How to expand your vocabulary
Thanks to the coronavirus, we now have to sit at home alone and be bored. It is a stressful situation, but at least we can use the time to study.
And since we’ve got some time, let’s look at how we’re learning words.
If you studied a language at school like I did, your teacher might have given you a list of words to learn as homework. If you were (not) like me and actually did your homework, you read the list over and over again repeating the words and the translations again and again until you fell asleep. The next day at school you knew all of them! You even knew which one was the third, the fourth, and the fifteenth!
But the next day you forgot. Every. Single. One.
That was just a list, and lists are TERRIBLE at teaching. They show you that an apple means mela, Apfel or pomme (etc.) but is it a red or a green apple? Did you snap it from a tree or see it at a grocery store?
So how do we learn words?
As you might know, your brain likes to connect things. The same is true when you study vocab. You can test this by thinking of a word. Let’s try this now!
Think of the word “car.” What are the first things you think of when you think of a car? They might be wheels, BMW, engine, road, travel, or anything that is related to vehicles. When you used these words in the past you thought of a car. Your brain associates (relates or connects) these things with cars.
The more words you know in a given topic, the easier it is to connect them. And the more things you connect, the easier they are to remember. For example, an apple has seeds, it can be green, red, it has a stem, it’s in the store with other fruits and vegetables. When you use any of these expressions, the rest will come to you more easily.
To use this to your advantage, you need to USE the words that you learn. The easiest thing to do is to write a sentence with them, or look them up on the internet. As you use and see them in different situations, they will get stuck in your vocabulary.
What you see is what you learn
Have you ever seen somebody on the street that looked familiar, but for some reason you could not remember their name? Most people have. That is because we remember images and experiences much better than words.
Using your imagination is important in language learning. Maybe you noticed that when you thought of the word car, a vehicle instantly popped (appeared) into your head. You know what it looks like, and that helps you remember other things about it. This is why it is important to see, hear, or experience the expressions that you learn.
Of course if you read the word ski in a dictionary, you won’t go and buy a ticket to the Alps.
It’s enough to imagine it. Imagine the mountains, the snow, the sense of speed and the cold air as you glide straight towards a tree. Ouch.
Yes, that tree is important. Your brain also likes to pay attention to unique (new), strange or unexpected things. An apple might just be an apple, you forget about it the moment you see it, but an ice skater dancing with an apple on her head would be more memorable.
This is how jokes work too. They ask something strange, then answer something you didn’t think about, something unexpected. That is why you can remember a lot of the jokes you hear.
So imagine words you want to remember in a strange, interesting or new situation. Do you have a list of words? Combine them! An apple, a ski, and a car can be an apple driving a car on skis instead of wheels.
If the form of the word is what you have a problem with, try using the letters. Now the apple has 2 P-s as arms, the car’s back looks like the letter “C” and makes an “RRR” sound and the ski looks like the letter “i” with a dot at the end. Go wild!
You can learn expressions in the app by topic in the Learn Words menu. Also, each word card has an example sentence and a picture to help you remember them. Practicing them in exercises will also make sure that you learn them well. The video lessons will show them in context, and you can even use them when you are talking to a chatbot! If you still forget some of them, you can practice them again in the “Practice weak words” section.