10 Ways to Build Your Vocabulary in a Foreign Language

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    19-Aug-2014

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While without grammar little can be conveyed, without vocabulary, nothing can be conveyed. - David Wilkins, British linguist

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  • WAYS TO BUILD YOUR VOCABULARY IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE 10 Image Chris-Hvard Berge | Flickr
  • While without grammar little can be conveyed, without vocabulary, nothing can be conveyed. - David Wilkins, British linguist
  • There is a long held assumption that grammar is more important than vocabulary when learning a new language.
  • But linguistic research has demonstrated that vocabulary is actually more fundamental than grammar. (Barcroft, 2004; Lewis, 2002; Wilkins, 1972)
  • Author Keith Folse knew the perfect Japanese structure to ask: Excuse me, where is the ____?
  • Author Keith Folse knew the perfect Japanese structure to ask: Excuse me, where is the ____? What he didnt know was the word for flour. Image David Pacey | Flickr
  • Author Keith Folse knew the perfect Japanese structure to ask: Excuse me, where is the ____? What he didnt know was the word for flour. Image David Pacey | Flickr After consulting a Japanese friend for the translation, what he actually ended up with was the word for flower. Image Swaminathan | Flickr
  • Sometimes, one word can make all the difference.
  • So, how can you build your vocabulary in a foreign language? What resources do you need? Whats the best way to memorize it? We have a few suggestions! Image Jennifer Steen Booher | Flickr
  • Use Language-Learning Software 1
  • Language-learning software can be a very effective vocabulary builder, especially for beginners! Image Jeff Geerling | Flickr
  • Image phip_s | Flickr Put down the index cards. Most software programs come with hundreds of common words and phrases, so you can spend less time making flashcards and spend more time actually learning.
  • If youre in search of a program, sign up for a free trial of Transparent Language Online, which presents thousands of vocabulary words in a suite of interactive activities that will help you learn them quicker and retain them longer.
  • If youre in search of a program, sign up for a free trial of Transparent Language Online, which presents thousands of vocabulary words in a suite of interactive activities that will help you learn them quicker and retain them longer. (Pitch over, we swear!)
  • Study Cognates & False Cognates 2
  • Chances are, you already know dozens (if not hundreds or more!) of words in your new language, but you just dont realize it.
  • Chances are, you already know dozens (if not hundreds or more!) of words in your new language, but you just dont realize it. HOW?
  • Chances are, you already know dozens (if not hundreds or more!) of words in your new language, but you just dont realize it. HOW? Theyre called cognates.
  • Cognates are words with the same etymological origin, AKA they sound the same (or very similar) in both languages. Image Doblonaut | Flickr
  • Cognates are words with the same etymological origin, AKA they sound the same (or very similar) in both languages. Recognize any words on this Spanish sign? Image Doblonaut | Flickr
  • Take time to memorize the cognates in the language youre learning. A Google search for [language]-English cognates should lead you in the right direction.
  • Beware, though! You should also search for and memorize false cognates, or words that sound the same but actually have very different meanings.
  • Beware, though! You should also search for and memorize false cognates, or words that sound the same but actually have very different meanings. In Spanish, for example, embarazada does not mean embarrassed it means pregnant! Now that mix up could be embarrassing! Image clappstar | flickr
  • Study Synonym Pairs 3
  • Cognates are extremely easy to memorize. But if youre beyond the beginner level, you probably know most of them. Whats next?
  • Cognates are extremely easy to memorize. But if youre beyond the beginner level, you probably know most of them. Whats next? Synonyms and antonyms!
  • Learning synonyms may seem like duplicated effort. If you know the word for funny, you should be all set, right? Image Don LaVange | Flickr
  • Learning synonyms may seem like duplicated effort. If you know the word for funny, you should be all set, right? Image Don LaVange | Flickr But what if someone tells you: That was hilarious amusing entertaining silly hysterical ?
  • When you learn a new word, use a thesaurus to discover its synonyms. This practice will increase your understanding of the word and add variety to your vocabulary. Image mrd00dman | Flickr
  • Study Prefixes & Suffixes 4
  • Another trick to significantly expand your vocabulary is to study common prefixes and suffixes in the target language.
  • For example, if you know the Spanish prefix con (with) and the verb vivir (to live), deciphering the new verb convivir (to live together) becomes a lot easier. Image Brent and Amanda I | Flickr
  • Each prefix and suffix you learn opens the door to hundreds of new words, yielding a huge return on your investment in your vocabulary.
  • Read, Read, & Read Some More 5
  • The more you read, the more vocabulary youll be exposed to. Read actively, not passively, to absorb as many new words as possible. Image Shutterhacks | Flickr
  • The more you read, the more vocabulary youll be exposed to. Read actively, not passively, to absorb as many new words as possible. Image Shutterhacks | Flickr Dont rush.
  • The more you read, the more vocabulary youll be exposed to. Read actively, not passively, to absorb as many new words as possible. Image Shutterhacks | Flickr Dont rush. Highlight unfamiliar words and look them up in a dictionary.
  • The more you read, the more vocabulary youll be exposed to. Read actively, not passively, to absorb as many new words as possible. Image Shutterhacks | Flickr Dont rush. Highlight unfamiliar words and look them up in a dictionary. Revisit the word in the context of the sentence.
  • Read a variety of materials, from short stories and novels to newspapers and blogs, to acquire vocabulary at varying levels of difficulty and a wide range of topics. Image Ol.v!er[H2vPk] | Flickr
  • Separate your leisurely reading from your active, vocabulary-building reading. Image Chad Kainz | Flickr
  • Separate your leisurely reading from your active, vocabulary-building reading. When reading to boost your vocab, limit yourself. Stick to just a few pages of a novel, one news story, one magazine article, etc. and really take your time. Image Chad Kainz | Flickr
  • Keep a Journal in the Target Language6
  • Keeping a journal in your target language is the perfect way to find words you didnt even know that you didnt know. (What a mouthful!) Image Walt Stoneburner | Flickr
  • Take a few minutes to write about your day. Want to mention something you did or experienced, but dont know how? Thats probably a word youll want to know in the future, so look it up! Image Refracted Moments | Flickr
  • Image photosteve101 | Flickr Highlight the new words in each entry. At the end of the week, flip through your old entries and review these new words to keep them fresh in your memory.
  • Investigate Word Origins7
  • If you struggle less with finding new vocabulary and more with just remembering it, try your hand at a little etymology! Image Trish Hartmann | Flickr
  • It may help to associate a new vocabulary word with its origins. Image William Warby | Flickr For example, the English word hippopotamus is derived from the Greek words ippos (horse) and potamas (river).
  • It may help to associate a new vocabulary word with its origins. Image William Warby | Flickr For example, the English word hippopotamus is derived from the Greek words ippos (horse) and potamas (river). Associating hippopotamus with river horse gives you a strong visual, and may help you recall the word more easily.
  • Looking up the origins or literal meanings of words and expressions will paint a mental picture that you can look back on, rather than just relying on rote memorization.
  • Follow Native Speakers on Twitter8
  • Looking for slang, idioms, informal expressions, abbreviations, and all of that juicy stuff youll never find in a dictionary?
  • Looking for slang, idioms, informal expressions, abbreviations, and all of that juicy stuff youll never find in a dictionary? Check Twitter!
  • Follow politicians, athletes, musicians, actors, or everyday native speakers of your target language and see what theyre saying. Look up unfamiliar words, or expressions that dont quite make sense. Image Adam Fagen | Flickr
  • For example, the Portuguese expression Escrevo o que eu t te falando. literally means Write down what Im telling you. Thats a little strange, right? If you look it up, youll find that its actually used to say Mark my words.
  • Watching and interacting with native speakers on an informal platform like Twitter will give your vocabulary a much-needed boost in the colloquial department.
  • Learn a Word of the Day9
  • Use a word-a-day calendar or online Word of the Day service to learn one new word each day!
  • Transparent Language offers Word of the Day services in 25 different languages, so you can discover a unique word each day!
  • Listen to Music10
  • Similar to how exploring word origins helps you build vocabulary by providing strong mental images, listening to music gives you something memorable to associate with a new word.
  • Have you ever noticed your brains seemingly endless capacity for song lyrics? Think of how many songs you have memorized in there! Image Roadsidepictures | Flickr
  • Search YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, last.fm, etc. for music you enjoy in your target language and look up the lyrics. Image eldeeem | Flickr
  • Pick one song at a time, and look up all of the unfamiliar vocabulary in the lyrics. With enough listens, those new words and phrases will be engrained in your mind, just like your favorite songs in your native language.
  • Vocabulary building should be a goal for language learners of all levels. The greater your vocabulary in a language, the better you will understand others and express yourself. Use these tips to get started, and never stop acquiring new vocabulary!
  • Read to build your vocabulary? Connect with Transparent Language & sign up for a free trial of Transparent Language Online. www.transparent.com

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