Vocabulary is key to communicating in a foreign language. After all, you can probably muddle through with shaky grammar and a smile, but you’ll struggle to make yourself understood (or to understand what’s being said) without words!
So, how can we make the job of acquiring vocabulary easier? Each one of us learns in a different way. We all have our own strengths and preferences when it comes to learning, so it makes sense to tailor our approach to our own skill set and maximise our chances of success. Whether you’re a pen and paper aficionado or glued to your tech, have a read through the suggestions below and see what appeals!
A quick Google will reveal numerous language learning apps, many of them free of charge in their basic form. Duolingo is one of the best known and most popular. Easy to download and use, Duolingo offers over 40 different languages. It engages learners through interactive exercises, quizzes and stories, and uses a unique algorithm to build content and provide personalised feedback.
Get some postcard-sized pieces of colourful card. Write the English word (or draw a picture of the word) on one side and the target language word on the other. Start by trying to recognise the target language words and when you’re confident, swap over. You can even colour code your cards with one colour for verbs, one for nouns etc. Or try the Quizlet app if you enjoy working on your phone!
Make your own and stick them up around your home or buy commercially produced sets, printed to match exam board vocab lists. Some students even stick them on their bedroom walls, so they can ritualistically recite them first thing in the morning, and last thing at night!
We all love a mind map! Mind maps are particularly popular revision tools as they make content easily accessible, whilst usefully grouping information together. You can doodle some topic-based mind maps and build up your vocabulary by adding synonyms, antonyms and other associated words as you come across them.
Organise your vocab in topic areas. Make a list of your top 10 words for each topic; the act of writing them down will help you commit them to memory. Then try making up meaningful phrases or sentences, maybe including a couple of the words in each sentence.
Lots of students are visual learners. If this sounds like you, you should take advantage of great visual resources such as colourfully themed posters designed completely in the target language. Add a few to your study area. Subconsciously, you’ll start to recognise and acquire the vocab. Always utilise revision tools which best aid your own learning style.
The Open University has an impressive number of free online language courses, ranging from the usual GCSE choices to less studied options such as Gaelic and Tamil. Check them out here and enjoy building up your vocab! You might also think about subscribing to a “word of the day” feed to your inbox – available in foreign languages as well as English. And then there’s “news in slow” where you can build up your vocabulary in context by following news items in Spanish, French, Italian and German. Available in a range of levels from beginners to advanced, key word translations are included and lots of additional activities are available too.
Live the Language
Download a recipe in the target language, listen to music or buy a magazine. Watch a film or play a game such as Scrabble with any foreign language word allowed. Effortless language acquisition!
Hopefully, one or more of the suggestions above will enthuse you in your pursuit of new vocabulary. If you’d like more insight into language learning in general, have a read of our blog “What makes a good language learner” here - and if you think the support of a private tutor will help, just get in touch with the team at Titanium Tutors here and we’ll be only pleased to help!
Blog Post Crafted by Sue
Sue co-manages our Admin Team, and has a strong school teaching background.
Sue graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Italian and Latin from the University of Hull and subsequently completed an MA in Language Teaching while teaching at Westholme Upper School in Lancashire (where she also set up the Italian Department). As well as her passion for languages and ancient history, Sue loves discovering new countries and cultures. She completed the London Marathon in 2012 and keeps intending to lace up her running shoes again!