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Tricks for Memorizing Spanish Vocabulary

Before showing you some tricks you can use to learn new vocabulary, I want to first address the most common method of learning new vocabulary — rote memorization.  I’d guess that for most people this is a less than exciting experience. But, it is going to be part of your learning experience.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make rote memorization a less painful and more successful activity.

1. It’s all about your mindset.  If you start with the mindset that memorization is going to be horrible, then it will be.  But, if you relax and put yourself in the mindset that memorization is simply a tool that is going to help you reach your goal of learning Spanish, it can make things easier.  Become a word nerd and get excited about, and celebrate, learning new words.

2. Take the right approach.  Don’t sit and try and cram new words for hours on end.  Instead, get chunky. And, you MUST do the following to increase your vocabulary at a greater than glacial speed:

Read the word.
Hear the word.
Say the word.
Write the word.

This approach moves the acquisition of new vocabulary from being passive learning to active learning.  Passive learning means you just see the word.  Active learning means you experience the word through visual, auditory, and tactile references.  Active learning stimulates different areas of your brain and results in better vocabulary retention.

3. Study words in conceptual groups.  In other words, try and group words that are related in some way and study them together.  For example, study words about household items together.

Ok, now for some tricks.

For objects, whenever possible, I try and think about where they are in my house.  Then, I think of them as being alive and able to talk and move or having some other outrageous feature.  Here are some examples:

blender
la licuadora
(lah lee-kwa-dohr-ah)
I imagine my blender spitting blue liquid on the kitchen door. (I make it blue liquid just to make it more vivid in my mind.)

fork
el tenedor
(ehl tehn-eh-dohr)
I imagine a 10 of hearts playing card pinned to the kitchen door with a fork.

gum
el chiclé
(ehl chee-kleh)
I imagine a pack of Chiclets brand gum.

jar
el tarro
(ehl tah-roh)
I imagine a glass jar filled with steaming hot tar.

toaster
la tostadora
(lah toh-stah-dohr-ah)
I imagine a piece of toast shooting out of the toaster and hitting a door.

table
la mesa
(lah meh-sah)
In English, a mesa is a hill with a flat top and steep sides.  So, I just imagine there is a mesa in the middle of my living room where my living room table is located.

book
el libro
(ehl lee-broh)
Libro makes me think of a library which is full of books.

pen
la pluma
(lah ploo-mah)
Long ago people would take a plume (a bird’s feather), sharpen the end, and dip it into ink and write with it.  So, I just imaging a plume writing in ink.

fan
el ventilador
(ehl vehn-tee-lah-dohr)
I think of the ventilator fan in my bathroom.

floor
el piso
(ehl pee-soh)
I imagine seeing a puddle of dog pee on our kitchen floor. Gross, yes but it helps me remember the term.

Simple word association is another way I remember some vocabulary terms.

door
la puerta
(lah poo-ehr-tah)
For this I just remember that the English word portal can mean doorway.

bedroom
el dormitorio
(ehl dohr-mee-tohr-ee-oh)
A dormitory is a college student’s bedroom so I just remember that.

pants
los pantalones
(lohs pahn-tah-lohn-ehs)
In English, pantaloons are an old fashioned pair of pants which allows me to remember the word.

with
con
(kohn)
This makes me think of the word “connected.”  If something is connected, it is with something else.  I also think of conjoined twins because they are always with each other.

only
sólo
(soh-loh)
I just remember that if you are doing something “solo,” you are the only one doing it.  For example, if you were flying solo, you’d be the only one flying the plane.

time
tiempo
(tee-ehm-poe)
This makes me think of the word “tempo.”  If you are keeping tempo to music, you are staying in time with the beat.

year
año
(ahn-yo)
This makes me think of the word “annual” which means yearly.

before
antes
(ahn-tehs)
This makes me think of the word “antecede” which means happening before something.

bad
malo
(mah-loh)
This makes me think of the word “malice” which means the intention to do bad things.

first
primero, primera
(pree-mare-oh, pree-mare-ah)
This makes me think of the word “prime” which means of first importance.

last, final
último, última
(ool-tee-moe, ool-tee-mah)
This makes me think of the word “ultimate” which can mean final.  I also think of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) which makes me think of the last man standing.

against
contra
(kohn-trah)
This makes me think of the word “contra” which means against.

half
medio
(meh-dee-oh)
This makes me think of the word “medium” which can mean halfway.

water
agua
(ah-gwa)
This makes me think of Aquaman who is a superhero that comes from the water.

When it comes to memory tricks, visualization and word associations are powerful tools. Now, just because an association or visualization works for me, doesn’t mean it will work for you every time.  I’ve listed some of mine to give you ideas and to show how it is done.  It’s not always easy coming up with visualizations or associations but that isn’t a bad thing.  If your mind really has to work at coming up with a connection, it is going to make the connection more memorable because you are really focusing on the word and its meaning.

When it comes to methods for improving your memory, I highly recommend the book “Memory Improvement: How To Improve Your Memory In Just 30 Days” by Ron White. The book isn’t just about memorizing vocabulary but it is an excellent source for learning how you can better remember things in general.  His methods work and reading his book allows me to find unique ways to memorize all sorts of things.

I’ve provided a link to the memory book here: http://sillyspanish.com/books