Even if you’re great at comprehending new concepts, brute force memorization can be a part of the learning process that trips you up. That’s particularly true when it comes to learning a new language. There is a seemingly endless list of vocabulary words to memorize, and many of us can barely recall what we had for lunch two days ago.
But don’t let this discourage you; half the fun of learning lies in the challenge. There are a number of strategies you can try to make memorizing vocab words a little easier. We’ve compiled a few of our favorites below. Happy learning!
Choose Your Words Wisely
Focusing on words that are relevant to your life and your interests will make a big difference in how well you’re able to memorize them. Not only are you more likely to remember words that interest you, but you will also be limiting the enormous number of words in your new language to a much more manageable chunk.
Expert language learner Luca Lampariello told Babbel why he thinks word selection is so important:
As your vocabulary in a language grows, it becomes much more difficult to find more useful words to learn, let alone memorize them. In this phase, it is important that you focus on words that are useful and relevant to you — words applicable to your home life, your job, and your interests. This vocabulary forms the core of what I term personal fluency.
Associate Freely And Often
The best way to remember something is to assign meaning to it. Without context, words are just strings of letters that are extremely difficult to commit to memory. If you can associate the word with something you already know or something that you find interesting, however, it’s much more likely to stick in your brain.
Lampariello recommends linking several new words in a sentence to help create this context. For instance, if you’re learning the words for dog, cat, rain and sun, use them all in a sentence. The dog likes the sun, but the cat prefers rain. It may or may not be true, but it will almost certainly help you remember the vocabulary!
Set It In Stone (Or On Paper)
If you’ve ever taken a class at school, you’ve probably been told that taking notes is the best way to commit the material to memory. Writing down or recording yourself saying vocab words and their definitions will serve two purposes. First, it will help ingrain the words in your head, just like your high school history teacher said. Second, it will provide a study guide you can return to when you want to review the words you’ve already learned. Which brings us to the next tip…
Don’t Stop Reviewing
One of the most important parts of the learning process is reviewing the material at regular intervals. Refreshing your memory via spaced repetition helps send the vocab from your short-term to your long-term memory. In fact, this is a key component of the Babbel Method for teaching languages.
There are several effective ways to review vocabulary, both on your own and with a friend. One solo option is to make flashcards with the word on one side and the translation on the other, or better yet, write a sentence incorporating a few of the vocab words on one side and the translation of the full sentence on the other. A more social option is to teach a friend some of the words you’ve learned and how to use them in context.
Use It Or Lose It
The thing about new knowledge or a new skill is that if you don’t use it, it gradually dissipates and leaves you back at square one of your learning journey. Practice won’t necessarily make perfect, but it will make sure the material you’ve learned doesn’t slip your mind.
The best way to reinforce new vocabulary words is to use them in real, meaningful conversations. Speak your new language with a study buddy, a teacher or a native speaker to make sure it stays in your memory. Few things are more frustrating than losing the knowledge you’ve worked so hard to gain.