If you’re a fan of vexillology, or the study of the history, symbolism and usage of flags, then you might be interested in learning how to identify all the flags of the world. Which means you have to learn a lot of flags. 197 to be exact. And some of them basically look the same. If parsing out every single flag when you probably only know a handful seems like a daunting task–it is. But it is not impossible, especially with the right tips and tricks in your toolbelt. So here’s how to learn all the flags of the world.
Some Flags Will Just Give You a Bad Time
Honestly, before anything happens, you should know that some flags will just give you a horrible time. By some flags, we mean Chad and Romania, whose differences are basically only perceptible if you pull up the hexadecimal codes of their colors. The hexadecimal code for Chad’s blue is #00205B while Romania’s #002B7F, by the way.
|Flag of Chad||Flag of Romania|
The flag of the Netherlands and the flag of Luxembourg are similar too–featuring red, white, and blue stripes in the same, descending order. Luxembourg’s blue is a lot more cyan than the Netherland’s, making it a lot easier to identify. You won’t need hexadecimal codes and department store color-pickers.
Like the former two, Monaco and Indonesia feature the same red and white pattern, with different enough reds for you to parse out (one is closer to a maroon). Working in your favor with Monaco and Indonesia are their dimensions, though. Indonesia’s flag is actually supposed to be wider when flown–with a 2:3 height to width ratio. Monaco’s is 4:5. With that nugget in mind, you should be able to tell these two apart immediately.
|Flag of the Netherlands||Flag of Luxembourg|
Further Reading: Countries with Similar Flags | Commonly Confused Flags
Mirrors and Color-Swaps
The flags of Ireland and Ivory Coast are so similar that the World Indoor Championship once forgot Ivory Coast’s flag. But it was okay because Ivory Coast’s gold medal winner was able to just pick up Ireland’s flag and flip it around. There was also that time Canada forgot the difference between the flags of Belgium and Germany.
For flags that are basically just mirrors or color-swaps of one another, it might be helpful to just learn one. You’ll get the other one because it will become “the other one” when you have to identify it. For example, the flags of Poland and Monaco look like each other, but one is upside down. Pick one (like Monaco) and you’ll just know Poland as “Monaco but upside down.”
|Flag of Monaco||Flag of Poland|
Understanding Coats of Arms
This kind of kicks the can down the road, but learning coats of arms will help you learn flags. Many flags are differentiated almost solely by their coats of arms! Examples include Andorra and Moldova, or Croatia and Paraguay. Coats of arms almost always feature distinct national symbols to a country–ones that are often far more distinct than stripes of various colors.
The flag of Ecuador, for example, features its coat of arms in the center. Their coat of arms prominently features a condor, their national animal. It also features the historical mountain, Chimborazo.
Other flags are only separated because one has a coat of arms (or other symbol) and the other doesn’t. The flag of Mexico would look almost identical to Italy’s but for the coat of arms in its center. Canada’s flag would look just like Peru’s but for the maple leaf.
|Flag of Italy||Flag of Mexico|
Using Context Clues
We have essentially been featuring ways to “chunk” flags as a means of making them easier to learn. You can also use vexillology to learn flags too–IE learning the history behind flags to group them together. Some flags feature common colors with common symbolism. Many Arab flags feature Pan-Arab colors (red, black, white, and green). While used independently prior to 1916, the Flag of the Arab Revolt brought all these colors together. The red, white, and black tricolor featured on the flags of Egypt, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen are derived from the Arab Liberation Flag in the 1950s.
Central American flags commonly feature the two blue stripes. They often represent the sky or the ocean while referencing the Federal Republic of Central America. Nordic countries feature a cross–for Christianity.
Other common symbols include the Union Jack–whose symbolism you can boil down to “the British Empire tried to own them for a while.” Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Tuvalu all feature the Union Jack. They’re also all in the Oceanic region, so you can chunk them by geography too. The United Kingdom’s flag just is the Union Jack, but that was a given.
(Sidebar, but the state of Hawaii’s flag also features the Union Jack. We know we’re dealing with national flags here, but it’s funny.)
Further reading: What is the Union Jack and Why Do We Call It That?
Mnemonic Devices To Help Learn the Flags of the World
If you’re not feeling history for your mnemonic devices, you could always just come up with your own… stereotypes? You know, there’s a maple leaf on Canada’s flag because of all the maple syrup. Things like that. Just… maybe keep them to yourself if they’re significantly more offensive than the old Canada and maple syrup joke.
Or use the chaos of your mind, you can watch Derek and Matt come up with a mnemonic device for Myanmar in real-time here.
“Myanmar with a star. Myanmar with a star? Yeah, maybe?”
Ultimately, mnemonic devices are pretty specific to the person, and you should be careful to not end up confusing yourself even more. At the end of the day, you’ll have to stick with whatever you find works best for you.
The final challenge for knowing all the flags is right here.