By Paola Pascual on Aug 27, 2019 6:35:00 AM
What is the best way to learn vocabulary? How can I remember new words? What can I do to expand my vocabulary?
If you've ever asked any of the questions above, you’re definitely in the right place, since you'll get an answer to all of them. I’ve seen these techniques work with hundreds of students from multiple nationalities for over ten years now, so make a note!
Learning new English vocabulary - Where do I start?
Order matters. Many textbooks and courses start with basics like “the/a/an”, prepositions, and the difference between “much” and “many”. These are, no doubt, things you need to know, but does it make sense to start from there? If you ask me, I’ll say No.
When you learn a language, I assume that you want to sound natural. Then why not look at how babies learn a language naturally in the first place? Babies start learning some nouns (water, mom, dad, milk, dog, cup), then they add some verbs (want, like, eat), and from there they start adding pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, etc. A 5-year-old can, in most cases, communicate fluently without knowing correct prepositions or the difference between “much” and “many”, or even never hearing what irregular verbs are. What they do is use songs to remember and repeat after adults and, at some point, they end up getting it right, just like you did.
My point? Go back to that learning process.
- Start with nouns and verbs and then fill the gaps.
- Repeat after native speakers.
Also, remember that your brain is incredibly elastic. The more you do, the more you remember. So don’t be scared of getting overwhelmed and immerse yourself in the language!
Where can I find new vocabulary to learn?
Living in the country is, as you’ve probably heard before, the fastest and probably most effective way to learn a language. That, and finding yourself a boyfriend/girlfriend from that country. But let’s be honest, these are not for everyone, and some learners don’t have that choice.
If that’s your case, use these:
- TED Talks. Find topics you’re interested in, learn about new things, and pick the vocabulary that you didn’t know before. Use the transcript to find words that you don’t know and write them down.
- Articles. If you’re interested in current affairs, read the BBC, The Guardian, CNN or any other newspaper that you like. The Atlantic and Fast Company also share engaging content. Find a blog about your passion, be it cooking, biking, IT, traveling or DIY, and read it regularly.
- Books. Try to find books that you like but also according to your level of English.
- An English course. A professional teacher will guide you based on your needs and interests and will help you learn all the vocabulary and skills that you need.
- Life. If you can’t move to a different country, then surround yourself with as much English as possible - texting with a native-speaker, going to international events, having all your apps in English and watching movies and series in English are just some examples that will help you achieve your goals.
Regardless of what materials you use, write down the words you’re not familiar with, and memorize them with the techniques below.
How can I remember new vocabulary?
Follow the following techniques to get those new words to stick forever. We’ll use English learning as an example, but you can apply these techniques to any other language you want to learn.
#1 Choose what you need to learn, forget the rest
To learn a language, you have to make it relevant to your life. Select the words and examples that you will actually use in your life. Pick practical vocabulary and discard words that you know you will never use.
Did you know? If you learn the most frequent 3,000 words in English, you’ll be able to speak and understand 90% of what a native speaker says on any given day.
So be efficient, identify the most common words that you will keep saying all the time and you’re more than halfway there!
#2 Use what you already know
Relate new terms with what you already know. This will help you remember faster and for much longer.
Regardless of how new a word sounds, you can always embed it in a known and familiar situation. For example, if you want to remember the words ramble, fruitful, and in a nutshell, put them all together in a sentence and make the situation familiar to you. Imagine your own boss just talking and talking and talking about his latest trip, and how that made the meeting unproductive.
“In a nutshell, the meeting was not very fruitful because the CEO started to ramble on about his trip to Ecuador.”
#3 Learn in blocks
Memorizing words in isolation is very difficult. Instead, learn them in a block or a sentence. Similarly to strategy #2, this technique will help you remember things by association. This is particularly useful for prepositions and collocations in general.
Example 1: 'responsible'
Is it responsible of? Responsible for? With? Learn it in a sentence that is also relevant to you. > I am responsible for the flower arrangements.
Example 2: 'on the ball'
Maybe you understand that this means “to be aware and quick to respond to new ideas and methods”, but how do you use it in a sentence? Imagine your team is very awake today and working efficiently: Everyone’s on the ball today!
At the beginning, you might need a teacher to learn how to put new words into blocks. If
#4 Repeat until it’s stuck forever
I am tempted to say that this is the holy grail of all memorization techniques: spaced repetition. The goal is to repeat the terms and review them until they’ve reached your long-term memory. According to several studies, it seems it takes between 10 and 20 repetitions to make a new word part of your vocabulary.
For maximum effectiveness, repeat the word withing the first 24 hours, on day 3, day 6, day 10, and, then every 2 weeks until you feel it is part of your vocabulary. Set up alarms and add it to your calendar if necessary.
Calendar example: Monday 1st - Wednesday 3rd - Saturday 6th - Wednesday 10th, Wednesday 24th, and so on.
Ebbinghaus, a German psychiatrist, discovered that if new information is reviewed at precise time intervals, it will become less and less easy to forget since this information will have made it into long-term memory, and you’ll likely remember it forever.
#5 Record your new words
Make a journal and add new words as you come up with them. I tend to like digital journals because it’s easier to find words and you can delete the ones that you already know, but it’s a matter of preference!
My favorite way of creating my personal dictionary is through Quizlet. Here, you can use already-made flashcards, but I advise you to create your own. It also includes games, learning activities and flashcards to help you remember new words.
This list, for example, includes terms and phrases commonly used at business meetings.
#6 Visualize your new words
This is what we naturally do when we read a book - even though you only see words, your mind creates an imaginary world and we see pictures, scenes, and entire stories in your mind.
Do the same when learning a language! Put those words into a story and visualize it. If we take the words we previously used - ramble, fruitful, in a nutshell -, put together a little story (“In a nutshell, the meeting was not very fruitful because the CEO started to ramble on about his trip to Ecuador.”) Then, imagine the situation actually happening.
You can also use pictures in your journal and flashcards, just like in this Office vocabulary set.
#7 Use. The. Words.
Use your new words in meaningful human conversation and communication. You know, it’s even funny - the first time you use a word can be a bit nerve-racking (Am I using this word correctly? Will they understand what I mean? What if it’s the wrong pronunciation?), but the moment it works, oh, it’s so rewarding!
Any time you get the chance, use your new words in conversation, texting friends, with your speaking teacher, with colleagues, on a status update on Facebook… Just find an excuse to do so!
Become obsessed with the language, make it your own, visualize, and repeat! These are only some techniques, but there are many others - like using music and lyrics to remember better!
Talaera offers English courses focused on business communication. Lots of our learners have already applied these techniques and they are currently reaping the benefits. If you are interested in knowing more, get in touch and we’ll tell you all about it!
Talaera is an online platform that provides one-on-one English language training, anytime, anywhere, with 100% personalized lessons, HD video quality, and qualified teachers that will help you achieve your learning goals.
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