Vocabulary Learning Methods?

Hello everyone!

In language learning, I am always looking to hear what works for others and see if I can apply their advice to my own learning. Since vocab hasn’t been my strongest point, I am curious about any advice or methods you might be willing to share! I have been using Anki and sometimes a tri-fold method I learned in school for vocab learning, but I would love to hear what methods other language learners use!

Do you study vocab differently for each language and differently depending on what level you are at? Where do you find the words you choose to study? What do you think of studying “most common words” lists? etc…

Feel free to just discuss and share anything about vocabulary acquisition here! And thank you in advance for any input as it will be helpful to me and hopefully some other people as well! :earth_asia:


One way I like to learn is by listening to a song and learning it sentence by sentence until I can understand it.

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I’m not a big fan of learning vocabulary and I feel very frustrated when I concentrate on it, so I try to learn without being conscious that I’m learning vocabulary. Usually I just read many random texts to increase passive vocabulary and try to make many sentences to increase aktive vocabulary. It doesn’t depend on levels or languages.


I like that way of looking at it! It can definitely be really frustrating to just go through vocabulary lists and learning from being exposed to the words also helps with context. I am very new to learning Korean so I have had to do some focused vocabulary learning as I know pretty much nothing but I can definitely use the reminder to come up with my own sentences (however basic they may be) to practice!

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This is something that I have heard a lot of people suggest and for some reason I have never gotten around to doing it. I guess there is no better time to try than now!

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At a beginner level, vocab lists are a necessary crutch. I like reviewing a list, reading a short passage using those words, and repeating that process many times to reinforce the vocabulary. I don’t remember every single word, and I find that is okay. I think it works well on a group of similar items, like everything you find in the bedroom, or bathroom, or kitchen. Where it doesn’t work well is random words I come across, and have no other link to it.

I find TPR and TPRS to be helpful. TPR stands for “Total Physical Response” - where you try to imitate the actions described in the story. For example if you want to remember the phrase, “Comb my hair”, you would act out combing your hair and repeating the expression.

TPRS stands for “Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling”. Basically a narrator tells a story (maybe 8 sentences), then will repeat the story line by line, asking questions about the story. For example, “A dog walked to the store. Who walked to the store? A dog. Where did he go? He went to the store. How did he get there? He walked.”

I actually learn words best when I use something incorrectly and I have an embarrassing moment because of it. Like when my friend pointed out I was ordering “orange sheep” when I was trying to order “orange juice.”


Thank you so much for this response Francis! I have definitely found that it is necessary to learn vocabulary at the stage and your advice gives me some great ideas for what I can try.

Learning vocabulary through a story seems like it will definitely be a more entertaining way of learning new words than just plain flashcards! I am curious where you were able to find such stories since I would love to try something like that?

And I can remember a time or two (at least) when I used the wrong word for something and I learned the word very quickly after that too!


I love learning new vocabulary, but it needs to be relevant. I am not going to commit to memory things about going to the hospital as readily as things about daily life. I find that I generally do my vocabulary building through various apps. Especially as a quick little diversion. When I’m listening to music or watching videos in my target languages I’ll just go to my Handy and use a translation app to learn a new word. A lot of times, I find myself hearing the word over and over, thanks to the mere exposure. I also find that I learn vocabulary better when I compare it amongst the languages and make connections with other pertinent material. The rest I just bring in passively.


Here is a lesson by Learn Russian with Max. The level is advanced beginner to intermediate, so hopefully you can benefit. For me, it is slightly above my level (I can understand about 20% of it). But that’s good. There’s more to learn. There are subtitles in Russian and English. Of course, he has more lessons if you look for them.

Real Russian Club (with Daria) also has some good lessons.


I’m another who learns vocab in context to my interests and how I express myself day-to-day. I find this eases some of the frustration with not knowing what to say out of thin air.

Similarly to Francis’ suggestion of TPS, I talk to myself as I am doing daily tasks about those tasks or ask my tutor to tailor a class/session around a topic. I also use a wheel chart to help develop my basic vocab into similar, more nuanced words across a spectrum.


I used to rely on vocab lists for about 20 years… then I got sick of it :sweat_smile:
What I do now is create sentences that contain a word I find hard to remember, and learn the sentence by heart, to get it in context and make it stick.
@Bando TPRS sounds interesting!


Oh I really like the idea of a wheel chart to expand on the vocabulary you already know!

Oh, awesome! My presentation for the conference has an example and a little more detail. :wink:


Can’t wait to hear it!!

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Hello everyone,
I use most of the techniques I’ve read in this post. I also spend time talking to myself in another language, when I’m on the bus or walking in the streets. I wonder how I would tell a friend about the past day, and that way I can find out what I can not tell yet and find out the missing vocabulary or structures.
Like PinAngel, making connections with other languages is helpful for me.
What I’m struggling with is to memorize long-term this vocabulary. So far I was using Anki, but it does not allow to make flashcards in all languages at the same time. So at the moment I am currently designing my own Anki-like polyglot-optimized vocab revision app. I don’t know yet if this will be efficient, but it’s worth trying :smiley:


As far as I am concerned, whenever I come across unknown words impeding me to understand, I cannot help looking them up and if I consider them to be relevant and useful according to my current level, I jot them down on a notebook by building a phrase in order to project those words in a specific context . I take a moment to visualize the given word or expression in a situation that could happen and repeat it in my mind.
Afterwards, I try to have a look regularly at the words and expressions recently learned in order to stick them in my mind especially when I am at a beginner, intermediate level.
This kind of memorizing exercices get obviously tougher over a long period of time.
In my view, once a person reach a high intermediate /low advanced level, one must read a lot to kind of reactivate the dormant vocab.
For the speaking part, I am convinced that exposure is paramount, you need to speak a lot and listen a lot to be able to expand your vocab.


I mainly use Anki, but it’s not enough on its own.

I find that I need to read a lot of material (and write, and speak…really use those words) and encounter the words “in the wild”, to really get them to stick in my mind. Then if I encounter new words, I input those into Anki too! It’s a more self-perpetuating method than at elementary level where you really need vocabulary lists to get a head start.


I like flash cards for drilling vocabulary. I think they’re good for beginner, intermediate, and advanced learners if you’re trying to expand your vocabulary. It’s kind of a catch 22. As a beginner you are learning vocabulary that repeats a lot so you don’t really need flash cards but reading is so painful that flash cards are often more enjoyable. As you get more advanced the words you don’t know don’t repeat so much which is why using flash cards are still very useful I think. I like Anki.


interesting! You’re right that lists such as “100 most frequent word in French,” “15 most frequents verbs to know” etc. are useful and they give a big-picture of the language.

As a teacher, I’ve noticed that the older learners are, the more “utilitarian” they get. Young professionals, and also learners in their forties or older will often ask me “Léa, what are the most common words? Should I remember << papillon >>, do French people really use it?”.

On the other side of the age spectrum, children and teenagers tend to build more personal, unique vocab. They’ll see weird words such as “saperlipopette,” “incommensurable,” “un paon” as cool, and they’ll indulge more in memorizing less useful words, sacrificing utility for poetry. Children love learning animal words whether adults tend to focus more on vocabulary for small-talk and socializing.

Language teachers, have you noticed the same patterns?


I love flash cards and apps like Memrise. They seem to work best for me. I often carry a little purse with flash cards in one language or another with me, and when I have a moment of “dead” time, I’ll get it out and revise the words. When they stick, they go in a different pocket, thus constantly reducing the pile of cards. When it gets too small, I’ll add more cards to it again. And when a word won’t stick, I say it out loud, play with it, whisper it, shout it, sing it, use it in short sentences and repeat this at ever longer intervals. I talk to the cats or to myself in all the languages I learn about everything I can think of - what is happening right now, what happened yesterday, what I’m planning to do or what I would like to do. That’s a handy way of practicing tenses as well.