Help Me Learn Geography
June 16, 2011 5:55 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn geography. Not looking for an expansive knowledge of the subject -- just basically knowing the location of all the world's countries and perhaps their capitals. This site looks very useful but looking for any additional input mefites might have. Any suggestions?
posted by gilast to Education (22 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I learned most of the countries in the world by playing a Risk-like computer game which used most of the real countries in the world. I missed out on many very small ones, and I'm still convinced that Czechoslovakia is one country (it was a 1980s game), but it really helped. Nothing like conquering/defending from a country to remember where they are.

You could also try "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" which is more educational (since you learn something about the countries, too).
posted by jb at 6:05 PM on June 16, 2011

This thread may be of interest.
posted by smithsmith at 6:10 PM on June 16, 2011

Playing the geography games on Sporcle has helped me a lot.
posted by katemonster at 6:15 PM on June 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

If you time to devote you may be interested in UC Berkeley Webcasts. The class is World Regions, Peoples, and States. I have listened to the first 3 lectures and during the first lecture the instructor informed the class that they would learn and be able to identify regions, countries, cities, landmarks, etc. on the globe.
posted by Fairchild at 6:20 PM on June 16, 2011

I learned all the countries of Africa by posting a map in front of my toilet.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 6:21 PM on June 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

Sporcle, the bain of my productivity may be your friend here.
posted by astapasta24 at 6:22 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

National Geographic's Geography Games for Kids and (not Nat. Geo.) Geosense.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:38 PM on June 16, 2011

I learned the locations of all the countries in Africa by playing one of those children's games online where you have to name the country (or drag the country to its location on the map). In fact I've done that a few times, because after a few weeks I completely forget them, except for the ones that I learned some specific fact or piece of history about. So I'd recommend reading more about modern history in different regions. That way you'll learn not only where different countries are, but the historical/geological sources of their borders.
posted by telegraph at 6:42 PM on June 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for the answers you have provided. I am going to check out all the sites you linked and all the advice you gave! Great job!
posted by gilast at 7:10 PM on June 16, 2011

posted by kiltedtaco at 8:08 PM on June 16, 2011

Second katemonster. About a year ago I wanted to do the exact same thing you're talking about in the post, and sporcle was phenomenally helpful.

The tests by continent were particularly helpful for me.
posted by graphnerd at 8:21 PM on June 16, 2011

I am in love with NASA's Blue Marble. It's not so good for rote memorization, but for exploring and discovering stuff it's amazing.

My method: Get the topographic & bathymetric shading version (scroll down) in the biggest size your computer can handle. Open it up full screen, 100% pixels. Open Google Maps and Wikipedia in the background. Optional: If you indulge in any recreational substances, do so at this point. And just... look at it. Do not zoom in/out, just pan around. Wow, man.

Soon you'll be discovering interesting little details. It is fundamentally different from Google Maps because it's not a hodgepodge of different sat pictures that obscure terrain detail. Also you're not confused by zoom levels. Soon you'll be recognizing different spots of the world.

When you discover something intriguing, hop over to Google Maps/Wikipedia and try to figure out what it is. This is how I discovered that the capitals of the two Congos, Kinshasa and Brazzaville, are across the river from each other. There's also a big, weird and apparently empty river island between them.

Also, the most amazing thing: in Africa there's a huge river that does not flow to the sea — it just ends up in a desert. It does not go underground, but straight up spreads and dries out. Botswana and Namibia are fighting for its water.
posted by Tom-B at 8:33 PM on June 16, 2011

I have a shower curtain with a map of the world on it. It faces into the shower, not out into the bathroom. It's pretty simple: country outlines + capitols, mostly.

Sometimes I quiz myself while I'm shampooing my hair. What countries start with the letter K? Can I name the countries in South America in alphabetical order? How many island nations of the South Pacific can I name before I've washed the shampoo out of my hair?
posted by Elly Vortex at 8:38 PM on June 16, 2011

I think it depends on your learning style. No form of rote memorisation or list making or software games or (enjoyable!) encyclopaedia browsing helped me. I only learned the geography of the US when my much younger sister got a wooden puzzle of North America with each state as a piece, so I was something like 14 or 15 by then. Whatever (poor) sense of world geography I have, I initially gained from the shower curtain everyone else is referencing.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:53 PM on June 16, 2011

I love Sporcle -- it's great for most flashcard-style quizzes -- but it kind of fails at geography games. They just don't do the visuals well -- their Countries of the World quiz, for instance, covers each named country with a big label until you can't even see the map, and most of the rest are list-based.

A much better one, IMHO, is's Countries of the World quiz. Each country is highlighted as you type its name, and there's a handy list of countries by continent updated below so you can see what you've missed so far.

If you want to drill down to specific continents, another great site is They have map quizzes for each continent; each one presents a stylish map and asks you to click a given country. You get three chances until it marks the correct one for you (it also briefly identifies the wrong one that you clicked). The countries are colored according to how many tries it took for you to find it.

Here are some of their geography games:

US States
Canadian Provinces
Central/South America

Lots more here.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:41 PM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Get a world map, put it up on the wall, use your favourite mnemonic strategies. Emerge with knowledge of world countries and capitals. Discover that many countries have more than one capital! Discover which international borders are disputed! Enjoy. :)
posted by bardophile at 12:24 AM on June 17, 2011

Buy a globe.
posted by txmon at 7:11 AM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with the people above who said (essentially) "get a map and look at it." Quiz sites and educational lectures are alright, I guess, but there's no substitute for just exploring with your mind. BACK IN MY DAY, when we didn't have the intertubes (and I actually had an attention span), I'd page through an atlas for hours. I'd flip to a random page, close my eyes and touch a spot with my finger. Then I'd go to the encyclopedia and look up that place. Libraries are still fabulous for this since large atlases can be fantastically expensive.

Nowadays, I spent a not-insignificant amount of time on Google StreetView, which won't directly help you with your capitals, but will help you get a feel for a place. Use the zoom in/out feature liberally to see how locations relate to one another. Perhaps have the CIA Factbook or Wikipedia open in another tab so that you can get a sense of how one place's demographics compare to another's. This site lets you directly compare the sizes of one place to another on a map - for example, I've often driven from Milwaukee to Chicago, which is roughly the same distance as London to Bristol, Amsterdam to Antwerp, or Karachi to Hyderabad.

I loooove talking about geography and maps so if you have any questions or want to know how to find something, please feel free to memail me.
posted by desjardins at 8:22 AM on June 17, 2011

This may just be my own learning style, or maybe I found rote memorization too easy, but I've always favored using history -- including historical atlases -- and the current news to bolster my geographic skills. It helps me to know how the map used to look, in other words, as much as how it looks now. Build a habit of reading a news story every day from the World section and pull up Wikipedia, the CIA, or your other reference of choice on the countries involved. Link the facts and figures to a narrative understanding, in other words.
posted by dhartung at 11:52 AM on June 17, 2011

Seconding buying a globe. For my learning style, it was essential for really getting the relationships among oceans, seas, islands, continents, and countries correct.
posted by hworth at 12:18 PM on June 17, 2011

This is a rather long-term strategy, but it's fun and effective and you can do it along with whatever else. If you read for pleasure, choose your books based on the goal of reading a book from (or about) every country. When you spend a book-length amount of time and attention immersed in a good story set in a particular place, you're apt to set it in your memory a lot more solidly than by just trying to memorize stuff. Memoirs and historical fiction work really well for this.
posted by Corvid at 1:03 PM on June 17, 2011

Response by poster: I once again want to thank everyone for the responses! Really thought provoking and I see that you all have come up with some really creative ways to learn the countries. I couldn't have come up with this breadth of ideas if I had spent a year on it! Thanks again -- I really appreciate it.
posted by gilast at 3:53 PM on June 17, 2011

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