Via Studiousbees.tumblr.com: Study Tips- Vocab
So you’re learning all this great, useful grammar, you’re feeling good about it, you go to chat with a language exchange partner or write a journal about your day and… you realize that you need to look up so many words to express what you want to say. Or, you’re trying to read an article online or a book and realize that there are so many words you don’t know that you’re spending more time with the dictionary than with what you’re actually reading!
If this sounds like you, you have a vocab problem, and I was definitely in that same spot before. I’ve personally found grammar easier to remember than vocabulary, especially once you start getting into advanced vocab that isn’t used often in day-to-day conversation. Here are some ways to boost your vocabulary:
1. Flashcards (spaced repetition)
Flashcards are a great tool for remembering words that you have encountered. You can make physical cards—in fact, the physical act of writing them might help you remember them better than just tapping at a keyboard—or you can make digital cards. The spaced repetition model of electronic flashcards is so widespread that you have many options. Before I get into specific programs and options, let’s talk about what exactly “spaced repetition” means.
The spaced repetition model is one in which new cards are shown more frequently, and the more often you get them correct, the longer and longer the intervals at which they appear for you to practice become. The concept is that you need to see a word more often at the beginning to get it into your long-term memory and then you can encounter it at longer and longer intervals just for refreshing. If you get a word incorrect, it will start to appear at shorter intervals again. Pretty simple, right? Anyway, here are some digital options:
- Anki- If you want a more customizable experience in terms of types of cards you can make, Anki might be for you. Tinkering with all of the options can be a little confusing, but if you just want basic flashcards, those are easily done. Through syncing with the Ankiweb system, you can access your cards from your computer, your phone, anywhere! You can make your own card lists or use lists that others have made.
- Memrise is another spaced repetition flashcard model, perhaps the most popular on the web right now. I’ve used it on and off (recently on!) for years, and I generally like it. Especially now that you can set daily goals and have a streak counter for the number of consecutive days you meet that goal, those of you who feel low motivation to study every day but can’t pass up even the most minor of challenges might like this. There are different modes of study, with “Learning” being where you first encounter words, “Review” being where you review words that are up for study, and a “Speed Quiz” mode for when you want to do quick review. You can make your own courses or use ones that are already on the site. You can use the Memrise website or the app to study so you can get in your vocab review at home or on the go.
- Quizlet- Quizlet is another flashcard site, but I don’t think it’s spaced repetition…? I honestly don’t remember since I haven’t used it in so long. I remember I did like it for studying Korean vocab and content from other classes as well before I got into Anki and Memrise. Quizlet is also available on both desktop and mobile.
- For Mandarin learners—the reader apps Du Chinese and Decipher both have vocab list functions that work on the spaced repetition model 🙂
A word of warning (or I guess just a recommendation?) I have for you all is when using flashcards, be they physical or digital, make your own cards and don’t use someone else’s! With premade lists, you sometimes get vague definitions (or incorrect definitions) that don’t cover the full meaning of the word, leaving you with only part of the picture. Also, since the words are just being presented as a list that you had no part in making, there might be words you already know, words that are too hard or easy for you… the list of problems goes on. Some people like using lists others have made, but I am not one of them and I strongly recommend making your own.
So you have flashcards made (your own list, not someone else’s) and you study them, but you still can’t remember them! In this case, your problem might be a lack of context. Human speech and communication does not happen in a vacuum—there is some sort of context to everything we do and say that helps us and others understand things better. This is important when studying as well. An important part of knowing a word and remembering it is being able to remember it when the context asks for it, and to use it in that context. I highly recommend writing sentences with each word you review. Whenever I finish a round of Memrise, for example, I write down each word I studied and then write a sentence using each one. It takes more time, but I find I can remember those less common words more easily since I’m making the extra effort to use them in context.
3. Building vocabulary- Read, read, read!
A great way to build your vocabulary in any language is to read! Writing tends to use more varied words and expressions than we use in daily speech, so you can learn a lot from reading. I already talked a bit about reading practice and the importance of things like choosing material that is just slightly above your level so you don’t get swamped with too many new words and just end up reading the dictionary the whole time. Make sure you pick and choose which new words are really worth learning when you read—will you really need all of those extra descriptive words and onomatopoeia? Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to learn all of the unfamiliar words you come across. Just choose the ones that seem most important to the meaning of the whole and work from there.
4. Vocabulary exercise books
There are some textbooks that focus just on presenting vocabulary lists in different categories, and they sometimes have activities and exercises to help your practice those new words. I have a few, but I honestly don’t use them much… again, the whole thing about using pre-made lists! I prefer to pick up words to study more organically, as I happen upon them in my textbooks, conversations, while watching TV, etc. but these kinds of books might be very helpful to others!