Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Micro-Learning Spanish Language Prepositions

Gaudi's Casa MilàLast year my husband and I spent seven weeks in Spain, both to try out our newly acquired Spanish and to retrace the trip of our Spanish 1 traveler "David."

We started out in Barcelona (as described in our blog post), and then visited Granada, Sevilla, and finally Madrid. It was great fun to use our Spanish in daily life - shopping at the open market, navigating our way through the city, visiting many of Gaudi's masterworks (see his Casa Milà on the left), making small talk with people we met as we went about our daily activities.

We found that it's fairly easy to acquire new words, especially if they are items you can picture or point to. But it was more difficult to learn and use expressions that have an abstract meaning. And such expressions often include those little connecting words that are called prepositions (eg: to, in, for, by, off, over, about, etc.).

The Challenge of Prepositions

Prepositions sometimes provide a special challenge for language learners. That is because they often have several meanings and don't translate in a logical way into other languages. For example, if you google the Spanish translation of the English preposition "to" in an online dictionary such as wordreference.com, you'll see that the ten "principal" meanings of "to" require 5 completely different prepositions in Spanish: a, hacia, de, contra, sobre.

Phrases with the English Preposition "to" translated into Spanish

  • to fly to Madrid/to Spain - volar a Madrid/a España (a = to)
  • to go to the airport - ir al aeropuerto (al = to the) 
  • to walk to the house - caminar hacia la casa (hacia = until)
  • along the way to there - por el camino hasta allí (hasta = until)
  • a vote of three to one - tres votos contra uno (contra = against)
  • to apply pigment to a canvas - aplicar pigmento sobre el lienzo (sobre = over)

Making Mistakes

Let me say at this point that it's perfectly okay to make mistakes, and even if you use a wrong preposition, people will usually understand what you're trying to say. In a conversation, folks can easily ask you what you meant and you can quickly correct misunderstandings. And this means you'll have the kind of feed-back that will help you to learn.

How to Micro-Learn

It's a great feeling to master an expression in a foreign language. Once you've got it, it's yours and you can build on it. So it's worth spending a little time learning common expressions that contain prepositions, and there's no mystery about how to do it:

  1. Tackle each expressions individually.
  2. Practice saying it until it stays in your ear.
  3. Write it down, and/or read it, again and again, until you have it in your visual memory.
  4. Start using it in conversations and in texting and emails.

Your new expression will soon begin to sound and look right. Once that happens, attach a rule to it. For example: in Spanish, going/traveling to a city or country always uses "a." Then, when you try to say, "I'm flying to England" - you'll know what preposition to use: "Vuelo a Inglaterra."