How to learn vocabulary
Foreign language vocabulary building can be one of the more
tedious aspects of learning a language. Fortunately, there are
various methods you can use to speed the process up, or at least
to add a little spice.
Before beginning to learn foreign words, there is one point that
is often overlooked and this is that words should be divided
into two categories. Words that you want to be able to use and
words that you just want to recognize. It is often said that 90
% of language is composed of 3000 or so commonly used words, but
what is less often pointed out is that the other 10 % are pretty
much endless. As a foreigner learning a second language the
words that you want to use generally fall within the first 90 %.
The others, by and large, just need to be recognized.
So now, armed with two categories, lets look at some ways to
The most obvious way of learning vocabulary is by making a
vocabulary list and learning it. Its easy to write a list of
words and doesn't require much thought.
Not very subtle.
One thing (to remember) about learning and memory is that it is
easier to retain language (and anything else) when active
learning is involved. Organize your vocabulary list. Don't just
write it. Put the words into an order that makes sense to you.
(Active learning). It is also easier to learn words by category,
so group words by category e.g. animals, fruit etc.
In many languages different words have different genders.
French, Italian and Spanish have masculine and feminine. German
has masculine, feminine and neuter. As an aid to learning the
gender of words try organizing vocabulary lists by gender.
Associate an English word with the foreign word you need to
learn. For example, hortus is the Latin word for garden. Not
very memorable in itself, but if you associate it with tortoise
(because they rhyme) which lives in the garden, this mnemonic
will help you remember the word.
The difficulty with using word association and lists as
vocabulary learning tools is that they do not help you use the
word. This is because they don't give you any idea as to the
context in which it should be used. The word will not
necessarily spring to mind when you need it either.
Write words you are trying to learn on everyday items. This is
an easy way to expand your vocabulary. All you need to do is
glance at the writing every time you use the item. So not only
have you associated the word with the object, something that a
straight vocabulary list does not do, but you are more likely to
remember it when you need it.
Learn complete sentences
A very good way of vocabulary building is to acquire vocabulary
by learning sentences. It is often easier to learn a complete
sentence than the individual words contained . There is the
added bonus that you have an example of the word being used.
Latin has so many pithy little expressions that it seems
appropriate to use one to illustrate this.
Magna est veritas et praevalet great is truth and it prevails
Learning this sentence, you learn five words, and it is much
easier to do this than learn the words individually. The same is
true for French, Italian, Spanish etc. Pick a sentence which
illustrates a point for you, look up the words and memorize it.
The downside of learning sentences to improve vocabulary is that
this will not necessarily give you the gender of the words you
are learning. These will need to be learnt separately.
No method of learning vocabulary is perfect. Each has its
strengths and weaknesses. The surest bet is to use a combination
of them all.
Still interested in learning vocabulary ? Visit