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The vast majority of country names in Spanish are easy to memorize; they’re almost exactly the same as the country names most English speakers are used to. The downside of this is the temptation to assume that all Spanish country names are cognates, which is not the case.
As discussed in Help With Memorizing, tying new words to absurd images is one of the best ways to learn vocabulary words quickly. Using Spanish vocabulary picture cards--as opposed to traditional text flash cards--for learning combines the advantages of flash card learning and image association in one swoop.
The four picture flash cards described in the following text are available for free download here. The rough sketches on these cards won't win any art awards but you’re welcome to use them, and hopefully they'll get you started thinking about how to design your own image flash cards. You could even hold a contest for your students to design their own.
You’ll notice that the English country names are rarely in evidence on the fronts of the cards. After you download them and print them on heavy paper or light cardstock, cut along the dotted lines and write the appropriate English country name on the back of each card for future reference.
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Alemania is one of the few Spanish country names that bears little, if any, likeness to its English counterpart: Germany. Fortunately it’s relatively easy to break the Spanish word down into familiar parts. If you can superimpose the image of a mug of ale, plus a man, (ale + man = aleman) on the German country, you’re most of the way to remembering its name in Spanish.
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It’s tempting to assume that since turkey the bird translates to pavo, the same word should represent Turkey the country as well. Not so. The Spanish word for Turkey the country--Turquía--is close enough to turkey that it should be very easy to remember. The trick is training yourself not to make the associative jump to pavo. Image association can be used to train yourself out of certain habits as well; imagining a Turkish man inside a turkey (pavo) and seeing how upset he is about the idea of living inside a bird should help you remember to use the proper country name in Spanish.
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The Holy See or Vatican City
This is a place that, depending on your faith, may have very strong associations for you already. The card I’ve provided here is merely a suggestion; I imagined a city of people literally living inside Catholic symbols to help me remember “City of the Vatican" translated into Spanish. Your connection to this phrase may be very different. I recommend giving yourself just a few seconds to call up the images that you most strongly associate with the Vatican, the Pope, or Catholicism. Use those images, in the context of a city, on the card you create for yourself.
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The Falkland Islands
Remember that the more absurd the image you create and associate with a country, the easier it is to remember the country name in Spanish. In this case, I’ve associated mal (bad) vinas (vines) with badly drawn vines super-imposed on what’s supposed to be an island. Really, that’s an island. Take my word for it.
If you struggle to make the connection between this image and the Falkland Islands you have a couple of options. You could make a direct tracing of the Falklands from a map--to get the correct shape--and superimpose some atrocious vines on that. You can also write the word “Falkland" or “Falklands" along the stem of each vine, or simply label the viney island as “Falklands".
Don’t forget to download your examples of Spanish vocabulary picture cards; sometimes a picture, no matter how crudely drawn, really is worth a thousand word-repetitions.
Learn 4 Country Names With Spanish Vocabulary Picture Cards
Tips and tricks for how to memorize country names in Spanish, including free vocabulary picture card downloads.