wikiHow to Learn Vocabulary in a Foreign Language

Three Methods:Finding New VocabularyMemorizing a Vocabulary List with Flash CardsMemorizing A Vocabulary List with Excel

Learning vocabulary doesn't have to be painful! Breeze through foreign language vocabulary tests and know words for life. This lesson includes a method of memorising that uses spreadsheets, an alternative to cumbersome flashcards. Key strategies are repeated self-testing, making meaningful connections, and using words in context.

Method 1
Finding New Vocabulary

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    Find an interesting book or magazine in your target language. If possible, buy the magazine or book rather than borrow. This way, you will be able to write in the book as you read.
    • Also have a reliable dictionary and thesaurus available in the target language.
    • If you want, you can do this with a newspaper article, TV show, or movie instead.
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    Begin reading. Any words that you don't know should be highlighted. If you are borrowing the book or magazine and can't highlight, try to circle or underline the word with pencil so that you can erase later.
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    Note new words. After each chapter or article, write words you do not understand on a piece of paper. The words will be easy to find because you have them highlighted or underlined.
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    Look up meanings. Before starting the next chapter or article, look up each word in your inventory with the dictionary. Highlight the word in the dictionary. Then, write down the definition next to the word.
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    Find synonyms. After you have defined and highlighted each word from the dictionary, get out the thesaurus or synonym book. Look up each word and note its synonyms and antonyms. This will enrich your vocabulary, allowing you to express one word in many ways. Write the most relevant synonyms next to the entry in your notebook.
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    Repeat with each chapter in your book. If it's a magazine, do this with each article. If it's a short book, try to separate it into every 10 pages or so.
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    Study your index in the notebook everyday. Keep doing this until you have master the vocabulary. You will be surprised by how many new words become highlighted in your dictionary by the end of just one book!

Method 2
Memorizing a Vocabulary List with Flash Cards

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    Get out your list of vocabulary and definitions. Carefully copy down each word onto one side of a flashcard.
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    Write the definitions. On the blank sides of the cards, write the definitions and/or English translations of your vocabulary.
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    Quiz yourself! Look at the word on each flashcard and try to remember the definition and/or translation. Once you can do that comfortably, look at the English translations/definitions and try to remember the word!
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    Continue until you are comfortable with all the words. Then, try to work them into your everyday conversations as much as possible to ensure you don't forget them.

Method 3
Memorizing A Vocabulary List with Excel

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    Create a new spreadsheet in Excel. You can also use a different spreadsheet program if desired. You will be using three columns. Label them "Foreign Word," "English Translation," and "Test"
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    Enter the foreign words. Type your list of foreign words into the 1st column, with one word per cell.
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    Enter the English words. Type the English translation of the word into the 2nd column.
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    Test yourself as you write in the English words. Make connections between the English word and the foreign word. The connections you make can be:
    • by sound eg. imagine a MESS on the MESA ("table" in Spanish) or
    • by meaning eg. DOMestic things have to do with one's home ("DOMUS" in Latin, дом in Russian)
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    Make the foreign word invisible. Select the text in the 1st column containing the foreign word and convert the text colour to white so you can no longer see the list.
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    Test yourself. Look at each word in the second column. In the 3rd column, write down the foreign word without referring to your notes.
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    Check your answers. Reconvert the colour of the 1st (foreign) column to black. Check your answers in the 3rd column against the original list in the 1st column.
    • If there are errors, highlight the corresponding English translation of the word in red.
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    Repeat steps 5 to 9 again, going through the whole list once more.
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    Unhighlight as you go. If you start to be able to consistently get a word right, unhighlight it.
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    Repeat until there is no red left. You can stop quizzing yourself on the words you know you can get right and just focus on the hard ones.
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    Test yourself once more when you know all the words. This time, imagine the word in a foreign sentence and imagine the scene. eg. "le chat est sur la chaise" ("the cat is on the chair" in French)
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    Print the vocabulary list and incorporate the new words into your writing and speaking tasks.
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    Say the foreign word in your mind or aloud when you see the object or read about it in English.
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    Revise your lists regularly.
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    Write words out in colour, it will help you to remember them

Tips

  • Using the words in spoken conversation is the best practice as it is active and spontaneous.
  • Use the most difficult words the most often.
  • If relevant, include the preposition that goes with the verb.
  • Don't just learn vocabulary in set lists, but also identify words unknown to you in reading and listening tasks.
  • Use Mnemonics (memory aids) to help you learn vocabulary, that might otherwise be difficult to remember. Learning by association makes vocabulary retention significantly easier. For example, in Spanish, the word for "expensive" is "caro". To remember this word, you could manage a huge expensive car parked in the middle of your street stuffed full of money.
  • Group your vocabulary in categories.
  • Learn phrases and idioms as a whole; put them in a single cell. eg. "j'en ai marre" ("I've had enough" in French)
  • For gendered nouns, imagine the object in blue, pink or grey for masculine, feminine and neuter. eg. "le chien" (French) - The dog.

Warnings

  • When making connections, beware of false friends. These are words that sound similar to English words, but mean different things. eg. "actuel" in French is not "actual", but "current".

Article Info

Categories: Multiple Language Guides