What are the best ways to study vocabulary?

Emma stands at the bus stop and watches a middle-aged woman tapping desperately on the touchscreen of the public transport ticket machine. Finally, the woman approaches Emma and asks her if she speaks French, and if she could help her with the ticket. Emma’s eyes light up. Yes! Finally an opportunity to practice French outside of her language course! Emma wants to ask the woman whether she has a Half Fare Travelcard and where exactly she wants to go, but she suddenly realises that she does not remember or know the right words. Emma is angry with herself – she really should study vocabulary more often.

All of us have experienced situations like this, have we not? They show that learning grammar is not everything. In fact, learning vocabulary is a crucial part of learning a foreign language. In the best case, you learn new words without formal instruction, for example in everyday communication. Sometimes, however, you cannot avoid studying vocabulary. Having said that, studying vocabulary does not have to be a boring task. Fortunately, there are many different strategies and techniques for learning vocabulary, and certainly there is also one that works best for you.

In this blog post, I want to show you some of these strategies and techniques. In the end, you will find some general tips and tricks that may help you study vocabulary.

The classy way: flashcards

We probably all remember them from our school days: the classic, physical flashcards. The great thing about this method is that you can design the cards individually. For instance, use different colours or make little drawings next to the words. Although this method may be a bit time-consuming, do not forget that you already memorise the words when you write them down by hand.

Digital flashcards

Of course, you can also study vocabulary with digital flashcards. Digital flashcards have the big advantage that you always have them with you. Apps and programmes also offer numerous ways to study the flashcards in a fun way. Examples of such apps are Quizlet and AnkiApp. Other advantages of digital flashcards are that you can edit them at any time, share them with other learners and save paper.

Personal vocabulary booklet

Certainly, you pick up new words all the time: in your language course, in books or newspapers, in song lyrics or films. Write them down! A particularly nice way to do this is to keep a booklet in which you enter the new words. Make sure you do not write the German translation next to the words but paraphrase them in the language that you are learning. Another helpful idea is to use mind maps: What other words come to your mind? Which verbs, nouns, adjectives? You could also try to write down a single sentence containing all new words at the end of each page. Do you succeed?

Vocabulary lists or books

If you prefer learning with existing books, it is best to get a vocabulary builder. In such books, the words are usually ordered by topic, and for each word there is an example sentence or even grammatical information.

Final tips and tricks

I hope that the overview of some of the vocabulary learning methods has already motivated you to study. In the following, you will find some final tips and tricks that help you study and, hopefully, guarantee long-term success.

  • What is certainly true for all methods is that it is more effective to learn vocabulary in small amounts rather than in large quantities.
  • Also, how regularly you study vocabulary will certainly affect your learning.
  • Do not learn the words in isolation, but link them, make connections, for example to a lesson or dialogue in a film.
  • Do you learn vocabulary best by seeing the words in front of you? Can you memorise them better if you say them out loud or if you listen to them as audio? Or are you more the visual type who imagines things or makes little drawings next to the words? Do you learn better on the move? Find out what makes sense for you
  • And most importantly, apply what you have learned in everyday life. Do not be afraid to speak, even if you are still a beginner. Practice makes perfect.

Do you have any other recommendations? What are your personal vocabulary learning strategies? What helps you, what does not? I would love to read about your experiences in the comments.

You can read more about learning methods in the blog post Make the most out of your language lessons with these learning methods. And if you are interested in how to write a good summary, it is worth reading the blog post How to Write a Good Summary.

Nelly Müller – Sprachen Akademie

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