Easily remember dozens of Spanish words and meanings

by David
Is this is another magic memory trick?

“I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t at times come up with a similar-sounding word or phrase when thinking of something completely different– like can’t elope and cantaloupe” writes memory expert Harry Lorayne in The Memory Book which inspired this article.

So how can you use this to remember Spanish vocabulary?

If I tell you the Spanish word for an exterior wall/fence in Mexico is barda and you immediately picture William Shakespeare (the Bard) walking down the street, hunched over reading one of his manuscripts when suddenly he crashes into the wall breaking it down and all his papers go flying. The Bard crashed into la barda. That sums up this technique

Now let’s put that in a picture.


It took me 5 minutes to sketch that. You can make a much more vivid picture in your mind in seconds.

You can do the same with many other words. The Spanish for locust is langosta. Picture yourself walking down a “long coast” that is covered with locusts instead of sand. When you walk on them they crunch or bite you or turn blue. long coast covered with locusts => langosta => locust.

But this won’t work for very many words- only for a few special cases of sound-alikes! You say.

There are more sound-alikes than you’d image.

  • mar – sea A huge hand comes out of the sky and gouges out a mile-long rift in the sea. It is totally illogical, because the water should flow back together, but it doesn’t and the sea is marred.
  • zapato – shoe Hundreds of people come walking after you. You turn around and they are stamping their feet and their shoes begin to zap lightening at you. The shoes zap at you => zapato.
  • caja – cough You open an old box and a cloud of black smoke/dust come whirling out an envelops you. You cough incessantly until your throat begins to bleed. The box made you cough, so it’s una caja.

And if you can’t find something in English that sounds exactly like the Spanish, don’t sweat it. You can use a word or phrase that sounds similar, you can use made-up words from your childhood or even words from another foreign language. The key is you relate the new word you’re learning to a word or phrase you already know, using a vivid, action-filled, totally unrealistic picture in your mind. After you remember your association, the true Spanish word will be there to congratulate you.

The penultimate sentence of the last paragraph is the key to all this.

The only way to make it work is to create quality images for these word associations. A quality image will have these characteristics.

  • It will contain action
  • It will be exaggerated
  • It will be funny
  • It will be memorable (I hope so)
  • It might even be violent, illogical and stunning

The point in making a mental image is to make something completely and totally out of the ordinary. If your image is normal, you won’t remember it as well. If you need to picture an elephant, picture a huge elephant the size of the Sears building or picture millions of elephants stampeding over you. You get the idea.

You probably didn’t actually take the time to picture the previous examples in you mind as you were reading, so lets use those same examples to test this out.

Remember the Bard? he’s walking down the street reading papers and not looking where he’s going. Now take 5 to 10 seconds to imagine that. I’ll wait.

Now he’s not looking where he’s going so he rams into a brick wall surrounding a home and the wall crashes to the ground with violence and his papers go flying. Take 2 more seconds to picture that.

Now think the Bard knocked down the brick wall. A wall is a barda.

Now do the same with the other examples above. Take 5 to 10 seconds each to create an unnatural, out of the ordinary picture relating the two words. After you get some practice with this technique it’ll only take you 1 to 3 seconds per word. Go ahead and do that, then we’ll have a little quiz to prove to yourself what you’ve just done.

Now create your mental pictures for:

  • langosta – locust
  • mar – sea
  • zapato – shoe
  • caja – box

If you took a few seconds each to create a strong mental image, you’ll have no problem filling in the answers below.

The Test

9 Comments  leave one »

24.Nov.2006 - 2:43 pm

[…] You can have books, classes, tapes, CDs- You can watch movies in Spanish, memorize vocabulary, take tests, chat with native speakers- You can spend a lot of money on learning. […]

24.Jan.2007 - 12:07 am

[…] This could be really good for advanced EFL/ESL classes or foreign language classes, although I don’t know how many of the students would remember the words they looked up. […]

16.Feb.2007 - 12:12 pm

[…] the beginning stages, always returning to look up words that they have seen many times. My favorite memory advice is to use any method you like to remember words- mnemonics, flash cards, rote memory, carrying […]

06.Mar.2007 - 9:43 pm

Here’s a neat mnemonic device for teaching “mantequilla.”

Spanish is a very funny language;
The “sopa” isn’t soap
and the “ropa” isn’t rope
and the butter is meant to kill ya. (mantequilla)

Another one for learning calcetines, and how to say “That’s it!”:
A Hispanic gentleman knew no English and needed a pair of socks. He entered a store and asked for calectines in Spanish and no one understood him. The manager walked him around the store pointing to items until they came to the socks section. The Hispanic gentleman saw them and said in Spanish:
“Eso si que es.” The manager said, “why shucks, son, why didn’t you spell it in the first place (S-O-C-K-S).

06.Mar.2007 - 10:20 pm

Good mnemonic devices! I remember the s-o-c-k-s one from hooked on phonics commercials from years ago. 🙂

22.Apr.2007 - 10:02 am

I am a bit confused….

I had always used Langosta = Lobster and Locusts were ? I am not sure but I think they were swarms of ‘chapulines”.

Please clear this up for me!


Gloria R
23.Apr.2007 - 2:34 pm


Actually you’re right. Langosta can mean locust (the insect) or lobster (the marine creature), I should have mentioned that. As far as chupulines go, they would usually be translated as grasshoppers or crickets, which are a bit different (and I think smaller) than locusts, although they are similar.

10.Jul.2007 - 7:39 pm

[…] Pimsleur was a French teacher, linguist and memory expert whose research focused on language acquisition and how children learn language without […]

07.Nov.2008 - 5:28 pm

It is very difficult, when you are learning a language, if you are teaching, be very carefull,because some words don’t have the same meaning, for instance,LOCUST,it is lobster,but if you go to another speaking spanish country ,they do not know what it means,the same thing with all the words you have put as example,
thank you


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