A must-have tool for learning vocabulary.

Whenever I get a new student, one thing I always recommend is cue cards. Cue cards are an extremely useful tool when learning languages, and I use them myself all the time. They play an indispensable role in memorising new vocabulary.

In my 3 Minute Languages courses, each lesson gives you a handful of new words and phrases, and then you get the opportunity to practise them by putting them into sentences. To aid the learning process and to make the new words into memories more quickly, what you can do is get some cue cards. You can find cue cards in most stationery shops or even online, however, if you can’t find any, just cut up some pieces of paper into smallish rectangles and they’ll do the same job.

After each lesson, grab a cue card and write down any new words you have learnt. You should do this in a very specific way. For effective memorisation, you should write the new words in English down the middle of one side of the cue card, then turn it over and write the words in French (or whichever language you’re learning) down the middle of the other side.

If you look at the picture below, you can see what the cue card for the first 3 Minute Spanish lesson would look like.

The reason you should write the English on one side and the other language on the other side is so that, when you practise, you can read through the words on the English side and try to guess the French words. For example, if you see “fantastic”, then you can think, “fantastique”.

In the full 3 Minute Languages: Course 1, there are nine lessons, so you will have nine cue cards filled with words and phrases. You should look at these cue cards every day for just a few minutes. Only ever look at the English side and try and guess the words in your new language. Only turn it over if you really can’t think of the foreign word. It will help to embed the new words and phrases in your mind.

Obviously, going through the words on the cue cards isn’t going to take more than a few seconds, so what you can also do is build a few sentences in your mind for each word you come across. For example, if you come to the word “good”, you can try and say things like “it is good”, “it is always very good here” or “it isn’t very good”. Say these sentences out loud (if nobody is around!) to help get your tongue around the language. It will make it much easier for you when you actually come to use the words and phrases in a real life situation.

So, cue cards are a great way to memorise the new words and phrases you get from each lesson. Look at them every day, only look at the English side and try to guess the other language, and try and build a few sentences that you could use for each word.

What if I still can’t remember the words?

Sometimes, even with the cue cards, there will be one or two (or maybe three or four!) words that just won’t stick in your head, no matter what you do! Don’t worry; it’s perfectly normal, but there is something you can do about it. Read my next article, “Words that just won’t stick in your brain” to find out more.


  • Kieran Ball

    Foreign language teacher and creator of 3 Minute Languages

    Hello, bonjour, hola, hallo, ciao and olá! I’m Kieran and I’m a language tutor based in the UK, and I also create online courses and write books to make language learning accessible to all. My books and online courses are based on the methodology I developed for teaching languages, which I've been using in all my classes for many years. The methodology will get you speaking quickly, without the struggle normally associated with language learning. I’ll not bore you with my life story or intricate details of the history of the methodology; I know you probably just want to start learning now, so I’ll let you get on with it. I have created three series of language courses available in French, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese. They're called: '3 Minute Languages', 'Building Structures' and 'Quick Guides'. 3 Minute Languages The 3 Minute Languages courses are perfect for the complete beginner. They will get you speaking a language from scratch, assuming you know absolutely nothing. You will be amazed at how quickly you’re able to put sentences together. And you will memorise new words and phrases easily without even trying. Click the links below to access the 3 Minute Languages courses: 3 Minute French - Course 1 | Course 2 | Course 3 | Course 4 3 Minute Spanish - Course 1 | Course 2 | Course 3 | Course 4 3 Minute Italian - Course 1 | Course 2 | Course 3 | Course 4 3 Minute German - Course 1 | Course 2 | Course 3 | Course 4 3 Minute Portuguese - Course 1 | Course 2 | Course 3   Building Structures The Building Structures courses are a revolutionary way to look at foreign language acquisition; you will learn how any language can be broken down into around fifteen structures. Each course focuses on a different structure, and you will learn how to form it, make it negative and turn it into a question. Each structure gives you a huge amount to say, and once you’ve learnt all fifteen structures, you will know everything about the language. All you have to do is fill in the gaps with words to form a sentence. These courses are for students who are slightly familiar with the language, and what to boost their progress. Click the links below to access the Building Structures courses: Building Structures in French - Structure 1 | Structure 2 | Structure 3 Building Structures in Spanish - Structure 1 | Structure 2 | Structure 3 Building Structures in Italian - Structure 1 | Structure 2 Building Structures in German - Structure 1 | Structure 2 | Structure 3   Quick Guides The Quick Guides are grammar guides. I recommend these for students who have already been learning the language, and would like to accelerate your learning. The Quick Guides are perfect for anybody who wants an in-depth look at a specific grammar point within the language. Click the links below to access the Quick Guides courses: French - Verbs 1 Spanish - Verbs 1 German - Verbs 1   I've also created one extra course focusing on English grammar for speakers of other languages: Fly Through English - Verb Tenses I hope you enjoy, and "Happy Learning" :-)   Kieran   In other news, my 3 Minute Languages courses have made the list for 2018 "Best Online Courses" by the company "Online Courses Review" Thank you for all your support :-)