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7 actionable tips to learn new vocabulary in your target language

Ah, vocabulary. The bane of my language learner existence. It seems that no matter how much I learn, there’s still a million more words to know. It’s a never ending cycle of memorisation. But after doing this for a fair few years and learning 3 languages, I’ve got some tips and methods for you to ease your pain. So, here’s 7 tips to help you learn vocabulary in your target language. Bear in mind that for the most effective routine, you should use multiple methods in conjunction with each other in order to fully learn new words.


For printable vocabulary templates, click here



  1. Separate your vocab and grammar notes

  2. Find a vocab specific resource

  3. Break it down

  4. Written repetition 

  5. Learn and use words in context

  6. Use flashcards and spaced repetition systems 

  7. Test yourself



1. Separate your vocab and grammar notes

If you make a lot of written notes, use separate notebooks or folders for vocab and grammar. This will make it a lot easier when it comes to review, and you can even turn them into references for later. If you’re using a main ‘all round’ textbook it can be  a good idea to divide the notebooks up by chapter, or if you’re focusing on a vocab specific textbook you can structure it by topic or usage. Depending on the methods you use, you may even want to use a couple of notebooks for vocab, or a main notebook for reference and some loose paper for written practice. 



2. Find a vocab specific resource

Try and find a resource specifically for vocab (besides a dictionary) to fill in any gaps in your main resource. This can be another textbook, or an online list or video course, whichever works best for you. It’s always advisable to supplement your main resource with something else so you don’t miss anything important, and you can find other explanations if you’re struggling. Frequency lists can help when you’re first starting out and there are plenty of textbooks on the market for pretty much any language. If you’ve got time, do some work from your vocab resource alongside your main resource to really cover your bases.


3. Break it down

Break down your studies so you're not overwhelming yourself with words to learn. 10-20 words a day is ideal, but obviously you can do more or less depending on what else you’ve got going on and your goals. Most vocab books will cover thousands of words, and there’s no realistic way you’ll learn them all in a week. Set yourself smaller goals to work through, you’ll be able to learn each word a lot more effectively if you spend more time on smaller chunks of words. A lot of textbooks will give you lists of vocab to learn, so try to learn them first before moving on to the rest of the chapter (you can read more about studying languages with textbooks here).



4. Written repetition

Written repetition can help you remember spellings, and saying the words out loud as you write them will help commit them to memory. It might be a bit boring, but writing things out can work especially when used with other methods. Some vocab books will even include audio, so you can listen and repeat as you write it out. Try to write each word out 10-15 times to really remember it, it doesn’t need to be neat as long as it’s helpful to you. You can even do this on scrap paper to throw away later, you just need to get used to writing the words and learn how they are spelled. 



5. Learn and use words in context

Rather than trying to memorise lists of words, write them in example sentences to get used to using and seeing them in context. Most textbooks will use the new words from the chapter in the example sentences, dialogues or reading passages. A lot of vocab books will also contain example sentences for most words. It’s also important to create your own sentences so you can get a feel for how to use the word. There may be practice questions for vocab, but a lot of textbooks focus more on grammar and the vocab textbooks tend to be more for reference, so making your own sentences is great for practice. Reading is also a great way to pick up new vocab in context, so if you haven’t already, try to find a reading book suitable for your level.



6. Use flashcards and spaced repetition systems

Flashcards and spaced repetition systems are great for helping solidify new words in your long term memory. To make revision easier, make flashcards for new words you encounter as you’re first learning them. Personally I prefer digital flashcards on Quizlet, but written flashcards are just as effective if you use them. Spaced repetition systems, whether you use an app like Anki or Memrise or your own system, will help you to keep words in your long term memory. The basic premise is that you will be shown a word just as you are about to forget it, and the next time you review it will be after a longer gap (apps will do this automatically). This is all based on the curve of forgetting, I could do a whole post about it so won’t go into too much detail here. Basically, it’s very effective!



7. Test yourself

Make sure you test yourself on spellings, readings and meanings every now and then to pick up on any areas or words you might be uncertain of. Quizlet has some great testing features, which is convenient since I put all my new vocab on there for flashcards. Don’t just do matching activities, try writing the words out and translate from one language to the other and vice versa. There’s lots of ways to test yourself, so try and use a variety of methods to really make sure you know each word you’ve studied. You don’t need to test yourself after every session, if you’re learning new words daily then having one day a week to test yourself on everything you’ve covered so far during that week will be more than enough. If there’s anything you struggle with, make that your focus to work on. If there are any words you really struggle with, carry them over to the next week and cover them again. 



So there you have it! 7 actionable tips to help you learn new vocabulary in your target language. If you have your own tips or methods for learning vocab, leave them in the comments!



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