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How to remember words in Spanish with Anki

How to remember words in Spanish? That’s the big question and I can help you with that!

I know first hand how frustrating it could be to review vocabulary over and over, and yet keep forgetting it.

It has happened to me with English, my second language, and also with Portuguese, which I’m learning right now.

And it wasn’t until I discovered this wonderful app called Anki that I started to retain new words and phrases in my head more effectively.

In this article, I’m going to explain how it works and give you some tips so that you can make the most of it.

Are you ready? Let’s go!

How to remember words in Spanish

Anki is a free and open-source flashcard program that uses a learning technique called spaced repetition.

Spaced repetition is an evidence-based technique from cognitive science for fast and long-lasting memorization.

Under this method, newly added and more difficult flashcards are shown more frequently than the old and less difficult ones, to help the brain retain the former better.

Students are likely to forget a word after seeing it for the first time and only once.

But if it showed up again the following day, and then four days later, and so on, the human brain would understand that this information is necessary, therefore will store it.

Once you have memorized it, you don’t need to focus on it anymore. That’s why that flashcard will be shown again over longer periods of time.

You will be focusing on the items you don’t know well yet.

Some of my students are already using Anki and they feel their efforts are paying off!

Let me give you a quick explanation about how to memorize vocabulary in another language with this app.

1) Download Anki

Go to apps.ankiweb.net and download the right app for your device! It’s available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone and Android.

All of them are free, except for the version for iPhone/iPad, which you can purchase by US$24.99 on the App Store.

If you wonder why, it’s because purchasing AnkiMobile is the only way to support financially the free web version.

On the other hand, AnkiDroid was created by a separate group of developers based off the free desktop code, and it was their decision to make the version for Android free as well.

In any case, if you are an Apple user, it’s just a one-time purchase and it’s a really good investment, unlike the US$34.99 I paid for a monthly subscription to OkCupid.

2) Create your deck

Once you have installed the app, go to ‘create deck’ and give it a name. For example: Español A2

Then, go to ‘add’ to start creating your own flashcards. You will notice that there are different types. The one I use is ‘basic’, which includes two fields: front and back.

An advantage of Anki is that you can create your own decks with vocabulary that you really want to learn.

It can be that of a Spanish course you are taking, a book about a topic you are interested in, or why not some slang you came across on social media.

Anything!

Let’s say you are learning parts of the body and in your notebook or Google Doc you have written down the following words: cabeza, cara, brazo.

How should you add them to your deck?

I suggest these two options, depending on whether you are a beginner or an intermediate student.

a) Bilingual flashcards (for beginners)

In the field ‘front’, write the translation into your native language. In the field ‘back’, write the word in Spanish. For example:

  • Front: head
  • Back: cabeza
  • Front: face
  • Back: cara
  • Front: arm
  • Back: brazo

When you see the word in your native language, you will need to try to remember how to say it in Spanish.

In order to do this, I suggest you use any of the many bilingual dictionaries offered by WordReference.

b) Monolingual flashcards (for intermediates)

In the field ‘front’, write an example in Spanish containing the word you are trying to learn in bold.

In the field ‘back’, write the type of word (noun, verb, adjective, etc.) and the meaning in Spanish, too.

If it’s a noun, don’t forget to add its grammatical gender! For example:

  • Front: En la cabeza están los centros nerviosos y los órganos sensoriales.
  • Back: cabeza (sust. fem.) Parte superior del cuerpo del hombre separada del tronco, y superior o anterior del de muchos animales.
  • Front: La máscara le cubría totalmente la cara.
  • Back: cara (sust. fem.) Parte anterior de la cabeza, desde la frente a la barbilla.
  • Front: Le hirieron en un brazo.
  • Back: brazo (sust. masc.) Miembro superior del cuerpo humano que va desde el hombro a la mano.

In this way, you are going to learn these new words in context.

And since you will be constantly exposed to definitions and examples in Spanish, you will enhance your vocabulary even further!

In order to do this, I suggest you use the monolingual Spanish dictionary by WordReference, because its definitions are clear and they always include examples.

You can also write an example of your own, but the risk is that you make a mistake that will fix to your head using this spaced repetition method.

Now let’s see how to review and remember words in Spanish using these flashcards!

A girl trying to study and remember words in Spanish with Anki
Una chica intentando estudiar y recordar palabras en español con Anki. Foto de cottonbro en Pexels

3) How to memorize words in Spanish with Anki

Once you have created your deck, click the settings icon next to it and open the options menu.

There you can set the order you want for the flashcards to appear (in order added or random order), how many new cards a day you can study, graduating and easy intervals, etc.

But what does ‘graduating’ mean? And ‘easy interveals’?

When a flashcard appears and you click on ‘show answer’, you will see three options depending on how hard it was for you to remember the answer.

  • Easy
  • Good
  • Hard
  • Again

By default, the easy interval is set in 4 days. That means that if you remember the answer right away, you will see the flashcard again in 4 days.

If you click on Good, the flashcard will appear again in 10 minutes (or less depending on how many cards there are to study or review).

When it appeas again, you will notice that now the Good button says 1 day. That is because, by default, graduating interval is set in 1 day.

From the moment you click on Good, the study flashcard ‘graduates’ from the learning phase and becomes a review one.

Personally, I left the options by default, but you can change these settings according to your preferences.

Now I will give you a few more tips to make the most of the app!

4) Synchronization with AnkiWeb

AnkiWeb is a free companion to the computer version of Anki. It’s especially useful for storing your decks in the cloud and reviewing them when you don’t have access to your home computer.

Anything you create, add or modify in the free computer version of Anki will be automatically uploaded to AnkiWeb.

I have Anki in the cloud, as well as on my computer and my phone. I’m a fan!

Although it’s still possible to create basic text-only flashcards with AnkiWeb, you still need the computer version to take advantage of extra multimedia features.

Click on ‘sync’ after having added, modified or deleted cards in your computer version, and then hit the sync icon on AnkiMobile or AnkiDroid so that you see those changes reflected there.

5) Learn the proper pronunciation from the start!

Pronunciation is vital to really be understood by natives!

It doesn’t need to be 100% perfect, but you should be able to pronounce the phonemes of the Spanish language as clearly as possible.

This is also important to distinguish sounds and recognize words when spoken by someone.

Although students usually don’t pay much attention to pronunciation in the beginning because they prefer to focus on grammar and vocabulary, your life will be easier if you learn it properly from the start.

How to remember words in Spanish with the proper pronunciation?

AwesomeTTS is an add-on for Anki that allows you to add speech to your flashcards!

Follow these three steps to download it and install it successfully:

1) Once on the AwesomeTTS website, scroll down until you find a code and copy it.

2) Open the computer version of Anki, go to Tools/Add-ons/Get add-ons and paste the code into the box.

3) Click on OK, then Sync and that’s it!

How to add speech to your flashcards

Once you create a deck or add new words to an existing one, adding speech to your flashcards is really easy.

Go to Browse and on the sidebar filter select the deck whose flashcards you would like to have sound.

You can also select words by categories, such as ‘added today’, etc.

Now select the words and then, on the menu bar, go to AwesomeTTS/Add Audio to Selected.

There, you will even be able to choose the source you want to use to generate the speech.

Personally, I use Google Translate because it’s simple and works great, but it’s up to you!

For example, Amazon and IBM offer different male and female voices from different regions for the main languages, Spanish included.

On Fields and Handling, select ‘Back’ as destination field if you created bilingual flashcards.

Why? Because that’s where you need the sound. You already know how to pronounce head in English (or the word in your native language!).

Spanish is easy to learn phonetically, so that’s why this feature fits better for beginners.

But if you created monolingual flashcards and you want them to have sound too, you can select ‘Front’ to add it to the whole phrase including the keyword.

It takes thirty seconds per flashcard to generate the mp3 files. So depending on how many you selected, it might take a while.

Finally, clic on Sync to synchronize with both the cloud and the mobile app, and that’s all!

Next time you study your flashcards, the back (or front) will play the sound and in that way you will remember new words in Spanish with the correct pronunciation.

Now let’s see one more tip!

6) How to remembers words in Spanish using shared decks

With Anki you can learn the words you really want to learn, the ones that are relevant for you.

But I know that it may be time-consuming to create your own decks from the start.

That’s why lots of students who are already learning Spanish decided to share their decks with other users!

You can explore and download them from here.

Just take into consideration that by creating your own decks you go through a double review process, because you start studying from the moment you choose the words and look them up on your dictionary!

That’s something you lose when you use other people’s decks.

On the other hand, you can’t be sure that their flashcards are 100% accurate, or what source they used to create lists with names such as ‘Spanish Top 5000 Vocabulary’.

But it’s another option in case you don’t really have much time.

And that’s all for today!

Do you want to learn more Spanish?

I hope you have enjoyed this article about how to remember words in Spanish!

Do you want to learn more Spanish? Subscribe to my newsletter for free! You will get notifications of new posts by email, as well as a copy of my ebook, the Definitive Guide to Learn Conjugations in Spanish.

Do you want to boost your vocabulary in Spanish? Follow me on social media! I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Every day I post typical words and expressions from Argentina and the Hispanic world.

And if you are looking for a native Spanish teacher to have some Skype Spanish lessons (or whatever platform you prefer), book a lesson with me!

Thank you very much and until next time,

Kevin.

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