If you’re learning Spanish, you’ve probably considered creating your Spanish flashcards to quiz on your new vocabulary.

In the previous article, I covered strategies for turning even the simplest Spanish flashcards into a tool for becoming truly fluent in Spanish.

But now it’s time to upgrade your flashcards themselves. If you follow the five tips in this article, you’ll soon have flashcards that are shortcutting your way to fluency.

Tip #1: English and Spanish

The first tip, as I mentioned in the previous video, is to have the Spanish on one side and the English on the other side. When quizzing, you’ll start by looking at the English and you’ll guess the Spanish from that.

I know there are a lot of people who prefer to put pictures on their flashcards rather than English, in the name of “not translating”. The argument goes something like this: If you’re using English on your Spanish flashcards, you’ll be looking at English every time you work on Spanish. Therefore, won’t it take longer to start thinking in Spanish and stop translating from English in your head all the time?

But I’ve found that this argument just doesn’t hold up. An upcoming article will explain why in detail, but in a nutshell, what we’ve found with the thousands of coaching students that we’ve personally trained in their Spanish fluency is that the fastest way to fluency is actually through your native language. Being an English speaker is not a disadvantage to learning Spanish! On the contrary, there are many ways that you can actually use English to learn Spanish much faster. And one of the best ways is to use English on your flashcards.

Of course, you need to make sure that your translations are clear and accurate. There’s nothing worse than learning an erroneous translation and turning that into part of your Spanish voice! The rest of the tips in this article will help you avoid some of the common pitfalls of creating Spanish flashcards.

Tip #2: Use Phrases

When you’re making your cards, use phrases whenever you can. Don’t just write down “nervous” as nervioso; instead, maybe say “she got nervous” on one side and se puso nerviosa on the other.

This way, you’re still learning the word, but you’re learning it in a context where it’s usable. It doesn’t exist as a disembodied element of the language; it connects to other things you know in Spanish. You’ll more quickly be able to use the word in a real sentence, even in a spontaneous sentence context you’ve never used it in before, if you follow both this advice and the quizzing tips in the previous article.

How long a phrase should you use? It depends on the word, and you should use your own judgment. Generally, I find that the ideal average length for a flashcard is about 3 words. That’s long enough to give a word a little bit of context, but it’s short enough that you don’t have to spend too much time on every single flashcard. (If you’re putting 10-word phrases on most of your flashcards, you’re going to get exhausted and give up on reviewing very quickly!)

Of course, when you write these phrases on your flashcards, you want to make sure they’re accurate. If you have a native-speaking friend or coach, like the excellent coaches we have at Accelerated Spanish, you should run your flashcards by her to make sure you’re not practicing wrong. Even better, you can steal the phrases you put on your flashcards directly from a source written by a native speaker. For example, if you’re reading an article about birds and you stumble across the term “envergadura alar”, after you look that up and find out that it means “wingspan”, you might decide to make a flashcard. Go ahead and take the whole phrase, maybe “proportional to its wingspan”: proporcional a su envergadura alar.

Now, where should you get those native-written phrases? There are two answers to this: One answer if you’re more of a beginner or lower intermediate learner (still working on Spanish grammar and syntax), and another answer if you’ve pretty much mastered Spanish grammar and are more intermediate or advanced.

Tip #3: Collect Ideas from the Frequency List (Beginner/Intermediate)

If you’re still struggling with your Spanish pronouns and frequently used verbs, such as Ser, Estar, and Haber, then here are some of the best places to get your Spanish flashcards.

(1) The Top of the Frequency List

Start by going to a good Spanish frequency list; my favorite is the wiktionary list. Start at the top of the list, where you’ll see words like que, de, lo, and te. Any words in the top 300 are extremely important to quiz on extensively, as early as possible.

But as you look at the list to choose words for your flashcards, there’s a common trap that many Spanish learners of all levels fall into. You might look at a word on the list, like te, tell yourself “oh yeah I know that word”, and choose not to add it to your flashcards. It’s not just a question of whether you’re familiar with a word. The most important questions are:

• Are you able to use these words correctly and proficiently?

• Do you know the less common nuances of how to use these words?

• Do you sound like a native speaker when you use these words?

• Are you using these words all the time?

Since these words are at the top of the frequency list, that means that native speakers use them constantly and don’t even have to think about them when they use them. If your goal is genuine fluency, then your task is to get to that point as well. So take note of any words you don’t feel extremely confident with, and be prepared to practice them a lot.

(2) Sentence contexts for high-frequency words

For any of those high-frequency words you noted down, find LOTS of Spanish contexts in which to practice them. Since words like por simply don’t translate into English, the only way to get really familiar with it is to practice lots of contexts that use this word. One of the most reliable places to find these is the online Spanish dictionary SpanishDict.com [link]. It includes sentence examples for pretty much every word you throw at it, including almost all the different uses of any common word in Spanish.

There’s one problem with the examples from Spanish dictionaries. Even when you’re trying to learn a common word, like lo or por, the sentence examples in these dictionaries tend to include a lot of less common, less important vocabulary. For example, let’s say you’re trying to master the word por in contexts where it means “by means of”. But the example that the dictionary gives you is puedes seguir tu paquete por correo electrónico. Yikes! You’ll probably be distracted by all the big, less-common words in this sentence. All you really wanted was to practice por!

Fortunately, there is a solution, at least for the top 500 words in Spanish. The resources at our free course are full of native-written sentence examples that use only the most frequent words in the language, in basically every way they can be used. I recommend mastering ALL these sentence examples before refocusing your attention on vocabulary and phrases that go beyond the top 500 words in the language.

(3) Grammar Charts

There’s one more resource to use for Spanish flashcards that will help you master the essential syntax of the Spanish language: Verb charts and pronoun charts. At some point or another, you’re going to have to learn these things, so it may as well be as soon as possible to get it out of the way!

But don’t make it boring or useless. For example, you might think that in order to memorize Spanish object pronouns, you have to create a card that looks like this:

How To Make Spanish Flashcards

First of all, that’s way too much information for one card. If one of your flashcards looks like that, then any time you are quizzing your Spanish, you probably feel a sense of dread wondering when that card is going to come and slap you in the face with information overload. You should never dread studying Spanish, so this is a big no-no.

And in the second place, this chart is way too impersonal. A bunch of words sitting in columns and rows like this just doesn’t directly relate to how we speak Spanish in conversation.

But there IS a way to work on memorizing these charts with flashcards, easily and effectively. Toward the end of the {article/video}, I’ll show you how to turn these boring charts into flashcards that you can have fun quizzing with and that make these words more and more usable in real life.

Tip #4: Collect Ideas from Real Life (Intermediate/Advanced)

If you’ve already mastered essential Spanish syntax, and you can almost flawlessly use the top 200 words in the language, then it’s time to work on the giant task of expanding your vocabulary by thousands and thousands of words.

This is where many students get overwhelmed. Now that you’re speaking *some* Spanish fluently, where do you go from here? There are about 100,000 words in the Spanish dictionary. There’s no way you can flawlessly learn all of them in the next few months! (Plus… that’s a LOT of flashcards… If you had just one flashcard per word, you’d have a collection of index cards weighing over 400 pounds or 180 kilograms!)

At this point in your learning, you want to make steady progress, specifically targeting your weak areas and any parts of the language that are personally important to you.

The best method for finding the right new words and phrases to learn is a two-step process:

(1) Use Spanish as much as possible.

(2) Whenever you get stuck because you don’t know a word, make a note of it.

This may sound like a frustrating process, but if you adopt a growth mindset, you can flip the script and find it encouraging instead. It’s good news: When you’re not sure what Spanish words to learn next, you can simply use real life to tell you! Every time you run into a word or phrase in Spanish that you don’t know, make a flashcard out of it. It’s an opportunity to patch up your weaknesses.

Here are a few ways to do this:

(1) Narrate your thoughts, in Spanish.

This is one of the lowest-pressure ways to find your own missing areas of vocabulary. Whenever you have time, try using Spanish to voice whatever you’re thinking. If you find you can’t, you’ve identified a good place for you to grow!

(2) Text in Spanish

This is also lower-pressure than conversation, and it’s still a great place to learn where your vocabulary is weak. When you’re texting, it’s really easy to pause mid-conversation and make a note of a word or phrase that’s new to you. If you don’t have native-Spanish-speaking friends that you text with, I recommend HelloTalk or Tandem, which can connect you with native speakers around the world.

(3) Talk in Spanish

You saw this coming. There’s no getting around having real Spanish conversations! And as painful as it is, one of the best ways to learn where you’re weak in your Spanish is to take note of the difficulties you have in Spanish conversations. If you don’t know how to say something, ask! And if you hear something you don’t understand… ask for clarification! Either way, you’ve identified something that you can get better at using flashcards.

In each of the above cases, you should physically write down anything new or unfamiliar. I recommend keeping a small notebook so you can store all your notes in one place. Then, a couple of times per week (or ideally every day), go through all those notes and create some new flashcards.

Don’t just emphasize words that you don’t know. You should also take note of difficulties you have with grammar. Even if you feel like you know all there is to know about Spanish grammar, you’ll almost always still have some weaknesses that can be improved. We’ll talk about how to work on that in the next section.

Tip #5 Use Grammar Drills

Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced, you should be practicing your Spanish grammar every day.

If your goal is to speak deeply and personally with the Spanish speakers in your life, the only way to express yourself accurately and on a level that really connects is to be so comfortable with Spanish grammar that you don’t have to think about it while you’re talking (or listening).

Every beginning Spanish learner should start getting comfortable with verb conjugations, object pronouns, and Spanish sentence structure from the very beginning. And even if you’re already speaking Spanish fluently, you should still use your Spanish flashcards to refine and perfect your fluid production of Spanish sentences, on a regular basis.

But grammar flashcards don’t have to be dry or overwhelming! As I mentioned above, entire grammar charts are not helpful on flashcards. Instead, your cards should reflect how you’ll actually be speaking and hearing Spanish in real life.

Here are some tips for making that work.

First of all, never put more than 5 words from a grammar chart on one flashcard. For example, you might just choose to put the three common indirect object pronouns on one card: Te, le, me.

Second, when you write the words on the card, try to represent the meanings of these words in some way. I like to do this by putting the words in positions on the card that represent where people might be in a conversation. Imagine that you’re in a circle of people, talking to the person across the circle from you. Now put me at the bottom, te at the top, and le at the left side and the right side. So it’s clear that me represents yourself, te represents the person you’re talking to, and le represents people you’re talking about.

How To Make Spanish Flashcards

Also, on the other side of the card, the side that will prompt you to remember this scene, don’t just say “indirect objects”. Instead, give a sentence context, such as “____ they gave food.” This way, when you quiz, you can remember to fill in the blank with words that fit this context: “Me they gave food,” “te they gave food,” and “le they gave food.” Of course, if you’re following the guidance from the previous article, you’ll be saying these entire sentences out loud when you quiz. This is great practice for actually USING your pronouns, not just memorizing them.

How To Make Spanish Flashcards

Verbs are similar. Choose a common verb you need to practice. For our example, I’ll use Estar. Next, for one particular flashcard, choose either one person, such as the third person singular (he/she/it), or one tense, such as the preterite past tense. In the examples that follow, I’ll demonstrate both.

So here’s one Estar card:

In this case, I’ve chosen the third person singular, so the sentence example is “Ella ____ bien.” I’ve made a footnote that we’re reviewing Estar, but several conjugations [“5 Estar conjugations”]. When I see this card, my task is to think of all the ways that she is, was, or will be “well”, using the verb Estar. So I would look at this card and come up with “ella está bien”, “ella estaba bien”, “ella estuvo bien”, “ella estará bien”, and “ella estaría bien”.

How To Make Spanish Flashcards

So that was just one person, “she”, but switching up tenses. We should also practice using just one tense but switching up persons. So here’s another example:

How To Make Spanish Flashcards

I’ve made a footnote that we’re reviewing Estar, but several imperfect past-tense conjugations. So when I see this card, my response should be “estaba en casa ayer”, “estabas en casa ayer”, “estaban en casa ayer”, and “estábamos en casa ayer”. As I’m quizzing, the order doesn’t really matter; as long as I remember all of the target forms of Estar in the imperfect past tense, and say them in the sentence context, I’ve done my job.

How To Make Spanish Flashcards

The idea of doing grammar drills like this might be intimidating, especially if you’re just starting out learning Spanish. And there’s a reason for that: I’ve intentionally been emphasizing some of the most difficult words to learn in Spanish. Most of what you learn in Spanish will be much easier. The thing is, I recommend starting with what most people neglect and push aside as “too hard”.

But these words are used all the time, in every conversation. And if you do the hard work and master all the uses of these common words, you can master anything in the Spanish language.

If you’re an intermediate or advanced speaker, you should still stay on the lookout for complicated grammar that trips you up. You can use flashcards like these to make it feel more and more natural in conversation. If practicing lists of direct objects is too easy, make flashcards with other grammatical elements that you still find tricky, maybe based on complicated grammatical structures such as “if this were the case, then this would be the case”. There’s always something to get better at in your Spanish grammatical fluency!


In these two articles, I’ve described how to create good Spanish flashcards and how to use them to become fluent in Spanish.

The next article is all about how to schedule your review, and specifically, the spaced repetition system that I follow in my own learning. If you want to know how it’s possible to learn thousands of new words and phrases every month without being overwhelmed, make sure to check out next week’s article.

Put these tips into action today with the Accelerated Spanish course! Start learning fluent Spanish for free.