Wouldn’t we live in a magical world if there were a way you could learn Spanish just by looking at pictures?
Yes, you absolutely can!
It’s a common misconception that in order to learn a new language, we have to sit down and invest intensive hours in studying—textbooks open, multiple-choice tests completed by the dozens.
But the truth is that there are many different learning tools we can employ when we’re trying to grasp a new language.
In fact, the more different tools you try—whether it’s watching movies, reading newspaper clips, textbook learning or singing along to your favorite Spanish pop—the more ways you study, the more likely it is that some of that Spanish is going to stick.
Learning Spanish with pictures is one of those many tools you can try.
Why Learn Spanish with Pictures?
Learning Spanish with pictures can be a huge amount of fun. Whether you’re tapping into your right-brain creativity to compile flashcards or returning to the basics in a bar with a new friend and a picture dictionary, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had by learning some Spanish in this way.
But fun isn’t the only reason to learn Spanish with pictures. By replicating the way you learn as a child, you’re mimicking one of the most natural ways of learning a language. Via image and word association, you’re enhancing your ability to recall words without much brain strain.
This method of learning is a pretty basic way to acquire some Spanish and that’s a large part of its beauty. For the newbie, or even someone who’s been learning for a while but doesn’t have a particularly hot Spanish vocabulary, learning by pictures helps you focus on the most important words first.
And (as if you needed more reasons) it lends itself very nicely to bite-size bits of study, practice and testing as you go about your day. Whether you’re refreshing your memory with pictures and words on the train or passing 10 minutes of idle time trying to name every item around you, you can always squeeze in a few extra minutes of study or practice without whipping out a heavy textbook.
Oh, and did we mention it’s a huge amount of fun?
Convinced? Here are seven awesome ways to learn Spanish with pictures.
7 Delightfully Fun Ways to Learn Spanish with Pictures
1. Use Pinterest: Create Boards by Subject and Get Pinning
Who said Pinterest was just for planning weddings, checking out travel destinations and redecorating your bathroom? There are millions if not billions of pictures on Pinterest, and that includes a fair bit of Spanish information to help out a new language learner.
From charts of animal names to Spanish quotes, recipes, clocks, anatomies and expressions, it really feels like everything is covered.
But be careful—Pinterest can be like a rabbit hole. You go in with the intention of learning about modes of transportation, and the next thing you know, you’re starting a project to make some oven gloves…and you don’t even own an oven!
To avoid that trap, be specific about what you’re looking for and create theme-based boards to cover your topics. Over time you’ll find other pinners who have similar Spanish-learning interests. So in addition to picking up some more Spanish words, you might even pick up some Spanish friends along the way.
Here are some winners you might want to check out to get you started:
- FlashStick’s Everything Spanish board is an excellent starting point with all the basics covered (colors, clocks, foods).
- Patricia Mettica’s Spanish Teaching board has hundreds of pins including lots of words and picture pins.
- Caro Frenchy’s Teaching Spanish board is perfect when you’re ready to try something a bit more advanced. Comic strips, infographics, phrases and charts help you go one step further.
2. Make Your Own Flashcards
If you have any memories of flashcards as an infant, you might roll your eyes at the idea of pictures of apples and shoes, but flashcards don’t have to be all schooldays-dull. Quite the opposite.
There are plenty of other learning methods out there to help you remember the name for fork (tenedor). Flashcards are your chance to get creative—really, really creative. What about that picture of that celeb who looks like he’s chewing a wasp (avispa) or that gorgeous dress you found online that has the perfect belt (cinturón)?
Print out pictures from the web, cut them out of your favorite mags and if you’ve got a Polaroid camera, the sky’s the limit! The color of all your friends’ shoes, that splash of graffiti you saw in Spain, exactly what was on your plate for dinner last night—you can use it all.
With a blank canvas you can choose, so focus on the words you’re weakest at or a topic that interests you.
Just one rule: no English words, that would be cheating. Plus, associating the Spanish word directly with an image of the item/concept—rather than the extra step of thinking of the English word—is a huge leap towards fluency.
3. Immerse Yourself with FluentU
Offering an online immersion platform that turns real-world videos into personalized language learning lessons, FluentU makes Spanish learning suddenly feel really fresh, worthwhile and approachable.
You’ll discover tons of awesome video content from all over the Spanish-speaking world, covering everything from Nicaraguan boxing to Cuban politics and our favorite translated musical numbers from “the Little Mermaid.” It’s all stuff that’s made by Spanish speakers for Spanish speakers.
FluentU is designed to get you comfortable with everyday Spanish, by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversations with easy-to-read subtitles. So where are the pictures?
Aside from the visually engaging videos, FluentU has a picture for every single word. Find a great video you’re dying to watch, click “watch” and get started!
As you’re watching, if you see the subtitled word “manzana,” hovering your mouse over it will bring up an image of an apple (along with the English translation, audio and multiple example sentences). Interactive subtitles are just one great feature of FluentU. You may notice that the screenshot above also shows a “learn” button that can be clicked.
Clicking that button will take you straight to learn mode. This involves learning exercises and fun games like fill-in-the-blank and more.
So, when you’re using FluentU’s unique “learn mode” to learn the words and phrases from the video, guess what you’ll see when “manzana” appears again? Yup, that same picture of an apple! This feature makes FluentU fantastic for visual learners, while helping all learners create strong associations between Spanish words and their meanings—paving the road to fluency.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the App from iTunes or the Google Play store and bring FluentU’s innovative language-learning experience to your iOS and Android device.
4. Check out Enchanted Learning’s A-Z
Let’s face it, learning the alphabet can be a bit dull, but it’s essential foundation work for any new language. Add a bit of excitement to your learning by printing out the A-Z examples from the Enchanted Learning website. With more than 100 example words for many of the letters, there’s plenty of material to help you learn your ABCs (plus lots of new vocab!).
But don’t just print the list off and learn it by rote memorization (yawn). Stick the words on the objects you have around your house; cut the pack up and distribute them to your friends, getting them to test you when they see you; or hide them under your drinking glass. Immerse yourself in these examples and only take them down/back when you’re sure you know the word.
Cat Spanish, an app by Cat Academy, is both hilarious and highly addictive. Very simply, in the words of the creators, Cat Academy is a way to learn languages. From cats.
Sounds curious, fun and quirky? Well, it’s all of those things…but it’s also an excellent way to learn Spanish with pictures. By presenting a picture of a cat in a particular pose—sitting in front of an empty bowl or looking desperate for food, for example—you get to pick up some basic Spanish words and phrases, like “tengo hambre” (I’m hungry).
The app works on a repetition basis, so as well as associating the cat pictures with the words and phrases, you’re tested through listening and fill-in-the-blank exercises. If nothing else, this free app should have you grinning like a Cheshire cat.
The app is available on iOS and is free.
6. Get a Spanish Picture Dictionary
Spanish picture dictionaries aren’t just a great learning aid, they can often be essential if you’re really new to Spanish. You know, like that time in a bar in Madrid when you mistakenly order breakfast (desayuno) at 8 p.m. because you got it confused with the word for dinner (cena). A picture dictionary would have come in handy then (because fried eggs really don’t go with red wine).
Perfect as a quick study aid when you have a few spare minutes and equally useful to look stuff up, a Spanish dictionary is a great addition to your language toolbox.
Buying tip: There are lots of picture dictionary options out there, but don’t pick up the first children’s edition you come to. Although the simple words will be useful at first, the dictionary will become redundant pretty quickly. Instead, look around for an adult picture dictionary, like the one by Oxford. The words and scenarios included are relevant to the grown-up world, and the dictionary is broken down into thematic units.
Want to really expand your Spanish? Pick a page in the dictionary and a write paragraph or two that tells a story using every word on the page. “The man taking the lady’s kitten to the office” may not be so likely in real life, but it’s great practice and fun too.
7. Learn Spanish with Lingo Arcade
Ok, so cats aren’t for everyone (sorry Cat Academy) but if you’re still interested in learning Spanish with pictures through an app, Learn Spanish with Lingo Arcade has a 4.5 star review and is completely free.
The app works purely on the basis of pictures and flashcards, and you have to select the right picture to match the spoken words. There is no English to help you out while you’re playing the levels, but there is a review section where you can put the Spanish names to the pictures before you get going—or just dive straight in.
The start-up music might be a little kitschy for some, but that’s all the more reason to get off the home screen and into the games and learning.
The app is available for free on iOS.
Who’d have thought that all of this were possible, with pictures? Enjoy!
Jo Fitzsimons is a full-time traveler, digital nomad and language learner. When she’s not up to her neck in false cognates, she spends her time writing about her travels on a freelance basis and also on her blog, IndianaJo.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.