6 Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary (In a Foreign Language)
In my opinion, the most IMPORTANT part of learning a new language is vocabulary. I know a lot of people disagree with this, but think about it; if you’re lost in a foreign country, will knowing the preterite verb endings help you, or will being able to string together “where is the airport” help you? Anyways, I hope you enjoy and learn from this list of my top 6 ways to improve your vocabulary in a foreign language.
1. Watch movies and TV
This is my favorite way to pick up new words! The easiest way to use this method is to simply watch TV shows and movies. If you pay attention, you will quickly pick up words that you see on the TV screen, using either context clues or seeing the visual image. This is also a great way to pick up new vocabulary words because it will stick in your mind more than a simple vocab list because you will remember what was happening in the show or movie when the word was first said, which means you’ll have a visual aid to remember it by!
The second, and in my opinion a better way to learn new words is to make flash cards of words you didn’t quite understand while you watched the show or movie. Like I said in the paragraph above, you will have a visual aid to remember the word by, but you also have flash cards to study off of. You can do it the good ol’ fashion way and keep a stack of index cards nearby while you watch, or you could use one of the websites/applications I’m about to mention 😉
PS… you could use this same method with video games
2. Use Quizlet
By now, I think everyone’s used Quizlet. If you haven’t, you need to! It’s an app and website you can use to create flashcards. You can use them as simple flashcards, play games for memorizing the words, or you can even use their “write” function to type out the words until you memorize them (my favorite way to use Quizlet). The best part is that there are THOUSANDS of pre-made flashcard decks on Quizlet, for almost anything you could possibly think of! I have a personal Quizlet account with TONS of flashcards that I update often. The best part about Quizlet is that it’s completely free! There is a paid subscription where you get benefits like no ads and advanced flashcard customization options, but I haven’t tried it out yet so I have nothing to say about it.
3. Use Spaced Repetition
In my opinion, this is the BEST way to grind out learning vocabulary, and the least time-consuming option! What is spaced repetition, you might ask? Spaced repetition is a way of learning that takes advantage of your brain’s schedule for forgetting words. Basically, on day 1 of starting a new vocabulary list, you will learn the words. Once they’re memorized, the spaced repetition system will wait a couple days before telling you to review them again, because it is right before you’re about to forget those words. As time goes on, you will review the words less and less because they will be ingrained in your memory! There are tons of spaced repetition systems online, but here are the two I recommend:
Anki is probably the most well-known SRS out there! It’s an open sourced, completely free spaced repetition flashcard program, and is particularly popular among pre-med students and language learners. You get TONS of options to customize your flashcards, including making notes, adding audio, and adding pictures! One of the best parts about Anki is that there are THOUSANDS of Anki decks made by others that are free to use.
Memrise is another incredibly popular SRS. It’s free to use on the computer and there is an app for Android and IOS. While it’s free, there is a premium version. I haven’t personally used the premium version, but I know that it gives you more options to study like a listening skills mode and a difficult words mode.
Using Memrise, you can create your own courses. use official courses created by Memrise itself, or you can use courses created by other community members. There are official courses many languages including Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Japanese, and Swedish. And although it’s mainly a language learning app, there are lots of courses for other subjects too!
4. Talk More
This is something I think is SO helpful to do! Now, it might not make a lot of sense to just talk more to increase your vocabulary, but hear me out. When you talk more, you will QUICKLY realize what is missing in your vocabulary. For example, when I started to talk and think more in Spanish, I realized I didn’t even know what the word for table was! I was shocked by how many simple words I was missing from my vocabulary. It’s so easy to skip out on learning simple, everyday words!
What I do and personally recommend is, whenever you talk to someone in your foreign language (or even text them), write down and make a vocabulary list out of every word you have to look up. That way, you will quickly fill in gaps in your vocabulary!
5. Use Pictures
When people start learning a foreign language, they often translate it into their native language (in their head). This isn’t good to do because it often sounds choppy, and it slows down the natural flow of speech. While it’s hard to start to stop translating in your head, this method is a good way to start associating words in your target language with pictures and the actual meaning instead of the meaning in your native language.
To start associating words in your target language with the actual meaning, start by making flashcards. Instead of having the word in your target language on one side and the word in your native language on the other side, have the word in your target language on one side and a picture on the other side. This will force your brain into associating the word with the picture, instead of the word with the meaning in your native language. Overall, this method will help you think in your foreign language, and help you speak more on-the-spot and rapidly!
6. Read More
Finally, my last bit of advice for you is to start reading more in your target language. This is similar to my advice for talking more. Basically, when you are reading in your target language, write down every word you aren’t exactly sure of the meaning of and make a vocabulary list out of it later. This is ESPECIALLY good because you can get a lot of advanced and specific vocabulary words, making it perfect for more advanced language learners. For example, if you read Jurassic Park in your target language, you will have to look up lots of words for dinosaurs!
That’s all for now! I hope you took something from this list. Good luck learning lots of new words!
PS… Sorry for the short break without posting. I’ve been really busy with school and redoing the whole look of my blog! I really hope you like the new theme, I think it looks good! 🙂
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