Do you use Never Eat Soggy Waffles to remember the cardinal directions?
Or perhaps you’re like me, and make an L shape with your hands to remember which one is the left one?
As you may already know, these little tricks are called mnemonics.
There are already some handy popular Spanish mnemonics out there that I’ll show you in this post, and you can also invent your own, tailoring them to your own particular learning needs.
It can actually be really fun!
And I guarantee you—the below phrases will be stuck in your brain forever.
So read on to find out about how mnemonics work, learn about the different types of mnemonics you can use in Spanish learning and check out our list of awesome Spanish mnemonics.
How Mnemonics Can Help You Learn Spanish
Basically, mnemonics help us with some of the more tedious aspects of language learning, or those words that just won’t stick. The days of the week become rhymes, or a confusing word becomes a tiny story that makes it memorable.
Mnemonics are basically just creative devices that help us retain information. They depend a lot on association with things we already know—something our brain is very good at, and good at doing quickly. With languages, visual people may imagine words as pictures, or verbal people may use rhymes to help them remember a list, like the months of the year.
“Mnemonics” may itself be a strange-sounding and hard-to-remember word, but mnemonics make it easy to boost your vocabulary quickly!
Different Kinds of Mnemonics You Can Use to Learn Spanish
So to use mnemonics for Spanish, you can use already existing ones—we’ve invented and compiled some brilliant ones for you, listed below—or even better, you can make up your own.
Often, just the process of creating your own mnemonic for a tricky word or grammar structure can be enough to solidly store that information away. But when it’s not, you still have the mnemonic itself to help you.
Here are some different ways to make, or adapt, your own mnemonics:
- Stories: Let’s say you want to remember the word otro for “other.” You make up a story about an otter who was asked out, but she chose the other otter. “Otter” sounds close enough to otro that it will jog your memory.
- Acronyms: It can be hard to come up with these, but they can be good for remembering lists like numbers or groups of words—the words for relatives, for example. Say you want to remember mama, papa, abuelo, abuela. You could use the acronym MAAP—and think about a map of a family.
- Sentences: Similar to acronyms, this is a technique for remembering lists. To remember the numbers uno, dos, tres, cuatro, your sentence could be “Under David’s trendy car.” This tool will even make sentences out of a word for you.
- Rhymes and songs: Children often learn the alphabet of their native language by singing it to a tune, and you can apply the same technique to groups of Spanish words, lists of irregular conjugations and other lists.
- Word and sound associations: This is one of the easiest types of mnemonics to create and it’s the category a lot of our mnemonics below will fall into. You know how at school you were taught that a “stalactite” is the upside-down one because it hangs on tightly to the ceiling? You can apply this method to new Spanish words as well.
- Stressed syllables: Where you put the stress in Spanish words matters—it can go as far as communicating which tense you’re using. So Master of Memory recommends making words or meaning from the stressed part of a Spanish word. For example, estar and para.
- Chunking: This is a mnemonic technique where you learn word phrases that you can later piece together. For example, with the sentence Me gusta mucho salir contigo, you would remember me gusta mucho (I really like) and salir contigo (going out with you) separately so you could use them each in other sentences.
Dig It! Brilliant Spanish Mnemonics You’ll Never Forget
To remember the gender of nouns, you can think of an object associated with each noun and then “gender” it using color categories or images you already associate with that gender. For example, to remember that deporte (sport) is masculine, you could think of a blue ball (and assign blue to other masculine nouns as well), or think of a ball with a tie or a mustache.
The word for “library”
The word biblioteca sounds a bit like discoteca. So to remember the Spanish for “library” you could think, “The discotheque for Bibles and other books is a biblioteca.”
The word for “bread”
When I first started learning Spanish, I would remember the word for bread because I had already studied Japanese, and bread in Japanese is also pan. But another idea would be to think, “Only in Venezuela do they cook bread in a pan.”
The word for “difficult”
A lot of people struggle to remember the accent in difícil, so why not combine that with a mnemonic that helps you remember what it means? “It’s difficult to remember the accent in the middle of difícil.”
The word for “money”
This one is somewhat more well-known: “Actor Roberto Dinero has a lot of money.”
Days of the week
There are a range of sentence mnemonics out there for remembering the Spanish days of the week. There’s “Lucy Makes My Journeys Very Special Delights” to go from lunes (Monday) through domingo (Sunday). You can find more mnemonics for the days of the week here and here.
How to say “I say”
This irregular conjugation of the verb decir, digo, can be remembered with this mnemonic: “Oh, I dig it, I say.”
The word for “knife”
People often confuse the Spanish for “knife” (cuchillo), and the Spanish for spoon (cuchara). The Ls in cuchillo could be said to look a bit like knives.
The word for “carry”
It’s easy to confuse the Spanish for “carry” with the Spanish for “crap,” or “screw up.” That little hard-to-pronounce R is what can guarantee that you say the word for carry (cargar) instead of the word for “crap,” cagar. Here’s my mnemonic: “You need to carry an extra R, or you’ll screw up and be in the s**t.”
The word for “older”
Another word that can be confused with similar words, you can remember the meaning of mayor with this mnemonic: “The town mayor is older than me.”
The word for “success”
As it’s easily confused with a completely different English word, remember what éxito means with this: “You have successfully exited Windows.”
The word for “crash”
The Spanish word chocar refers to when cars crash, but it’s also useful when something is shocking. This mnemonic could help you: “Cars don’t choke each other, they crash or collide.”
The word for “sleep”
Honestly, I think of a dormouse when I think of dormir. The little creature is cute, and you can imagine it sleeping. If that image mnemonic doesn’t work, you can also think, “Close the door before you sleep.”
The word for “tomorrow”
Mañana is always fun, since it means “tomorrow” and “morning.” Spanish speakers find nothing odd about saying mañana por la mañana to say tomorrow morning. To remember this word, though, you can use the mnemonic “a banana in the morning.”
Languages Are Fun!
I remember being hesitant to study languages in high school because I imagined copying lists of words over and over. But that’s the worst way to learn Spanish, and in reality, language learning can and should be a lot of fun.
So, get out there and engage in your own wild and creative learning. And most importantly, enjoy!
Tamara Pearson is a journalist, teacher and language lover who has lived in Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and now Mexico. She is also the author of The Butterfly Prison.
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