Learn Spanish Smart Tim Ferriss Style

     Tim Ferriss,author of The Four Hour Work Week , is a great example of someone who knows how to learn Spanish smart. He understands his learning style when it comes to learning a foreign language. I have followed his blog and see that he is very in tune with how his mind and body works even in learning other subjects such as swimming or tango dancing. He embodies the idea of "learning smart" vs. "study harder" when tackling new skills. For those of you who feel an affinity with the way Tim Ferriss thinks and processes languages, I have deconstructed the Spanish language using what he calls "six lines of gold." This is taken from a blog post by him called, "How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language in 1 Hour." 

First 6 lines of Gold

So if you were to sit next to me on a plane ride to Mexico, I would show you this as to how those six sentences would be said in Spanish.

1. The apple is red. La manzana es roja.

2. It is John's apple. Es la manzana de Juan.

3. I give John the apple. Le doy la manzana a Juan.

4. We give him the apple. Le damos la manzana a él.

5. He gives it to John. El se la da a Juan.

6. She gives it to him. Ella se la da a él.

In deconstructing the language, these are the differences you have as an English speaker learning Spanish.

1. The apple is red. La manzana es roja.

Sentence 1. You see that Spanish and English have the same word order of a simple sentence. Most of the time Spanish word order is subject-verb-object (SVO). What is different in Spanish is the nouns are either masculine or feminine. A masculine noun has an "el" before it for "the" in English. A feminine noun has a "la" before it. In this sentence, the apple translates as "la manzana" and since it is a feminine noun, the color red "roja" has to agree with the feminine noun. This means it should be in its feminine form too which is "roja" as opposed to the masculine form "rojo".

2. It is John's apple. Es la manzana de Juan.

Sentence 2. You see that "Es" by itself expresses "It is". Also it shows that there is no possessive "'s" or any other letter that can be hooked on to the end of a name to show possession. The structure to show possession is "the apple OF Juan".

Sentences 3, 4, 5 and 6, all deal with what Tim Ferriss calls the "uber pain" of indirect and direct objects. If you're speakers of other languages, this may not be too painful.

3. I give John the apple. Le doy la manzana a Juan .

In sentence 3: John is the indirect object (IO) and apple is the direct object (DO).

It starts with "le" which is the indirect object pronoun (IOP), it's like saying "him". From the very beginning of the sentence, a Spanish speaker must be told to anticipate that someone is going to receive something from an action. That person is revealed to be John, by "a Juan" (this is also known as the clarifier).

You may notice the lack of the subject pronoun "I", all you see is the verb "doy". "doy" by itself expresses "I give". Spanish verbs are conjugated. Meaning, the verb changes its form depending on which person is doing the action. (I, you, he, she, we, they). Now, because the verb form can tell me who is doing the action, the subject pronoun does not need to be mentioned, BUT looking at sentences 5 and 6 you will see the cases when you do need the subject pronoun.

The mentioning of the indirect object twice, once with "Le" and then with the clarifier can seem redundant to the English speaker. Learning to think as a Spanish speaker, it is wise to remember this redundancy (once in the beginning and once again clarified at the end).

4. We give him the apple. Le damos la manzana a él.

In sentence 4. You see the use of the (IOP) "le" again at the beginning with the clarifier of "a él" for "him" at the end. The apple (DO) is there too as "la manzana". The verb form has changed to "damos" for "We give" again, no need to include the subject pronoun in the sentence.

5. He gives it to John. Él se la da a Juan.

6. She gives it to him. Ella se la da a él.

In sentence 5, the "Él" at the beginning is for "He". The verb has changed to the "da" form, which is the same verb form used in sentence 6. There, "Ella" is used for "She". So the third person singular subject pronoun is needed to be clear that it is "Él" or "Ella" doing the action. Now back to dealing with the (IOP) and (DOP).

In both 5 and 6, the direct object pronoun (DOP) "it"= "la" is now being used to refer to the apple.  Also in 5 and 6, notice the

English word order: He/She + verb + (DOP)+ to (IOP).

However, in Spanish, when you're just using the pronouns to represent the (IO) or (DO), the

Spanish word order: Él/Ella + (IOP) + (DOP)+ conjugated verb +clarifier.

In these two sentences in Spanish, the (IOP) + (DOP)are "se la". You might have expected to see the "le" again for the (IOP) as in sentences 3 and 4. However, it changes to "se" here when coming before "la" (referring to the apple). In Spanish, they don't want the alliteration of "le la", so the (IOP) is changed to "se".

The redundancy I mentioned earlier occurs in both sent. 5 and 6. It is necessary to have "se" to represent the IOP in the beginning then "a Juan" and "a él" as clarifiers at the end.

This being said, you do not need clarifiers if in the context and course of conversation, it is obvious who the indirect object is. So if sentence 6 comes about after they were talking about John. 

  "She gives it to him."  

Can simply be translated as:  Ella se la da.

 I hope this useful to you. For you learners who groove on grammar, this can be helpful. To those of you who started freaking out the moment you read "subject-verb-object", maybe not. Tim mentions more sentences beyond these 6 lines of gold. He has up to 12 or 13 in other writings.  I will link from this page in the near future when I have written about the rest of the lines of gold.

It is admirable that Tim Ferriss' learning bent leans toward the analytical and linear. He has learned to "hack" many skills because he understands his learning style.

Additional blog posts by Tim Ferriss:


In his conclusion, he refers to "real ego-crushing interaction." This is very true if you want to learn to speak another language. Just get out there and talk to native speakers. Let go of your ego and don't be hindered by trying to say everything perfectly.