Improve Your Vocabulary in Any Foreign Language

Tested tips for learning to remember new words and phrases in any new language.
You must have wondered how some people learn foreign languages so quickly. It is very nice and useful to learn a new language as it opens many new possibilities. However, many people have difficulties in learning new words, especially in a foreign language.

Remembering these words is even more difficult. Acquired vocabulary is practically useless unless the words learned can be recalled and used. Here are some suggestions for learning new foreign language words and retaining them. These suggestions work for any language.

You have to learn to recall words, phrases and structure as well as ascribe meaning before you can become skilful at reproducing language like other users. To do this you need to provide a label, function, association, similarity, difference and multiple meaning for vocabulary words.

Research in how people learn languages, has repeatedly proved the following to be true:

  • You’ll remember something you’ve discovered on your own!
  • Now, how are you going to make that happen?
  • You can use four basic techniques to increase your vocabulary retention.

Discover Significance of New Words

As you see or hear a new word or phrase, imagine it as a challenge, a mystery waiting to be solved. So before running to the dictionary to check the meaning of the exact phrase in your mother tongue

  • Try to discover its meaning from the context – e.g. Underhand. The words Under and Hand suggest something to you. In this way you can work out the meaning of the whole term. But remember to check.
  • Try to guess its meaning from the structure of the word – it may contain familiar elements – e.g. Take the word transnational. If you find out the meaning of the parts national and trans, theycould give you some idea what the word could mean.
  • Try to discover the origin of the word – knowing how the word came into usage can be very helpful for remembering itA little warning here – as soon as you have a theory as to what some particular word, phrase or expression might mean, check from the dictionary or a teacher to make sure you get the right meaning. Phrasal verbs in English are very treacherous and could lead you off into a totally wrong track, so always double-check them.

Make Associations: Relate New Information to Material Already Learned

When you come across a new word while reading, listening or work activities don’t rush straight for the dictionary. If you look up a word from the dictionary and even understand it correctly the information goes to the short-term memory area in your brain. This area is what the name says, short term. If you try to recall that word after a few days, there is a high probability that you cannot remember it. The aim in learning vocabulary is to connect this new word or phrase to your long-term memory. This is best achieved through tiny hooks called associations.

Take the following example. Many people have problems remembering the difference between “borrow” and “lend”. Make a simple association – if you lend money to someone, it is the “end” of your money, as you’ll never see it again. Thus “lend” leads to “end”. If you have created a strong and unique association special for you, there is a very good chance that you will never forget this new word or phrase.

Make Word Lists

Many people have used this technique successfully to increase vocabulary retention and learn new words and phrases.

Compile lists of new words as follows:

  1. Divide a page into two columns and write the foreign language word on one side with a corresponding word in your mother tongue on the other column.
  2. Start a new sheet for each topic area e.g. One sheet for vocabulary related to sports, another for economy etc.
  3. Use color (highlight pens) in your lists: e.g. All verbs in red, nouns in blue, adjectives in green etc., so that when you think of the word later you will remember its colour and this will help you use it correctly. Don’t make a mile long list, but a fairly short one. Then go to the next activity.

Word List Activity

Cover up one column on your list and work your way down testing yourself, first from the foreign language to the definition or the equivalent in your mother tongue and then reverse the process. You can have fun by working with a friend to test each other.

Take words from your list and write 3 different sentences in the target language using each word to illustrate its meaning. Make them humorous or even outright silly if possible. Then read them aloud to get the feel.

Remember a very important rule:

You’ll remember words better from the context you use them in!

If you have a memory association for that particular word, the better are your chances for remembering it through that memory.

After using these techniques, you will start noticing improvement in your vocabulary retention in a matter of weeks. I learnt one of the most challenging languages, Finnish and a very delightful language, Italian in a few months using the above methods.