Vocabulary Supports Foreign Language Learning

By OptiLingo • 6 minute read

Do You Need to Study Vocabulary to Gain Fluency?

Language learners dread studying vocabulary. It’s usually the first thing that comes to people’s minds when discussing the journey to language fluency. But it doesn’t have to be a bad experience. You can succeed if you make learning vocabulary in another language fun and engaging.

The truth is that traditional ways of learning vocabulary can hurt your progress. Cramming, drilling, and boring memorization will never work. The trick is knowing how to study vocabulary so that it supports your goal of attaining foreign language fluency.

Learn How the Brain Remembers

The first part of learning how to remember better vocabulary is to understand how the brain remembers. Your brain is highly adaptive. It’s always trying to figure out how to optimize your life by filtering out information that doesn’t have any relevance to you. At the same time, when it realizes that it needs to learn information to function, it adapts to support memory.

The process is very similar to how muscles work and grow. The more you bench press, the more your body adapts to the weight and builds muscle fibers to improve. When you first start working out, you can often end up sore for days after the gym. However, after a time, your body adapts and acclimates to the stress. It takes more and more to push you to that limit. The same is true with your memory.

Learning to remember is a skill that takes time to fine-tune and grow. The key to making this happen successfully is persistence. The more you stick with it, the easier it becomes over time and the more you can increase the difficulty. If you want to develop your vocabulary, then you need to expose yourself to new words often. Your brain will adapt, and you’ll more easily remember.

learning vocabulary in another language can be daunting

Learning Vocabulary Through Context

Many people think that knowing the definition of a word means understanding it, but that’s not necessarily true. You can easily see this when someone asks you to explain the meaning of certain words in your native language that you don’t regularly use. You may struggle to remember or explain what they mean, even though you know the meaning.

Meaning comes, however, when we put the word in a sentence or phrase. Think of the word, “uncanny.” The definition might not come to mind. However, when you put the word in a phrase, “she had an uncanny resemblance to…” you understand the overall meaning. And if you don’t, you can use the context clues to understand what the word means.

This is what we’re aiming for when we’re learning new vocabulary in another language. You want to either know the definition or be able to figure out what the word means because of the context clues and prior exposure to it.

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What Can You Do to Learn New Vocabulary in Another Language Effectively?

On the road to foreign language learning, you’ll need to adapt skills for effective vocabulary building. The key word here is effective. Raw rehearsal, endless drilling , doesn’t work for long-term memory storage. In fact, it can hurt your progress. Luckily, this isn’t your only option. Follow these strategies when learning new vocabulary words in another language to make sure they stick.

  • Keep a List: You can’t learn new words if you don’t remember the ones you don’t know. Keep a running list that you can add to, so you know where you need to improve.
  • Chunking: When you memorize your phone, social security, or license plate number, you typically break it up into smaller groups. This is called chunking. When you chunk vocabulary words together, you combine similar words and use the relationships to remember the words.
  • Learn Phrases: Instead of learning a word by itself, learn it through exposure to phrases. Phrases are easier to remember. And because they consist of multiple words, you’ll rapidly develop your vocabulary faster.
  • Read More: Once you have a decent foundation of the language, you’ll find that reading in your target language will rapidly improve your vocabulary. The extra exposure helps.
  • Write More: Again, when you write, you’re using the words that you’ve learned. There’s also a physical component here for tactile learners. You can write simple definitions, sentences, emails, or even blog posts in your target language to help develop and retain your vocabulary.
  • Repeat: The more you do something, the better you get at it. Keep in mind, however, that mindlessly repeating the same definition out loud in a 20-minute time span will not help you remember. You need to interact with the words. Talk about them. Think about them. Analyze them.
  • Spaced Repetition System (SRS): Increase the time between previous lessons and review to force your brain to recall information. This strategy helps guide memories into long-term storage.
  • Look for Patterns: Certain types of words have specific characteristics to them. When linguists talk about learning 100s of words a day, realize that they count each variation of the word. For instance, if you know “sad,” you can easily learn, “sadden, sadly, and sadness.”
  • Exposure: The more time you spend reading, writing, talking, and listening in your target language, the easier it will be for you to retain more vocabulary.
  • Shut Down Distractions: Remove any distractions when you’re studying. If you listen to music, make sure it’s only instrumental. You’ll have a tough time trying to learn in your target language while lyrics in your native language play in the background.
  • Be an Active Learner: If you want to learn more words, you’re going to have to pay attention to the words. If you start to tune out what you’re trying to learn, then it won’t stick in your head.

learning vocabulary in another language can be difficult

Don’t Be Frustrated If You Can’t Remember

The mind works like a muscle. Learning new words and recalling them is a skill that needs development. Revisiting and remembering is the best way to learn something. This is okay. The fact that you’re attempting to make progress towards your goal is what matters.

What also helps is choosing a great program that supports fluency. With a language learning program like Optilingo, you won’t waste time on strategies that don’t work. Instead, you’ll follow a proven path towards foreign language fluency.