Using My New Flash Cards To Learn New Words

Most of yesterday was spent creating new cards for learning the first 50 or so of the 625 most common words.

Today was about using them to learn what I had captured.

I sat down at 8:45pm and started working through the decks. As well as my new vocabulary cards I also included the Spanish pronunciation and the minimal pairs training.

I worked at it for 45 minutes and was completely engaged and stimulated throughout.

Normally if I try and leave that sort of work to that late at night, I struggle with keeping concentration and usually all I want to do is sleep.

However I found the whole experience stimulating.

What I did was go through the cards I had created earlier on in the day memorising each one.  I did this by actually working my mind to create imagery so I could remember them.

At times it was challenging, at times it was stimulating but most of all it was enjoyable and worth the effort.

How To Remember The Word For Furniture

So for example I learnt that el mueble means the furniture.

Phonetically this is pronounced MOO-WEB-LAY.

Here is how I memorised it:

I imagined a large friesian cow (MOO) caught up Ina big spider’s web (WEB) and then it began laying (LAY) furniture like a hen lays eggs. It took a minute or say to play around with the sounds and then to come up with the image.


I am recalling that now quite easily.

But sometimes the image doesn’t always come as cleanly or as clearly as that.  And occasionally if you don’t make the imagery connect strong enough to the meaning, you will just be left with weird shit going on in your brain!

In another example I could remember creating an image of a duck preening itself (PREEMA).  I then saw it chasing the character Vera Duckworth from Coronation Street (VERA) into a tree for the word primavera (PREEM-AH-VERA)

However I couldn’t remember what the word I had memorised actually meant because I hadn’t made the link to the translation strong enough.

On checking, primavera means Spring.

After that reminder I can now recall the image I tried to create included a tree in blossom just like they do in Spring.   I will go into how to remember the gender of a word in another post.

But Isn’t All This Imagination Stuff Just MORE Work?

It does sound like a lot of work to do this, but there are a number of things happening when you try to create this mnemonic imagery.

Firstly, just thinking about the word in this unusual way means you are more engaged in the process.  That means you are more likely to remember it as a result even if you can’t come up with an image.

But if you develop an image, you have created a “mental crutch” to allow you to put that information into slightly longer term storage than just rote memorisation.

If you look at the word “primavera” and only connect it verbally with the translation “spring”, the connection will wash around briefly in your short term, working memory.   That part of your memory has a finite capacity.

So when you look at the next couple of words and do the same thing, eventually it will become full.

What will happen is the first few words you learnt, will get dumped to make space for the most recent words.

That is why you might look at a word you learnt this way only 20 minutes or so ago and not be able to recall what it means.  You recognise it so you know you have learnt it.  But the connection to its meaning has been discarded to make room for other words.

Using Mnemonics Makes Magic Happen

When you create mnemonic imagery, something magical happens.

You now have more reference points on which to recall the pronunciation and the meaning of the word.

It’s like putting up scaffolding on a temporary bridge to your longer term memory.

It is far easier to recall what words mean AND that recollection lasts much longer in your memory.

Over time and with repeated use, that scaffolding will fall away and you won’t need to use it any more because you will “just know” what the word means.  It’s like the booster rockets on the space shuttle launch falling away once they have done their job to get the spacecraft into orbit.

Another benefit is that you are giving your brain a really good mental workout because you are having to THINK!  In performance psychology terms, this is known as System 2 thinking.

It takes effort.

But it is effort that is well worth putting in.

You will find it a struggle because your brain doesn’t want to work.  It wants to stay in what is known as System 1 thinking.

But languages are not learnt in System 1 thinking.  They are learnt when you switch to the more strenuous System 2 thinking.

And that will involve being creative with your imagination.

Here’s Me Showing Off My New Vocabulary

This whole session was engaging and stimulating and also quite motivating because I could feel that progress was being made.

Later on I had a text exchange with a friend shortly after.   I was explaining how much I was enjoying it and that I felt my progress was far better than any previous (botched) attempts at learning a language.

After a flash of inspiration, I then resorted to adding in some of the words I had learnt into my text exchange:

I thought it was funny.

But the important thing is that I could make up (pidgin) sentences from the few words I had learnt.

I am starting to see how the patchwork quilt of fluency is put together.

What Does Learning These Words Mean?

So this morning I listened to Spanish Radio as usual and then I went to the Noticias (news) page of RTVE and browsed through the articles there.

There was one about the high speed Madrid train celebrating 25 years. It is called the Bird (Ave) which is a word I have picked up from the pronunciation training.

There was an article about life on one of Saturn’s moons (la luna) which is a word I learnt yesterday. I was also able to make sense of some of the other headlines too.


Some of these are helped by the picture, others by being aware of what was going on in the world anyway from other English sources.

After just 24 hours of doing this, I feel that my understanding and appreciation has taken a huge step forward.  It is still very small and somewhat sporadic but I feel progress is being made.

It Is Starting To Feel Good More Often

I am feeling a delight about the process of learning and I think I am tapping into a dopamine addiction.

I feel extremely proud and very good about my imagery for mueble (furniture) and that it helped me remember it.

Though I suppose the feelings are attached to the success of recall rather than the process. But what I am setting up in my mind is a pleasure source – a form of reward for the activity I am doing.

That’s why it feels good.

I think successful language learning will all be about habit and about creating that craving for the reward of the dopamine hit.

And I am Starting To Think In Spanish!

I know it is early days yet, but I am starting to catch myself thinking in Spanish.

This is because of the way Gabe Wyner has set up the Ankiweb flash card system with NO or MINIMAL use of English.

I am starting to think in the language instead of going through a translation stage. That is already encouraging.

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