Learning new vocabulary is one of the big reasons why people look for a language exchange partner. When you practice with a conversation exchange, you get exposed to the most natural and useful words in your target language. For most people though, learning new vocabulary isn’t an easy task! Time and time again, we hear that this is one of the biggest struggles when learning a new language. It’s one thing to hear a word in conversation; quite another to confidently use it again elsewhere. And no-one wants to spend hours and hours learning things by rote. It does take a lot of work to learn new words, but it doesn’t have to be boring!
An important first step to take is to find out what kind of learner you are. Do you respond best to images, sounds, explanations or movements? You’ll find this out by trying a variety of different techniques. To help you, we’ve pooled some of the most popular and interesting vocabulary learning methods out there. The techniques won’t work for everyone - but if you’re getting stuck, there are plenty of options here for trying something new! Here are some of the best techniques for helping you remember vocab:
Speaking is the fastest way to fluency. But getting the chance to speak a language is a challenge when you’re not living in the country. What if there was a way to befriend a native speaker and practice any time, any place, totally for free? Enter the Tandem app, where you can speak any language, anywhere.
Unless you are some kind of super genius, you aren’t going to learn hundreds of new words effectively every day. You also need to factor in time for reviewing previously learnt vocabulary So be realistic and set achievable goals every day. We’d suggest 10 words a day as a good starting point!
For most people, writing down new words in a logical, structured way is the first step to getting those words stuck in your brain. Traditionally this would have been a small notebook - ideally small enough to jot down any inspiration on the go. However, you might find your smartphone easier for recording and sorting words and phrases. Some people even use spreadsheets!
It can be tempting to write down everything with a direct translation, but it helps you to think in your target language if you avoid going back to your native one. Pictures are a good choice for visual learners as you start to associate the word with an image. Explanations in the target language give you another chance to think through the meaning and practice other vocabulary.
Flashcards are a tried and tested way to quickly review new vocabulary. It’s time intensive, but worth it for the ease of quick learning. Use lots of pictures (see above) and don’t put too much on one card. You want to be able to glance quickly at it and know exactly what the word refers to! To help you get started, find a vocabulary list with all the words you need to know for an upcoming test. If you want to use flashcards, but don't have so much time to spare, some language learning apps, including Lingodeer, have built-in flashcard functions to help you review words and phrases.
A list of random words is going to be confusing. Instead learn by association. If you speak with your Tandem partner on the topic of “food”, make sure you note all these words down in the same place. Then you will associate them all with the right thing.
Mnemonics are patterns that help you remember something by taking the first letters of the words you want to learn and creating a memorable word or phrase with them. They are perfectly suited to helping you learn vocabulary, as it is easier for the human brain to remember things that are relatable to their life. Another useful technique is to find linkwords, or words that have the same pronunciation in a known language as the target word, and then associate them visually with the target word.
A good way to practice using new words is by writing a story around them - but even better, try and learn vocabulary associated with your daily life so you can start to write a diary or blog in your target language. Get in the habit of writing a few times a week and you will soon notice how quickly your vocabulary expands.
It might seem a little boring, but keep practicing the same vocabulary with different people. Or even tell your Tandem partner that you want to keep trying on the same topic! You’ll notice you will remember a bit more every time! It can be a bit frustrating at first when you’re struggling to remember something, but when you forget it once you’re unlikely to ever forget it again. Learning vocabulary can feel like a massive challenge, but remember that you can’t become fluent overnight. So don’t be too hard on yourself, and enjoy experimenting with different methods until you find one that makes vocabulary learning a breeze.
Learn new vocabulary and make friends on Tandem! Download on Android or iOS.