Feeling a bit frustrated with your language learning? You have all these words in your head but they never seem to come into your mind when you need them?
Here are 6 tips to help you extend AND remember vocabulary:
1. Make everything real and personal
I’ve said this before but I’m saying it again as it’s my number one rule: make all your sentences meaningful to YOU. Don’t talk about meetings in general, talk about the meeting you had last week or the one you have to organize next week. This will help you to inspire emotions around the new vocabulary and help you to remember it because, as we all know, our clearest memories are past events to which we have associated the strongest feelings. When I was at school, I learnt generic terms in French and Spanish about “other” people doing and saying things that I would probably never do. However, I now have the choice and can talk more about things I’m interested in and that are relevant to me.
2. Read, read, read about what you love
Hopefully, you read at least one type of media each week. It might be a blog on a subject you love, the news online or in a newspaper, a magazine or a book. Now, listen carefully: whatever you love doing in your own language, start doing it in the language you are learning. Combine your passions, interests and hobbies with your new language. Integrate it into your lifestyle. When you find the vocabulary interesting, you remember it much better!
3. Use collocations
Whenever you learn new words or expressions, try to learn them in chunks rather than in single words so that you understand them in context. One way of doing this is by using “collocations”. Collocations are words that are often used together. A very simple example: if you learn the word “invoice”, type invoice collocation into google search and you will see that: a) in terms of adjectives, we frequently see final invoice and original invoice and b) in terms of verbs, we often come across “issue, raise, send“, “get, receive” and “pay, settle” an invoice. This method will help you to vary your language AND sound more natural as you will be using the right words in the right context.
4. Find words that are the same or similar in your native language (“cognates”)
For example, there may well be words that you already know in English as it is a language that has borrowed numerous words from Latin. Take French for example: words ending in “ion” such as “information” and “conversation”, in “ance” such as “substance” and “importance”, and in “ble” such as “horrible” and “impossible”, are generally the same in English (without any accents of course). You can see more examples here: https://www.linguasorb.com/french/cognates/ Similarly, you can find a long list of Spanish-English cognates here: https://www.realfastspanish.com/vocabulary/spanish-cognates
5. Keep track of everything in a vocabulary notebook
This may seem “old school” but it has always worked for me. I prefer to organize words/expressions by theme or purpose (such as “meetings”, “presentations”, “small talk” and so on.) but simply choose the option that suits you best and then try this process:
1) write your new word or expression in your book (including its definition and pronunciation as indicated in the dictionary if you wish)
2) write an example sentence that is personal and relevant to you
3) list collocations as mentioned above
4) indicate 2 synonyms (word meaning the same) and 1 antonym (word with opposite meaning) – you can find them on www.thesaurus.com
5) indicate the word family whenever possible (verb, noun, person, action, adjective). Example: To employ – employment – employee/employer – employing – employable – employment agency
6. Regularly use and review your words
Ok, this is obvious but it’s so important! Studies have shown that, in general, we have to see, read and interact with words 5-7 times before they are integrated into our long-term memory. Consequently, make sure you review and practice your new words regularly. Say them out loud instead of in your head (insofar as possible) as it will help you retain them better. Do this each day at the same time(s) so that it becomes a habit. Try to incorporate them into your vocabulary as much as possible and make it fun! You could set yourself the challenge of trying to use 5 new expressions each day for example.
To help you do this, you can create a word list on your phone using one of the latest flashcard apps. This article reviews some of them for you: https://www.fluentu.com/blog/best-foreign-language-learning-flashcards-apps/
Even if you don’t have an app to do this, you can use your own vocabulary lists and play around with them. Pick any word on your list and describe what it means in your own (English) words. Then, practice using it in meaningful sentences of your own.
And you know where I am if you need any help!