How to Learn Spanish Using Cat Photos

If you can't land a Spanish significant other who motivates you to learn the language, then check out these Spanish-speaking cats.

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Finally, there’s an app for people who think they are too busy watching cat videos to learn a language.

CatAcademy, now available in iOS app stores worldwide, uses memorable cat photos from “I Can Has Cheezburger” to help Spanish language learners memorize vocabulary words. In a nutshell, the app uses a lot of multiple choice tests, which show cat photos with Spanish phrases underneath and require users to select the correct English definition.

“Buenos dìas” (“Good morning” in English) is illustrated with a cat reading a newspaper like a grown-up, “tengo hambre” (“I’m hungry”) with a cat sitting at a table in front of a sandwich, and “¿qué pasa?” (What’s up?) with a cat lying next to a flip phone with its mouth open. Then users translate the phrases under the pictures from English to Spanish and do a matching section, where there are four cat photos, and users have to tap the one that best illustrates a Spanish word or phrase. All of the exercises are repeated to help the terms stick.

(MORE: Grumpy Cat Is Not Impressed by TIME’s Photo Shoot)

“By associating the phrase with the cat photo, you store a visual memory to go alongside the sound of the word that helps you remember it, so when the phrase comes to mind, so does the image and all of the positive emotions around it,” said co-founder Ed Cooke, a Grandmaster of Memory, who co-founded the UK-based online learning platform Memrise with Princeton neuroscientist Greg Detre. “Our theory is that cuteness enhances cognitive function, helps you pay attention, relax, and then form a vivid memory.”


That concept jibes with research in Japan — home of the ultimate cat phenomenons like Hello Kitty and Maru — that shows how cute animal pictures may help people focus and do more accurate work more quickly. For example, in Oct. 2012, TIME reported on a Hiroshima University study that showed participants who viewed photos of baby animals, specifically kittens and puppies, played the board game Operation better than the players who did not see those images, leading the authors to conclude: “perceiving cuteness not only improves fine motor skills but also increases perceptual carefulness” and that cute objects may “induce careful behavioral tendencies” in “specific situations, such as driving and office work.”

So cat videos may not be productivity killers after all!

MORE: These New Yorkers Spent Their Friday Night Watching Cat Videos — Together