Methods for Learning Vocabulary

Vocabulary is an important part of language. Unfortunately, memorization of long vocabulary lists can be boring, tedious, and ineffective for many people. Although some people have no trouble memorizing vocabulary lists, others struggle to retain a single word. There are several popular methods for learning vocabulary, and if you are learning a new language, one or more of them may be right for you.

Flash cards have long been the most popular way to learn vocabulary. Bookstores sell flash card sets for many languages, but they may not meet your particular needs. Why not make your own flash cards? The standard method is to use 3×5 index cards, either whole or cut into smaller pieces. You can also cut sheets of paper into small pieces to make your flash cards. When you have the appropriate size, write the word or phrase you need to learn on one side. The other side will have one of two things: the word in your native language or a picture of what the word represents. Once you have your flash cards, you can go through them alone or with a partner, alternating which side you see. For example, if you are learning numbers in Spanish, one day you will see the word “ocho” and the next day you will see the numeral “8.” This will teach you to produce the word and to know what it means when you see it.

Another good method for learning new vocabulary is to study the words in logical groups. For example, study the terms for different foods, countries, parts of the body, or parts of a building. This will help you associate them with their group and remember their meanings more easily.

When you study your vocabulary list, use each word or phrase in a sentence. This will help reinforce the meaning of each one.

Try language programs that will let you hear how each word should sound. In the past, language tapes and even vinyl records were the norm, but now there are compact discs and computer programs to help you study. This method is especially helpful if you are studying on your own and do not hear the language spoken in person.

Reading is a terrific way to learn new words. Whenever you read something, write down any unfamiliar terms in a notebook. Use the context to try to figure out what each unfamiliar term means; then, when you’re ready, look up the meaning and write it down next to the term. Never assume that you’ve guessed the correct meaning, because you don’t want to learn the wrong definition. In another week or two, go back to your list and see whether you still know the meaning. If you’ve forgotten, add it to your current list of words to study.

Knowing the etymology of a word is an important way to guess its meaning. Look for clues within the word. If you know that “bio” means “life” and that the suffix “-logy” refers to the study of something, you can surmise that biology is the study of life.

If you have a textbook, do all the exercises it provides. There are also online worksheets, games, and puzzles to help you learn new vocabulary.

Learning vocabulary can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. If you are learning a new language, it is important to find out what methods work for you.


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