How to learn Spanish, and not forget it.

There are many videos, activities and books that can help you learn Spanish. Many of them focus on vocabulary or grammatical concepts. However, if you want to be able to understand and produce language, you need to learn more than just words and grammar, you need to learn messages, expressions, and complete sentences. Furthermore, you need to not only study, but also practice what you learned. Research on how the brain retains information has increased in the last decade, revealing that “Memory is used in almost any everyday activity. But as soon as we learn something, we immediately start to forget it.” (Weinstein & Sumeracki, 2019).

Test yourself by recalling the information in order to improve retention of what you learn.

                                    Read     then    Recall

Read, preferably something with visual clues, like a map, a magazine, or a picture book as you look for cognates, words that look similar to words in English. There are hundreds of cognates, some that are written exactly, and others very similarly.

Here are some links where you can look for cognates: – basic – medium – advanced

Recall from memory what you read and learned. To help you recall the information you just read, you can write it, draw it, or just say it out loud. Next, evaluate how much retention happened. You may want to read again, and test yourself to find out if you can remember more the second time.

In the book Make it Stick, Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel (2014) present important successful study strategies including:  “To Learn, Retrieve and Mix up your practice” (p. 23-65).

Drop the vocabulary lists and learn from a variety of authentic sources, including movies, podcasts, music, and videos.

Another way to learn new information is by listening to authentic songs, watching movies or videos, preferably that you have already seen. Pay close attention, and listen for cognates and other words you understand. Don’t get discouraged if you do not understand much at first. What is important, is that you stay focused and listen with the intent to understand. Listen to the same thing several times. Here are some links you can follow to put your attention, comprehension and learning to the test: – basic – intermediate – advanced

The effect of learning through input using multimedia has shown favorable outcomes in language acquisition. For example, searching for meaning as one watches a video produces better results than memorizing lists of words. Scientific research on the benefits of learning using multimedia in order to learn a foreign language shows that fluency, complexity and accuracy improve when focusing on meaning through a task-based approach that uses multimedia. (Bava Harji, M., & Gheitanchian, M. (2017).

Stay focused by paying attention to your attention.

It is common for our attention to drift away, especially when we are reading or listening to foreign text that is difficult to understand. Nevertheless, “attention can be understood, strengthened and taught” (Rheingold, H. 2014, p. 57). If you are aware of your ability to pay attention, you will be able to redirect your attention and stay focused.

Learn, recall, and try again.

Learning new information is the first step, recalling the information you just learned is the second. It is best to start with a small chunk of new comprehensible material, like a sentence. Linking pictures, movement, and your creative mental images will help the newly acquired information be remembered in the future. It is important that what you are learning is comprehensible. In other words, you need to know what it means. Comprehension can be in the form of translation, movement, a picture, or all three. Once you feel like you have learned the material, test yourself by retrieving the information, then reflect upon your learning in order to improve your learning strategy.  


Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L. III, & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of     successful learning. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Bava Harji, M., & Gheitanchian, M. (2017). Effects of multimedia task-based teaching and learning approach on EFL learners’ accuracy, fluency and complexity of oral production. The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology., 16(2), 25-34.

Rheingold, H. (2014). Net smart: How to thrive online. MIT Press.

Weinstein, Y., Sumeracki, M., & Caviglioli, O. (2019). Understanding how we learn. Taylor & Francis Group.

Comments are closed.