb conjugations for the three types of verbs : -ar, -er and –ir ending verbs (ex. bailar, comer, vivir). Irregular verbs are also taught. Usually you start by learning the present tense, then the past tenses (imperfect and preterit), commands and future tense. Then come the more complicated tenses. Usually a sort of chart is used for each verb type in each tense. The below example shows “bailar” in the present tense:
It’s helpful to copy these charts into a notebook, especially the irregular verbs. Then, you can practice forming sentences with the verbs to be sure you can use them in context. Filling in the blanks exercises are also useful for practicing conjugating verbs. In my case, it took a lot of copying and memorizing to get the verb conjugations straight for each verb tense. One of my favorite sites to use for verb practice is the Real Academia Española’s dictionary. Once you’ve looked up the verb, a blue button gives you the option to see all of the possible conjugations for that verb.
Once you’ve had some practice with verbs and have studied all of the basic conjugations, it’s practice time. By taking classes or coursework in Spanish such as a literature or history class, you’ll be forced to use many different conjugations as you read and write. You’ll have to reference your notes to confirm conjugations and tenses. The practice using verbs correctly and the cross referencing will lead to memorization and some of it will become more automatic.
Trial and error
When you’re using your Spanish for conversation, be sure to ask whoever you’re talking with to correct your mistakes. The more you practice with feedback, the better you’ll get. Once you’ve made a mistake a few times, you’ll be sure to remember that verb conjugation. Eventually more and more conjugations, tense usage rules and of course those irregulars will start to sink in and you’ll have fewer pauses in your speech. For those shy speakers, the more you can push past your comfort zone and just try it, the faster you’ll start getting those conjugations correct.