Four Unique Ways to Build Up Your Foreign Language Vocabulary

While learning the grammar of a foreign language is hard, building your vocabulary when learning a language however is a task that never ends. Traditional methods like flashcards and word lists have their place, but learning vocab through everyday things you do anyway makes the job much easier. Here are a few things to try out:

Labeling objects around your home with post-it notes.

Along with being a great way for learning practical vocab, this method also helps in immersing you in the language. Say you’re a French speaker;the réveil (alarm clock) wakes you up from your lit (bed), and you walk over to the rideaux (curtains) to let the sunshine in. You can see how words begin to associate with one another, which helps greatly with memorizing words.

Watching some low-brow TV (and there’s nothing wrong with that).

Most high schools and colleges emphasize watching cinema classics. Some—pardon the pun—textbook examples are the Italian film Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thief” or “The 400 Blows” from French director François Truffaut. Both of these are excellent, must-watch films. However, very few people in France and Italy speak in same manner as the films’ characters, whether it be due to regional accents or outdated slang. Instead, try watching TV series like soap operas—K-Dramas, Telenovelas, etc. They’re often tailored to a wider, current, and more general audience. Compared to what one might expect, the writing is often witty and sharp; for example, Latin American audiences the Spanish-language remake of “Breaking Bad”, “Metastasis”, a telenovela.  Also, if you happened to get hooked, you’ll find yourself watching dozens of hours of TV—and being immersed—rather than just a couple hours if you were to watch a film.

Play video games with different language settings.

A decade or so ago, to play a game in a foreign language meant either buying a game elsewhere or, for the more technically minded, more or less hacking the game and replacing the text. Nowadays, games often come shipped with different language tracks and interfaces–all you have to do is change the language on the system itself. Dialogue heavy games such as role-playing and adventure games offer the most benefit and often let you set the pace of how fast dialogue goes by.

Re-reading your favorite books in the language you’re learning.

The go-to book most people often use, after developing a solid foundation with the grammar and building up a decent vocabulary, is the “Little Prince”. It’s rather short, but still somewhat challenging—but not daunting—for intermediate readers to go through. Most importantly, it’s a book many people have already read. Instead of turning back and forth between a dictionary and the book, one’s familiarity with the plot is enough help you guess a word you might not know. Other good books to tackle are the Harry Potter series, which have a relatively easy-to-understand writing style that carries over into different languages and a widely-familiar plot.

Essentially, these methods mimic what life is like abroad: You turn on the TV, you hear a foreign language; you go shopping for household items, everything is labeled differently; you go to the bookstore, etc.  If you get the chance to actually live abroad and immerse yourself in the language, do it. Taking the opportunity to integrate a foreign language in your everyday life, especially your leisure time, can make language learning much more enjoyable.

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