In this episode: Discover three proven memorization techniques to enhance your Spanish vocabulary and accelerate your progress.
Do you ever feel embarrassed when you’re speaking Spanish because you can’t remember what seems like basic vocabulary?
You know what I mean. Those words and expressions you feel like you should know — that you’ve tried over and over again to memorize, but just can’t get to stick?
As adults learning Spanish, it’s easy to tell ourselves we’re just not good at remembering new Spanish words when, in reality, you simply haven’t found the most effective way to do it.
In today’s post, you’re going to learn how to memorize Spanish vocabulary fast with proven techniques that actually work for adults learning Spanish.
These strategies to boost your Spanish vocab practice are backed by neuroscience, but don’t let that scare you. They are surprisingly simple and fun.
Try out a few of these techniques for learning new vocabulary, and you’ll be slipping great new Spanish words into your conversations in no time.
#1 Use Spaced Repetition to Boost Your Spanish
Spaced repetition is a technique that will supercharge your Spanish learning. But what is it exactly?
The basic idea is that you are repeatedly reviewing the new information you’re learning. The trick to making this work is to go over what you’re learning again — just as you’re about to forget it and in various ways. Doing that improves your long-term memory and retention.
So, for example, with new Spanish vocabulary, you would look at it and listen to it for the first time in the morning — then make sure you review it with your flashcards in the afternoon. In this way, you’re touching the same vocabulary word several times a day and in a variety of ways.
If you notice that you’re having a hard time remembering them, come back to your flashcards in a few hours. When it starts getting easier for you, put your flashcards away for a few days before you get them out again. Then maybe pick them up again in a week…then a month.
You’ll notice I mentioned flashcards. I swear by flashcards. They go hand in hand with spaced repetition because they are so easy to pick up and review — and so effective.
When I was on my Spanish immersion trip in Barcelona (before all those language-learning apps were invented), I made my own handwritten flashcards — a strategy I still recommend today, whether you’re learning at home or abroad.
But, that doesn’t mean you should skip out entirely on some of the great online flashcards like Quizlet. Or Anki. I have tried both myself, and personally, I prefer Quizlet — but they’re both great.
I feel so strongly about the power of spaced repetition (and the daily use of flashcards!) that I include Quizlet flashcard sets in every module of my ALAS 1 and ALAS II Spanish courses.
#2 Strengthen Your Spanish with Mnemonic Devices
Mnemonic devices can be game-changers for language learners. They help you associate what you’re learning with what you already know — or with something easy to remember — like a rhyme, visual, or acronym.
Here are some ways to use mnemonic devices to help remember new vocabulary:
Use acronyms to be a better Spanish learner:
Take the first letter of every word in a list of things you’d like to remember and make a new word (one that’s memorable). For example, let’s say you want to remember these family terms:
- abuelo: grandfather
- abuela: grandmother
- nietos: grandchildren
- nieto: grandson
You could create an acronym: ANNA— to help you remember these four new words. ¡Así de fácil! (Easy as that!)
Create a Memory Palace to Store Spanish Knowledge:
To use the memory palace technique, create a mental image of a place you know. Something familiar like your house, room, or neighborhood.
Do you have your place in mind? Great, now add new words or expressions to those different places.
You could literally label your kitchen with la mesa or your bedroom with la cama.
But you can also associate things that are not related. For example, I’ve heard of people adding verb conjugations to the parts of a house. Maybe -er verbs live in the kitchen where people gather to eat because you associate it with the verb “comer.”
#3 Tap into Contextual Learning: Learn Spanish while You Live it.
I am a huge fan of travel and connecting with others in Spanish, so I may not be completely objective. But contextual learning is one of my favorite ways to learn languages.
So, what exactly is contextual learning, and how can you use it to breathe life into your Spanish?
Simply put, contextual learning challenges you to learn through real-life situations and experiences. It means bringing in practical, meaningful situations in Spanish that relate to your interests.
The idea is to help you apply your knowledge in real-world situations. For example…
- Immerse yourself in authentic materials: reading a book in Spanish, or listening to a podcast.
- Put your Spanish into practice with conversation: booking a hotel room for your first night in a new country, really talking to your patients, ordering horchata at the local market, or following salsa dancing instructions, in Spanish!
- Connect Spanish vocabulary to your life and interests: One of my favorite tips that I encourage in ALAS 1 and ALAS II is simply creating sentences and stories with new vocabulary. And it’s even better if the phrases and stories you make up relate back to your life.
Linking your Spanish learning back to your life takes your practice from staring at some abstract list to living and breathing the language. Try it and see what I mean.
Your Key Takeaways for Memorizing Spanish Vocabulary Like a Pro.
¡Felicidades! You’ve just learned multiple, proven strategies that you can employ anytime you feel like you need a memory boost in your Spanish practice. But, you and I both know, you can’t push the needle forward on your Spanish unless you actually use these on a regular basis.
When you’re committed to bringing Spanish into your life, you know that consistency and persistence are two magic words to reach huge milestones with your Spanish fluency.
But remember, learning Spanish is a marathon, not a sprint. And it’s normal to have dips in your drive and motivation.
You can stay motivated by finding authentic ways to keep up with your Spanish — that make you want to keep going.
And enjoy the boost you get to your motivation when you start to add some of the great new memorization techniques you learned today to your Spanish-learning routine. It’s worth the effort.
≫ Struggling with where to start as a Spanish beginner? Grab a copy of my FREE Spanish Beginner Starter Kit, my step-by-step guide that lays out exactly what to learn, how to learn it, and in what order.
≫ Need a review of the Spanish basics? In ALAS I, my self-paced course for beginners, I dive right into the most practical and useful concepts to get you started off in the right direction.
≫ Are you a high beginner? Jump into ALAS II, the next step in my two-part beginner series, where we refine your conjugation, vocabulary, reading, and listening skills before moving onto the intermediate level.
≫ Do you get tongue-tied when you try to say something in the Spanish past tense? Check out Polishing the Preterit, my self-paced course for intermediate Spanish learners to help you speak effortlessly in the preterit tense.