Learning Spanish - Three ways to increase your Spanish vocabulary faster using flashcards

By Jonathan Hammond 

The best way to increase your Spanish vocabulary is with flashcards. They are the best technique for two reasons: 1) repetition, and 2) recall.

Flashcards can be used to reinforce your lessons at a Spanish language school or a Spanish home-study course.

You probably already know the basics of learning Spanish vocabulary with flashcards: Write the target Spanish word or phrase on one side of the card, and the meaning of the word or phrase in English on the other side. Try to retrieve the information from your memory and then check.

Following are three ways to optimize the flashcard learning process that will increase your useful vocabulary and help you speak conversational Spanish in less time.

1) Make flashcards for the most frequently used Spanish words

The most frequent 1,000 words in Spanish make up over 70% of written Spanish and more than 80% of spoken Spanish. The most frequent 2,000 words will allow you to understand more than 80% of written Spanish and more than 90% of spoken Spanish. (The remaining tens of thousands of words yield only 10 to 15%.)

Link: A list of 1000 of the most frequently spoken words in Spanish, derived from movie and TV show subtitles.

2) Make flashcards for language “Chunks”

 Language often comes in “chunks” or phases. In English, "as a matter of fact" and "make yourself at home" are examples of chunks of language that a learner would be hard pressed to analyze and understand. It makes more sense to learn the phase as a whole and what it means.

Words also often go with other words in what are called collocations. Certain words might often be the objects of certain verbs.  As examples, in English we "make" a complaint; we don't "say" a complaint. One "commits" a crime rather than "does" a crime. Native speakers of English know this. Learners of English might not. As a non-native Spanish speaker, you need to learn Spanish collocations - and a good way to do that is with flashcards.

3) Follow these guidelines for studying your Spanish flashcards 

  • Review your Spanish language flashcards several times a day. Repeated exposure to the words will strengthen memory of the information much better than longer study periods less frequently.
  • Keep 30 or 40 flashcards at most in your stack. Any more is unwieldy.
  • If you have trouble remembering a card, don't put it in the back of the stack. Put it in the middle so you'll meet the word sooner. If you are correct after several exposures, remove the card from your stack. You've learned it.
  • Occasionally shuffle your word cards to prevent serial learning.
  • Use a rubber band rather than a ring through punched holes in the cards. Using a rubber band makes the cards easier to shuffle.

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