Even if you have the most accomplished grasp of the English language, there are probably still times that you hear or read a word and think, ‘Huh?’ But that is okay – it is always good to learn something new, so we hope you are not too hard on yourself when that happens.
However, this inevitable occurrence becomes multiplied many times over when you are learning a new language. While reading in a new language is inevitably going to get easier with time and practice, it can be very frustrating to see unknown words and spend half your reading time trawling through a language dictionary!
Tripping up on vocabulary is a part of the language-learning journey, but there are ways to minimise your pain. This article introduces some of the more effective vocabulary-building techniques that you can use to boost your vocabulary before you hit peak frustration levels!
Follow Your Own Lead
We are all different, and we learn in different ways. So, the first thing you may want to figure out is how you learn best – do you prefer to listen, read, speak or write to get a firm grip on a new language?
Whichever technique you prefer, it is likely to indicate how you prefer to learn – whether by listening, watching or doing. If you have a clear preference, try taking that path to help build your vocabulary.
Here are some examples of ways you can work with your learning preferences:
- Listening (audio): If hearing the words makes all the difference to you, try listening to foreign language radio, watching foreign language films or tuning in to foreign language podcasts.
- Watching (visual): Reading books and magazines, or navigating the news stories and videos from a foreign language website, may help you to get a handle on your chosen language. Watching foreign language films may help a little here too, because you can listen to the dialogue while benefitting from the instant translation provided by the subtitles. You could even try watching an English language film with the subtitles of your choice.
- Doing (taking action): Try holding conversations or writing a letter in a foreign language to build your vocabulary. Other tips including sticking notes or labels on objects around the house (so you can learn the words for kitchen, bathroom, door, table and so on) or drawing pictures on flashcards to represent more abstract concepts (such as peace and love) or living creatures (yes, it is always wise not to put a sticky note on your cat!).
You have probably noticed that some of these tips cross over a little – for example, watching a film could appeal to all three learning preferences (you are watching and listening, while also taking action by choosing to watch the film, which may in itself be memorable). The main tip here is to discover what works for you and to be open to trying new things.
Marvel at the Power of Spaced Repetition
‘Spaced repetition’ is simply an effective way of using flashcards to reinforce learning. Rather than having a pile of flashcards that you plough through whenever you think to do so, you can use the spaced repetition approach to strategically time your studies, as well as make the most of your available learning time.
A simple approach to spaced repetition could have, say, five piles of flashcards (or five compartments in a box, perhaps, if that works for you). As you go through your flashcards, put the ones that you answer correctly into the second pile (for example, you have the word ‘dog’, or a drawing of a dog, on the front of the card, and you correctly guess that the German word for dog is ‘Hund’, which is written on the back of the card). The second pile is then filled with correctly answered cards, which you can then revisit later in the week, moving the correct answers again to the next pile, until you have five piles, where the final pile has been correctly answered several times and should therefore be reinforced in your mind. You can keep adding new cards to the first pile as you develop your skills, and you can also refresh your memory of the cards in the other piles, including pile five, on a regular basis (and when you get an answer wrong, you can simply send the card back to pile one). Over time, your vocabulary will gradually build, full of words that have been repeated and reinforced to strengthen your brain’s connection with the word.
Cramming for exams is not a fool-proof solution, as the brain has only loose connections to this form of last-minute learning. In the same way, trying to learn fifty words a day is going to fall flat pretty fast. Spaced repetition provides you with a way to gradually build your depth of knowledge, making it perfect for learning vocabulary as you increase your familiarity with a new language.
Learning a language can be a challenge, but there are ways to make it fun – and spaced repetition can help you build a positive connection to the words and phrases that will develop your understanding. To find out more about learning a new language in these changing times, contact us today. We can work with you to create a training programme that considers your learning preferences and works with your schedule.