Expanding vocabulary is probably one of the most important tasks of language learning. Words are the single slightest component of any language. To carry on a conversation, an average language learner needs to know more than 3000 words. For a deeper understanding, a vocabulary of around 8000 to 10000 is necessary.
But if you are just like most language learners, learning vocabulary can be a true headache, right? You encounter new words every day and make notes of them, but they just seem to keep falling out of your head.
Knowing a lot of vocabulary can surely help you speak and write with ease in your target language. It not only helps you express yourself more accurately, but also brings you insights into other cultures that comes with practical benefits.
In this article, we’ll introduce several tried and tested methods to help you expand vocabulary fast and effectively. No matter you are good at memorizing or not, I’m sure you’ll find a useful strategy after reading.
Relevancy here refers to both the relevancy between the words you learn and the relevancy between the words and situation.
Increasing the relevancy of words you learn together can help you gain a deeper impression. This can be done by grouping related words together. For example, make use of synonyms and antonyms. Cluster related words together so you can create a connection between them in your mind, which facilitates recalling.
The second relevancy means making the words meaningful to you. Language by nature are symbols that possess meaning. When you learn words and phrases in natural surroundings (like lyrics!), you understand them on a deeper, semantic level. Don’t know where to start? Check out our list of 600 + most used words in any language.
This is why learning in context is important. Old methods like pasting stickers on furnitures actually works because it puts language learning in real-life contexts. You can also find a context you find interesting or passionate about, like a hobby, and combine it with language learning.
Memorize phrases, not just words
Linked to the previous learning in context method is a more practical, and tested method of learning words in chunks. Numerous studies have shown that human brains retain words better in small ‘chunks’(short phrases that combine several words) and ‘scripts’ (like dialogues).
For example, ‘to come up with an idea’ is way easier to remember, and more useful, than simply ‘to come up with’. It’s like a ready-made piece of a conversation puzzle, helping you speak more naturally and fluently.
Use language apps
Learning vocabulary involves a lot of repetition. Nothing is better than language apps when it comes to reinforcing vocabulary in a fun, game-like setting?
LingoDeer is an app that helps you learn vocabulary, grammar, sentences, and more in a fun and interactive way. With structurally designed lessons, new vocabulary is introduced gradually and reviewed regularly. What’s more helpful are features like native speaker audio throughout the lessons and flashcards tailored for reviewing key vocabulary. Simply by downloading LingoDeer app, you can learn languages wherever and whenever you are.
Spice things up with fun games
Speaking of gamified learning experiences like language apps, it’s unfair if I don’t mention traditional language games. Crosswords, bingo, hangman, etc. are all tailored for reviewing vocabulary. Vocabulary learning doesn’t have to be reading the dictionary page by page or repeating boring word lists one after another. Check out our other post on language learning games for more fun ideas.
Use flashcards and spaced repetition
Some of the methods we mentioned above are actually based on old-school flashcards and spaced repetition. They are classical, useful, and effective vocab learning methods for a reason.
Simply jot down new words on one side and their meanings (and example sentences) on another. Then revise them on day 1, day 3, day 7, 21, 30, 60. This way every new word gets its fair share of attention without overwhelming you, while at the same time, the repetition helps you maximize memorizing efforts.
Note: you can use Anki to do this as well. Anki is a powerful software that has a built-in spaced repetition system and allows you to customize your own flashcards.
Dig into etymology
When you look up a new word in the dictionary, pay attention to its root, suffixes, and prefixes. For example, the prefix ‘re-’ in English means ‘again’ as in many words like ‘react’, ‘regain’ and ‘redo’. It’s the same with other languages.
Etymology also helps you understand the history and root of the words. For example, knowing that ‘astronaut’ comes from the Greek words for ‘star’ and ‘sailor’ not only makes it easier to remember but also more fascinating.
Recommended reading: Japanese words in English
Read out loud and write it down
This is another old-school method that just works, especially for those who enjoy auditory and hands-on learning.
When you read out loud a word, multiple senses are engaged, etching the words further into your memory. When you write down a new word, especially writing it in a sentence, the meaning and spelling of the word are reinforced in your memory.
Reading and writing is a simple and effective combo. And it can be done almost anywhere. Give it a try!
Boost Your Memory with Mnemonics
What about visual learners? Try to boost your vocabulary with mnemonics.
Mnemonics are simple memory tricks, like creating a mental image or linking the new word to a familiar one. This can strengthen the connection between the word and the meaning. For example, remember ‘melancholy’ as “Melon + collie” and ‘plethora’ as “pleather + aura”.
Mnemonics is especially suitable for remembering spelling.You can simply find some mnemonics charts online or challenge yourself to make some of your own.