Boosting Your Foreign Language Vocabulary: Easy Tips

Student with Dictionaries

When you just start learning a foreign language, all is exciting for you. New words, which are definitely used in daily speech, basic grammar which most likely includes the present and past tenses, commonly utilized regardless of a communicative situation.

However, with time you face a dilemma which words to acquire and which to omit. You may even confront a learner’s block where you feel like you are not moving forward anymore. It is no wonder as knowing 5 thousand words normally allows you to understand 90 % of conversation, while in order to hike up this figure to 95 % you will have to learn 12 thousand. This is a huge difference that is not invariably felt.

So, how do you ensure a gradual buildup of vocabulary that is going to be of value for you in your daily communication? Here are some good tips.

Choose Your Vocabulary

You have to ask yourself what for you need to master the language. If it’s just for daily communication with native speakers, A2 should be enough. In this situation you will not want to delve deep into some elaborate novels or complicated scientific journals. You may want to focus on textbooks and easy articles on topics that you might want to discuss at your next encounter with a native speaker.

If you want to be able to argue on more advanced level and touch upon political and social issues in your speech, try going for B1 or, if you are feeling ambitious, B2. B2 (Advanced) level is obligatory for those who want to enter a university in a particular foreign country. However, this level will also allow you to have more profound talks with the native speakers.

If you want to lecture in the said language, you will need to shoot for C1 or even C2. The problem is that many kids, who start upon a different language, do not contemplate upon the stopping point. They have a false idea that every language learning process should result in language mastery. It is a commendable aspiration, however, you simply may not have enough time to gain said mastery. It is not a reason not to attempt to gather the fundamental understanding of your language of choice and be proud about it.

Utilize the Self-Reference Effect

Regardless of how caring and sympathetic a person is, they are most interested in themselves and their lives. It is a natural tendency that you can take advantage of to foster your vocabulary.

Every time you want to learn a new word, try putting it in the context of your own life. For instance, if you want to memorize the word “das Auto” in German, say to yourself – I drive das Auto every day to work. Even if it seems ridiculous to insert a foreign word into an English sentence, this is a powerful technique to make this word a part of your own reality.

Our brains filter info that is not relatable. A foreign language very often is a bunch of humdrum noise that our brain refuses to process. Therefore, tricking yourself with self-reference technique can help you avoid this pitfall and master the vocabulary on a deeper level.

Don’t Forget About Flashcards

Do not just write down words in your vocabulary. Even though while taking notes you stimulate the motor cortex of your brain, thus cementing the material, creating your own flash cards will prove much more efficient and beneficial in the long run.

Here I want to emphasize the “your own” part. Do not download flash cards from other users, no matter how tempting it seems. The problem with this idea is that people process information in their personal way. Thus, the formulations which seem comprehendible and legit for some learners may frustrate and discourage others. 

Moreover, the words important to other users may be of little value for you. Creating your personalized cards and arranging them in various decks based on the topic, difficulty or whatever criterion you choose can help you learn vocabulary much faster.

Look for Frequency Lists

Frequency lists are often disregarded, although they are by far the most effective approach to building the right vocabulary. Especially if you are just a beginner, it is critical for you to first learn the most frequent words that will allow you to start speaking faster.

An average native speaker knows 20-35 k words while even for C2 you only need 10 k. Therefore, if you decide to make a complex book with lots of specialized words you main source of vocabulary building, you may end up with the wrong set of vocabulary. Thus, you will end up unable to communicate with the native speakers on a high level despite your utmost efforts.

Don’t Be Ashamed

Many people are afraid to apply new words in their speech thinking they would sound awkward or ridiculous. This feeling often stays in the way of improving their vocabulary as they not only fail to practice it in the context, but they also get discouraged to study it in general.

However, it is important to defeat this pernicious feeling. The best option for shy people, of course, is to find a good friend whose criticism they would not fear. If it does not work for you due to time constraints or some other reasons, I suggest you thinking as little as possible before you speak. The more you will deliberate about it, the more likely you are never to open your mouth. Once you start speaking, there will be no getting out of the awkward social situation which will make you stutter while at the same time reinforcing your vocabulary knowledge.  

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