If you’re mystified by which Spanish high frequency words belong in your Spanish class since you ditched the textbook, you’re in the right place. So you drank the kool-aid and decided to start moving towards a proficiency oriented instruction model. Welcome to the party!
But then again, where on earth do you start with your curriculum? What do you present as the core of your class if it’s no longer grammar structures? (No hate on grammar, it just has a different role in a comprehensible input classroom. Check out this helpful guide from ACTFL’s guiding principles on the essential role of context when teaching grammar concepts.)
I recommend you start with high-frequency verbs to anchor your practice since they will pay off the fastest for students. Following the words, phrases, and verbs that students already need to communicate almost makes too much sense.
What are the Spanish high frequency words and why do they matter?
The whole idea behind frequency in language is that when we study language through Second Language Acquisition, we’ve discovered that languages are actually not that different from each other beyond surface-level features. Every language uses the same components to create sentences in order to produce meaning, but may do it in a different order, or including/excluding certain pieces. However, they all pull from the same few elements in order to create meaning: such as a time frame, a subject, a predicate, etc. In that same way, humans use most frequently the same 500 words (no matter the language) in order to communicate 90% of our oral/written/signed ideas.
What this means for your students is that by learning the most frequently used words – or high frequency verbs – students are more likely to reach meaning faster, and acquire more language faster.
This does not mean that 500 words is all they need, since these are high-function words such as in, they, do, are, be, it. You can already imagine how often we use these words to create ideas. The next piece is high-content words (often nouns and adjectives) to fill in the pieces.
High Content Words vs. High Function Words
What are high-content words? They are things like dog, sweater, purple, extra, soup, mask, etc. Tons of content. Tons of meaning. Not alot of function.
It’s mostly high function words like it, around, for, to, etc that get used the most. Make sure that these are a huge part of what your students see and work with every day and you’ll have far less instances of this:
Sra. Treco – I remember this word, sabado, but what is “ella?” and what is “donde?” Every world language teacher knows this feeling. Students are absorbing so many words, they hold onto those high-content words like saturday. But even with lots of repetitions like good CI teachers, the connector words get lost and the students don’t get credit for how much they really have acquired.
I have a whole post on this common mistake plus several more in curriculum – be sure to check it out here : 9 common curriculum mistakes & what to do instead.
High Frequency Verbs
So what’s the main importance for high-frequency verbs? The simplest way to put it is this is what students need to communicate and understand communication in Spanish the most! You’ll be leading them directly to the most useful, frequent, and helpful verbs. And no, they are not in regular/irregular/present/past/future/subjunctive order. That’s not how they are used in speech.
How proficiency oriented teachers using comprehensible input can use high frequency verbs: you can design units around them!
So what are the high frequency verbs your students need to know? These are of course not in tense use order. I would highly recommend getting a high frequency verb dictionary to see the full extent of their usage in speech. More on that below.
But for your quick reference, here are the first 20 that you can focus on with students:
Spanish High Frequency Verbs in Order:
#13 haber (hay)
P.340 – Spanish High Frequency Dictionary
Super 7 and Sweet 16 Verbs
These are incredibly useful tools created by brilliant world language teachers and presenters. The super 7 verbs (™) were created by Terry Waltz based partially on frequency, as well as what’s needed to communicate the most important ideas in language. Things like I want, I have, I do, etc. Without these, your students cannot communicate. Sweet 16 is an expansion to aid in storytelling and storyteaching methods by Mike Peto.
Martina Bex explains their usage and importance best. Check out her post here on why these are such powerhouse must-haves in your Spanish classroom.
The Super 7™ Verbs by Terry Waltz in Spanish
If you’re anything like me, you love ’em and you just want the list so you can get to planning novels, stories, and activities already. They’re kinda hard to find, so here’s a handy dandy list of the super seven verbs in Spanish by Terry Waltz for your materials. Be sure to check out her blog here.
- es- is
- tiene- has
- va- goes
- le(s) gusta(n)- likes
- hay- there is/are
- quiere- wants
- está- is (location or feeling)
High Frequency Verb Dictionaries
Here are some dictionaries to get you started. I don’t create any curriculum, unit, or lesson materials without them anymore. All links below are affiliate links, meaning I may earn a small commission at no cost to you if you choose to purchase.
German Frequency Dictionary* – affiliate
High Frequency Verb Unit Ideas & Resources
If you’re looking for ideas on how to use Spanish high frequency words and verbs in class, here are some places where you can start right away:
Holiday Spanish Resources with High Frequency Verbs & Structures
How to Use High Frequency Verbs in Spanish Class
Don’t worry Spanish teachers, Jade has your first week back to school covered. This world language teacher interview will give you essential tips on reaching your target language goals by setting up for success from day 1 with a high-frequency verb unit, building trust, and Special Person Interview Tips. Here are some high frequency verb unit ideas for your class and some insight into why they work so well. Spend some time with me and my friend Jade over at la Secundaria!
Connect with Jade: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/La-Secundaria https://www.instagram.com/lasecundaria_jac/
Blog : https://www.lasecundaria.org/
Have you ever wished the transition to proficiency were easier to do? Grab the FREE toolkit here to learn the framework for updating your practice to comprehensible input with key tools like Spanish high frequency words – with actionable ideas you can use tomorrow in class.
Free Conference for World Language Teachers
If you’re ready to jump in and get started with proficiency and teaching with comprehensible input, I have another resource to help you on your journey below:
Sign Up for the Next Practical & Comprehensible Free Virtual Conference! Every year, I gather together the best and brightest in the field of world language to share with you how to switch to proficiency through comprehensible input. All with practical ideas that you can use tomorrow. It’s a FREE virtual conference – join the waitlist and find out more about the speakers here.
Sincerely rooting for you and your success in Spanish class,