1. The best way to learn the Spanish conjugations is to first understand their equivalent in English.
In English, the verb in a sentence takes a slightly different form for each tense (e.g.: verb 'to want': 'I wanted', 'we would want', 'they will want'... etc). In Spanish the form of the verb also changes for each different subject, yes, even within the same verbal tense. Compare the past tense of the verb 'to sleep' in both languages:
English: I slept / You slept / He slept / We slept / You slept / They slept
Spanish: Yo dormí / Tú dormiste / Él durmió / Nosotros dormimos / Vosotros dormisteis / Ellos durmieron
In English, 'slept' is used for every possible subject, while in Spanish there is a special form for each possible subject.
2. Now, once you've understood this is the only added complexity to the Spanish conjugation system, you just need to learn the three different patterns to conjugate Spanish verbs right for each possible subject. These patterns vary according to which group the verb belongs to: the 1st group (verbs in the infinitive form ending in -AR), the 2nd group (ending in -ER), or the 3rd group (ending in -IR). Look at the obvious patterns, for example in the present tense:
- 1st conjugation group (-AR): e.g.: amar (to love), saltar (to jump), pensar (to think)...
Yo (I) amo / salto / pienso
Tú (you) amas / saltas / piensas
Él (he) ama / salta / piensa
Nosotros (we) amamos / saltamos / pensamos
Vosotros (you) amáis / saltáis / pensáis
Ellos (they) aman / saltan / piensan
- 2nd conjugation group (-ER): e.g.: comer (to eat), querer (to want), ver (to see)...
Yo como / quiero / veo
Tú comes / quieres / ves
Él come / quiere / ve
Nosotros comemos / queremos / vemos
Vosotros coméis / queréis / véis
Ellos comen / quieren / ven
- 3rd conjugation group (-IR): e.g.: vivir (to live), sentir (to feel), compartir (to share)...
Yo vivo / siento / comparto
Tú vives / sientes / compartes
Él vive / siente / comparte
Nosotros vivimos / sentimos / compartimos
Vosotros vivís / sentís / compartís
Ellos viven / sienten / comparten
3. Lastly, there are some irregular verbs in every group, just like in English (e.g. ‘to be’: I am, you are, he is). These are worth learning by heart, as well as practicing them in conversation and with written exercises - this is the only way to learn irregular verbs from Spanish to English as well!
That it all there is to Spanish conjugations: a) look at whether the verb ends in -ar, -er, or -ir, b) look at which subject the verb is referring to, and c) recall the pattern for the group the verb belongs to + the person it refers to. Not so daunting anymore, right? (...right?!)