How to make Spanish words stick

Rob Ashby

Rob Ashby

The Spanish Obsessive

If you’ve ever spent any time trying to learn Spanish vocabulary, you’ll know what a frustrating process it can be. Words which you think you’ve memorised disappear, and some words don’t even stick in the first place! Here are a few tips to help you remember:

Develop your own learning process

Everyone learns in different ways. You might have a more visual memory and will remember better how the word looks, or you might remember it better by its sound. Either way, try to notice why certain words stick, and what you did differently to remember that word.

Learn in context

You’re far more likely to retain a word if you notice it casually, rather than cramming in a vocabulary list. Try to get your new vocab from genuine Spanish articles or TV, and if you do learn from a vocab list, try to provide your own context. Giving the word extra meaning this way will help you remember it.

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Notice the word around you

Once you’ve learnt the word, one of the best ways of making it stick is to try and “notice” it. Of course, this implies that you need to be reading and listening to Spanish, but then you already do that right…?

Learn about the word

There’s much more to a word than just its syllables. Try learning extra details about the word, such as its first/last letter, how many syllables it contains, where the stress lies, etc. Although it seems more effort, you’ll find it useful later on.

Use spaced repetition

One of the major problems with learning vocabulary is cramming. You need to space out your learning, and review your vocabulary periodically – best within one week, one month, and then six months. You’re trying to make the word second nature. Use index cards to help, or better yet, Anki.

Don’t overdo it

Don’t over-cram your brain. The old mantra “little and often” is particularly apt here, and we have a surprisingly low limit for the number of words we can retain long term per day. Ten words is a good limit, even when it feels too easy.

Be persistent

Learning a foreign vocabulary is a huge task! Be patient with yourself, and accept that it can be a frustrating process. It’s also an ongoing process, so it’s a good idea to break it down into achievable goals for your motivation.

Have a plan, and stick to it

Be realistic about how much time you can dedicate to developing your Spanish vocab. Think about how long you can spend, and how often you can do it. Make it easy for yourself by carrying round a deck of index cards, or leaving Spanish newspapers lying around – try to make it a habit.

7 Responses

  1. Can’t you at least tell us some easy words we could learn!? I want to impress my friends plus teacher, and by the way you are getting schooled by a third grader. Sorry that was a little cruel but thanks anyway! Tell the people some Spanish if you would for me please!

    1. Hi Maddie

      This post is only about memorising vocabulary. If you’re after some words to learn, check out some other articles in our “Phrases and Vocabulary” section!

  2. Hola,
    I’m so glad I found your website. I’m so frustrated right now. I’m 74 and taking beginners adult Spanish from Varsity Tutors. They’re giving me so much to learn at one time. I think I would do ok if I knew how to be more organized and understand the basics of what to study first or even how to do a flash card(please don’t laugh)!
    Anyway, I’m looking forward to receiving your information. Thank you.
    Kindest regards, Iris Lovelace

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