5 Small Ways to Gain a Larger Vocabulary

Let’s face it, we’re busy people, and busy people know it’s pretty difficult to sit down to study a foreign language every day. I get it and have been there too. I love learning languages, but between college and work (during undergrad and grad) I was barely able to fit spending more than 10-20 minutes per day studying outside of the language classes that were already packing into my weekly schedule. Fear not! For I have 5 suggestions listed below for you to be able to incorporate language learning into your already hectic routine! These are a few things I have implemented myself during my weekly routine to help keep my brain stimulated and focused on my target foreign language at the time.

  1. Incorporate Numbers Into Your Daily Routine: We do something every day that can involve numbers, which is particularly useful when learning a foreign language. So, why not incorporate the numbers of the language you’re learning (I normally reference this as your target language) into your routine? Here’s a legit example of something I used to do, and still do on occasions, while working out before my college classes. My friend and I met at the gym around 7am… Yeah, 7am… I don’t even know how I was able to function after waking up so early AND working out before class… Anyway, my friend and I were both attending Korean School on Saturdays and came up with the idea of counting our reps to each other in Korean (native Korean, not Sino-Korean), and instead of restarting our count each set, we would keep counting higher until we couldn’t remember what number was next. From there, we would restart out numbers from one and repeat the process. Now, you may be thinking “If you’re repeating the same numbers over and over again, how is that actually helping you in the long run”? Good question! Even though we were repeating the same numbers over and over, we were saying them aloud to each other over and over again to build up our memory of those words quicker. Therefore, the next time we studied new numbers, we were able to recall the numbers we said aloud quicker and could move on to the next few numbers, repeat the process, and be beasts at the gym and counting in a foreign language!
  2. Add New Words to the Corner of Your Day Planner: If you’re the type of person to keep a paper planner or schedule (like me), try writing a new vocabulary word on each day of the week at the end of the previous week (e.g. on the 9th, add new words for the week of the 10th). This will give you the opportunity to view a new word everyday. Even if you don’t remember the exact meaning the next time you see it, chances are you’ll at least be able to recognize it and begin building up the word association much quicker. As an added bonus, take the time to review the words you have written down each day (e.g. if it’s Thursday, go back and review the words you’ve written down for Monday- Wednesday). This will be an awesome opportunity to build up word association and hopefully make you feel great by looking back at everything you have accomplished during the week. Here’s an example of my planner using this method -> Daily Vocabulary
  3. Use a Flashcard or Post-It Note as a Bookmark: For all of you literature lovers out there, try using a flashcard (or 5) as a bookmark! By doing this, you will be able to review vocabulary every time you decide to crack a book open for leisure or because you’re a college student just trying to pass your class (trust me, I know that feel all too well). For an added bonus for people like me who love themes, make the vocabulary related to whatever you’re reading. For example, if you’re reading a mystery/crime novel, learn vocabulary such as “detective”, “mysterious”, or “murder”. If you’re reading a romance novel, use vocabulary such as “wedding”, “boyfriend/girlfriend”, or “honeymoon”. If you really want to work your language brain while reading, draw tally marks on the cards every time you see the word in the book, to strengthen the translation and to see how frequent that word is used.
  4. Use Vocabulary Lists as Wallpapers: This is one that I really need to do myself…but I love my non-sensical wallpapers too much. I can’t even tell you how many times per day I open my laptop or look at my phone (lock screen and homepage) every-single-day! Well, here’s something simple you can do if you’re better than me and don’t care so much about having text as the background on your computer or phone. Create or find a list of vocabulary words you want to learn in your target language (as an image) and set it as your background/wallpaper. The amount of resources you can find for this is endless as long as you know where to look. I literally typed in “words in French” into Pinterest and got more images than I could even imagine Click Here for the results I got from Pinterest. I’m hoping to one day create a section with my own vocabulary wallpapers one day for you all to use, but we’ll see what the future holds!
  5. Write Vocabulary Words on Surfaces Your See Everyday: For those who don’t know, dry-erase markers work on mirrors too! One technique I used to do when learning Spanish in high school was to practice writing sentences and listing vocabulary words on my bathroom and bedroom mirrors. This was an amazing addition to my Spanish-learning journey. I was able to review vocabulary while doing mundane things such as brushing my teeth, brushing my hair, or putting on make-up (thankfully I never poke my eye with eyeliner or mascara in the process). If you need an extra boost of confidence, write down positive words that you want to use to describe yourself such as “happy”, “wonderful”, “kind”, etc. This will help you learn new vocabulary while associating the positive word to the image of yourself that you see in the mirror. Let’s face it, everyone has a bad day at some point, and something as small as seeing yourself while saying “beautiful” in your target language aloud could be just the thing you need to brighten your day!

And there you have it! Those are 5 of my simple tips to help incorporate new vocabulary into your life without having to do much, if any, active studying. If you have any tips of your own that you would like to share, please post them in the comments for the community and myself to try out! 

Have a wonderful day!

– Rebekah T.


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