When trying to learn simple vocabulary in a manner similar to that suggested by Fluent Forever, I find that I have difficulties learning to spell words correctly with or without tildes.

I've been using the method suggested by Gabriel Wyner's book Fluent Forever to learn simple vocabulary. That is, I take a target word, add an image, and a pronunciation, and have cards that test whether I can produce a word given a picture, whether I can remember the meaning when given a word, and whether I can spell the word given the pronunciation. He doesn't advocate learning spelling with a separate card when learning an "easy" language or when you've already learnt other languages, but I'm a bit more cautious. I've also used his pronunciation trainers, with mixed results: 91% of the cards are mature by Anki standards, while I've got 7% suspended and 2% are young or learn.

Amongst the vocabulary I'm learning, the biggest challenge I've had is correctly spelling words with or without an acute accent. Looking at a deck of all Spanish cards I have, many (but not all) of the worst cards in terms of number of lapses are to do with spelling and the presence or absence of a tilde:

veintiséis, lápiz, película, azúcar, estantería, nariz, dieciséis, ayudáis, número, historia, latinoamérica, tócate, veintidós, maíz

My assumption is that I'm not able to hear the difference between a vowel pronounced with an accent (including those that don't need an accent mark because they're naturally accented), and those which are pronounced without an accent.

Maybe minimal pairs would help, but I don't seem to find minimal pairs for this.

How can I get better at learning how to spell Spanish words with or without an acute accent?

  • 1
    @ChristopheStrobbe: All kinds of accent marks are called "tildes" in Spanish.
    – sumelic
    May 21, 2019 at 3:08
  • 3
    @sumelic I studied linguistics. A tilde is ~. The usage you refer to may be common among non-linguists in Spain but it is misleading in an international context.
    – Tsundoku
    May 21, 2019 at 10:07

2 Answers 2


The way you are learning spelling is not very productive in my opinion. When possible, you should tackle spelling in a formal systematic way because it covers far too many words, all of the language actually. To understand this, take English for example. Just imagine if there were no spelling lessons and we had to learn the patterns sort of how you are learning Spanish. We'd grow senile and probably would make spelling errors every day. Spanish is much more consistent and you can learn all the rules in just a day, but if you are doing as you are it's going to take more time than it should.

There are some nice Spanish orthography books out there. I recommend the following if you aim for depth and Google sites if you just wish to know the rules.


  • 1
    This is a fairly generic answer. I tried googling, as you suggested, and the results I got didn't address my problem. For example, if I googled "spanish spelling rules accents", I got sites like this one which explained how to pronounce a word that doesn't have accents, and gave examples of words that had accents added, and how to type accents, but doesn't address how to tell if a word will be spelt "lápiz" or "lapiz", or how to train your ear to hear the difference between the two.
    – Golden Cuy
    May 25, 2019 at 6:32
  • Sorry, I guess you're right. Portuguese accent rules are actually very simple too but you can't find a truly comprehensible guide on the internet. Forget Google then and focus on orthography and grammar books. If you don't want to read a whole book on the matter right now, postpone the study but I strongly advise you to read if you wish to learn Spanish well. May 25, 2019 at 15:24

Since writing this question, spelling has become less of an issue.

When reading passages out loud, I’ve become confident enough to go beyond pronouncing individual letters correctly, and I’m focusing on stressing the correct syllable, and also maintaining the flow of the sentence. I think that having a focus on this means that when I listen to individual words in Anki, I know which syllable ought to be stressed, and I can hear how that syllable sounds different to other syllables.

Learning the entirety of how pronunciation in Spanish works helps. I wasn’t taught about strong and weak vowels in my classes, which meant that when I listened to the word “aerolínea”, I recognised the stress in the word on “lí”, but not that the “ea” was two syllables, which meant “lí” was the third last syllable and therefore needed an accent mark to indicate that it was the stressed syllable.

Learning about how stress works for “dieci”-something and “veinti”-something numbers, and how words ending with “z” don’t behave stress-wise like words that end with “s” helped.

To remediate a word with poor spelling, I sometimes create new flashcards for it and suspend the existing flashcards. I suspect that a bad spelling isn’t merely associated with the word in general, but with a specific flashcard.

Unfortunately, I’m still struggling with telling if a word ends in “ía” or with “ia”. I ended up asking Knowing whether to spell a word -ía or -ia, and I've got a good answer there.

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