Learning Spanish with Sketchnotes

In a month and a half I’m going on a 10-day trip to Mexico, and in this post I’d like to share with you my plan for studying Spanish in a way that will prepare me for that trip so that I can get the most out of it.

In particular, I’ll be focusing on how I’m using sketchnoting (also known as visual note-taking) to help me brush up on my Spanish skills.

Spanish Language Sources

Let me start by sharing the two main sources of Spanish that I’m digging into.

The first source is the YouTube channel of a news station based in Mexico.

I enjoy seeking out new words while watching live or recent news clips from a television station based in Mexico.

With that source I’ve been doing a combination of watching the live stream and looking back through recent clips.

What I enjoy about watching the news from the place I’m about to visit is that in addition to developing language skills that are specific to that area, I’m also getting a sense for what’s going on there right now.

I had similar reasoning in mind as I picked my second source of Spanish language, the book The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz.

I’ve also started reading (quite slowly) this classic book by Mexican author Octavio Paz.

In contrast to watching the news, this source is less about what’s going on in Mexico right now and more about its history, explored through the lens of a single author.

So far I’m really enjoying that combination of Spanish language sources.

Index Card Sketchnotes

As I’m watching the news from Mexico and reading that book, there are plenty of words that come up that I don’t know.

So while I’m watching or reading, I’m actively listening for or underlining those words.

And then the sketchnoting comes in.

I’ve been using simple index cards as my primary study tool, with a two-sided approach.

Index cards are a great study tool: word in Spanish on the front, sketch and translation on the back.

On one side of the index card I simply write out the new word in Spanish.

On the flip sidem I draw a line down the middle to split the card in half. Within the section on the left I sketch out a visual connected to the definition of that word. On the right side I just write out the translation – that word in English.

Here are a handful of examples to show you how that’s been looking so far:


Heading to

(To keep) in check

What I like about this three-pronged approach is that it gives me lots of different ways to study:

  • I can look at the word in Spanish and see if I can recall the translation.
  • I can start on the flip side, cover up the right side of it, look at the sketch and see if I can remember the Spanish word connected to that sketch.
  • I can cover up the left side and just look at the word in English and see if that’s enough to trigger the word in Spanish.

Whenever possible, I’ve been including the source sentence on the front of the index card, below the boldly-written word in Spanish.

I find that it’s really helpful for me to see that word in context, and oftentimes I can remember the particular news story or what was being explored in the section of the book that the word came from.

The Study Plan

Creating each of those index cards is really just step one in the process, because I do want to review them over time as well.

I’m choosing to do that review and that studying right before I go to sleep each night.

One of the best times to study is right before going to bed.

That’s a good time of the day to learn a new skill or work on a new language because you’re getting that helpful exposure right before your brain’s about to do a bunch of processing and sorting.

My hope too is that over time that might even trigger me to start dreaming in Spanish from time to time, something that really only happened when I was pretty far into my year in Ecuador.

A Few Additions

Speaking of that year in Ecuador, there’s one more source of Spanish language that I’ve been exploring.

I happen to still have the first-ever iPod that I owned, one that I got right before I left the country for that year of studying abroad.

I absolutely love listening to the music that I collected during my year studying abroad in Ecuador.

While I was in Ecuador and traveling around South America, I collected a bunch of music and put it on that iPod. After returning to the states, I chose to not add any new music to it. So it’s become a time capsule of sorts, reminding me of that year abroad.

That music has been fun to listen to, not only because that’s an enjoyable way to test your comprehension skills, but also because I’ve got some specific memories connected to the songs that I’m listening to.

So I feel like that listening experience takes me back to that year and those places that I visited, where I first really learned Spanish.

One final piece to my overall study plan falls not on the consumption side but on the creation side: I’m starting to do a bit of journaling each day in Spanish.

To make sure that I’m practicing my speaking skills and not just my comprehension skills, I do a bit of journaling in Spanish each day.

That is a very different skill compared to just listening to and understanding Spanish.

It’s also harder on my brain, so to not be too overwhelmed by that task, I’m shooting for just a paragraph a day, where I describe something that happened yesterday or earlier today.

So that’s my overall plan for getting ready for my 10-day trip!

I’m dedicating about 30 minutes to an hour each day to this particular learning project.

So far at least, I’m feeling really good about how it’s going and I think it’s going to help me get the most out of this travel experience.

What Language are You Learning?

If you are in the process of learning a new language (maybe in preparation for an upcoming trip of your own!), feel free to steal any of the techniques that I just described.

And if you’d like a fuller set of ideas about using the skill of sketchnoting to help you develop your language skills, then check out my course Learn a New Language with Sketchnotes:

Use the powerful combination of words and visuals to help you become fluent in a new language.

Throughout that course I share a bunch of activities that merge sketchnoting and language learning in fun and useful ways.

You can also check out our full course library here.

Good luck working on whatever language you’re learning!

Until next time,