When people start to learn a new language, they often make the mistake of focusing on learning as much vocabulary as possible and also as quickly as possible. But then a few weeks later, they forget everything.
I want to give you guys some advices to be more efficient when you learn vocabulary, so that the learning process doesn’t become a burden, but an enjoyable activity. If you do what I suggest you in this article, you will remarkably improve your memory and you won’t have to waste hours with an ineffective way of learning vocabulary.
You don’t have to be a genius or have a huge memory.
In our brain, we have neurons that connect to each other through electrical and chemical signals. Each neuron can connect to tens of thousands of other neurons. However, the less we use these neuronal connections, the more they weaken gradually. That’s why when you learn a new word in a foreign language, if you don’t revise it regularly, you always end up forgetting it.
So in the end, it’s not a question of having good or bad memory, but rather to have the motivation and determination to regularly work out your neurons. People who have a good memory are people who have worked to have it.
Saying that you have a bad memory is just an excuse to give up.
Of course, we are all different, and some people will have more facilities than others. But perhaps the problem is simply that you don’t know how you learn most effectively? Do you learn better by reading? writing? listening?… Knowing oneself is the most important step before embarking on the learning process.
So as soon as you are determined and motivated, and you know what kind of learner you are: you can really start to boost your memory.
1) Study Regularly
This is really the key in any learning process, including languages. The phrases and words you learn on a regular basis will remain in your head a lot more easily than the ones you have seen just once.
All the studies show it : it’s always more efficient to spend 15 minutes studying every day, rather than learning intensively for 3 hours only once a week.
It’s a bit the same as when you were a kid learning your native language. You were not talking only one day during the week for 3 hours, were you? Instead, you were talking to everyone around you every day. You were making lots of mistakes but you didn’t care. You were listening to what you were told, and gradually you ended up used to no longer make mistakes, by repeating the same words regularly.
So in the end, to learn a new language, the best technique is to reproduce the way you learned your mother tongue, since after all it’s the one you know best!
2) Immerse yourself in the target language
How did I learn English? One way was to watch lots of movies. If you want to learn French, it’s super important to read and listen to a lot of content in French. And believe me, there’s no lack of that on internet. You can watch French TV channels, YouTube videos in French, movies in French…
Did you know that the vast majority of films and foreign series in France are dubbed? In my opinion it’s actually a big problem, because a lot of French have a very poor level in English because of that, but for you guys, it’s such an incredible opportunity!
By listening to many dialogues and songs in French, you will gradually get used to the sound of the language and it will work out your neurons. You will find the pronunciation more and more easy to pronounce, and you will be able to speak much more quickly.
In addition, you will discover many new words, and you will certainly be able to recognize those you have already learned. This will allow you to lock them deeply in your memory.
3) Learn with the context
If you do that, you will be twice as productive. By learning the words that the French people use in everyday life, you will learn the language much more naturally. A good way to do this is to learn sentences, not isolated words.
Everyone hates learning endless vocabulary lists. It must have happened to you, right? The famous “vocabulary tests”… Do you even remember just one of the words in these lists you had to learn?
In addition, when you learn vocabulary this way, you are not able to reuse it in a conversation, because you haven’t learned it in context. Or perhaps, this word that you have bothered to learn is actually never (or very little) used by French people daily.
You’ve probably heard about the 80/20 rule ? If you learn 20% of French vocabulary, you will be able to understand 80% of French conversations. This is true for all the languages of the world. That’s why you should focus on the words most frequently used by French people. Once you know them, then you can begin to venture into the remaining 80% that constitute the details and particularities of the French language, if you have the motivation of course.
When you learn words in their context, it becomes more natural to remember them and you know exactly how to use them when the time comes, because you discovered them in a book that YOU decided to read, a movie that YOU decided to watch, or even a conversation that YOU decided to listen in the street.
4) Use a SRS (Spaced Repetition System) software to learn
These software’s allow you to learn vocabulary over the long term by spacing the review sessions. For example :
- you learn a word
- you repeat it a first time after 10 minutes, then a second time after 5 hours, then after 24 hours,
- then after 3 days, 10 days and 25 days…
You just have to record a sentence, with its translation, and you can also add an image or even a sound if you want. Then the software will take care of you, it will remind you to study again the sentences when you need it.
The advantage is that you can do this anywhere since they are available in smartphone application. I do it every day on the bus going to university, and it takes me no more than 20 minutes.
Here are some of them:
Memrise has a very nice interface which makes it very popular with its users. But in addition to its pleasant interface, Memrise benefits from a huge community creating its own shared courses.
Finally, I really like the way learning words is represented on Memrise : you plant a seed and water it at each revision until you get a flower. The metaphor is poetic and above all very meaningful.
Available in six languages including several versions for English and Spanish, MosaLingua also has a nice interface and a very complete content. Memory cards are often accompanied with images, audio files, examples, and they even offer the possibility to register.
Finally, you can also create your own cards, even though this feature is not as prominent as in Anki. The company recently launched an Internet browser version, MosaLingua Web. It seems very rich and interesting but I haven’t tried it, so I cannot really comment on its effectiveness.
Anki is my favorite SRS software. It’s true that it focuses less on the user experience, but it has the advantage of being extremely flexible and allows you to create or import your own memory card decks. In this respect, the creation of cards is quite rich, since it is possible to add sounds or images. The AnkiWeb service allows you to review from various devices with access to Internet. You can download it in your computer, Android or Iphone.