Ditch Your Highlighter & Use Flashcards To Learn Spanish

Ditch Your Highlighter & Use Flashcards To Learn Spanish

Although highlighting and underlining text and notes is a common practice when learning, research shows that it is is not much better than reading the text. Highlighting text will not necessarily help you remember those annoying verb tenses or memorizing vocab words.

When learning Spanish, you can't expect to memorize words occasionally and become fluent. How else can you learn those endless vocab lists? While there is no substitute for listening, reading, and speaking Spanish to learn the concept of words and vocabulary, using flashcards as memory aids are a great tool to use when learning.

What Are Flashcards?

Flashcards are cards of information used as memory aids. On one side of the card is a word or concept on the reverse is the definition or answer. Flashcards are called flash for a reason; they are intended to be easy and quick to use in learning and memorizing information in a Question and Answer format.

Pile of flashcards.

Flashcards work best for quick, short pieces of information. This is why using flashcards in Spanish work well for learning vocab. The information is short and can be randomized. The definition of a word does not depend on a complex system of information.

How Will Spanish Flashcards Help Me Learn?

Learning Spanish with flashcards has several advantages:

Active Recall

Using flashcards in Spanish helps your brain retrieve information. When you look at the front side of the flashcard and think of what the answer or definition might be, you are engaging a memory faculty of your brain called Active Recall. You are forcing your brain to “search” for the corresponding answer, creating neural connections to that information as you go.


When you flip the flashcard over to reveal the answer, you are engaging in metacognition. In short, you are, subconsciously or not, reviewing whether the information recalled is correct. You are evaluating the performance of your active recall. This type of self-reflection helps ingrain the memories and information pathways in your brain.

Confidence-Based Repetition

Another great feature of learning with flashcards is isolation. The information on them is isolated from all the other words and concepts that would otherwise be on a page in a textbook. This allows your brain to separate that information from all the rest.

Learning from flashcards.

Furthermore, having the information separated from the rest, allows you to engage in confidence-based repetition, meaning that you can spend more time on the concepts that you are less confident with.

Spaced Repetition

Your brain likes to forget things. You may remember cramming for a test in school, only to have forgotten all of it a week later. We are all familiar with the frustration of: “I know I know this, but I can’t remember it!”

This phenomenon, known as the “Forgetting Curve” was studied as far back as the 18th century. It turns out that the best way to remember learned knowledge is to repeat it. 

Say you are learning a list of 20 Spanish vocab words. The best way to learn and not forget them is to review them at spaced intervals, starting with a couple of hours later, a couple of days later, a couple of weeks later. You will have those vocab words down.

Having flashcards, as opposed to a list, will help you do this. You can whip out the cards at any time. Waiting for the bus? Waiting for meeting to start? Take out your flashcards and review them.

How To Make Your Own Spanish Flashcards

Here are eight tips to learn Spanish flashcards

Make Your Own Flashcards

While flashcard apps may be useful, and a fellow student might offer to lend you their flashcards. Do not fall for it. The more faculties to engage in making the flashcards, the better you will remember them. Besides, remember that confidence-based repetition concept? Only you know what information you need to work on retaining.

Use Pictures/Drawings As Well As Texts

A good flashcard is one that helps you remember. Make your flashcards memorable. Studies show that visual cues are more easily remembered. So take advantage of this and use pictures or drawings in your flashcards. The funnier, cuter, and more interesting the better.

Flashcards with pictures.

For example, if you are learning the word `gato` don´t just write a definition. Draw a funny picture of a cat as well. Better yet, why not use a picture of a grumpy cat? The more memorable, the better.

Make Use Of Mnemonic Devices

Mnemonic devices make use of the brain's ability to recognize. Mnemonic devices help learn new concepts, by associating them with known information. They are great for learning vocab. Remember, the crazier or funnier, the better.

Think for example of learning the word "mayor" (meaning older) using the sentence: The mayor is older than me."

One Concept/Question Per Card, Do Not Mistake Recognition For Recall

Avoid the temptation to cram several bits of information on one card to save space. Remember that isolation of the concept is essential to help your brain remember it.

When you put several thoughts on one card, you will be tempted to think "oh yeah I knew that," when you flip your card over. Recognizing information is a very different brain activity to actively recalling it. The less information is on the card, the easier it will be to remember and the harder it will be for you to cheat.

Say Your Answers Aloud, Avoid Cheating Yourself

Speaking of cheating, avoid making the mistake of giving yourself leeway to fudge answers. Force yourself to say the answers aloud before turning the card over. Practice your pronunciation while you are at it!

Besides helping you to avoid cheating yourself, the act of speaking, hearing and reading the vocab word you are trying to remember engages more parts of your brain.

Study Your Cards Forward And Backward

It should go without saying that vocab learning goes both ways. So go through your flashcards, shuffle them and go through them again backward. You want to make sure that your brain associates the words and definitions as interchangeable and create a bi-directional pathway to your target words.

Girl learning with flashcards.

Use It In A Sentence

When reviewing your flashcards, make yourself use the target word in a sentence. This will help your brain conceptualize the vocab word you are learning, finding multiple creative ways to use the word and not just know the word.

No English

Yes, mnemonic devices are great to remember concepts. However, whenever possible, force yourself to use as much Spanish as you can on your flashcards. This will keep your brain in ‘Spanish” mode and help familiarize yourself with all the different uses of the language.

Leave a Comment: