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Why is it worth learning vocabulary in a foreign language (and how)?

Why is it worth learning vocabulary in a foreign language

If you are wondering whether it is worth learning vocabulary, we can dispel your doubts right away. Vocabulary plays a huge role in language learning. Why is it so important, and how can you learn new foreign words? We shall answer these questions in this article.

Why is it worth learning foreign vocabulary?

Vocabulary is one of the most important aspects not only of learning a language, but also of the language itself. Without it, even knowing the grammar rules, we would not be able to communicate with other people. So there is no doubt how important it is to learn new foreign words.

Thanks to knowledge of Spanish, German, Italian or Russian vocabulary:

  • you can help a lost foreigner who asks you for directions,
  • you can impress your boss during a meeting with a foreign-language client,
  • you can understand an interesting article in a foreign language,
  • you can shine in front of friends or family,
  • when you go abroad you will feel at home.

Vocabulary is still worth learning when we already know a foreign language, but we would like to improve our competences in specific areas, such as, for example:

  • work-related vocabulary, e.g. business English,
  • specific vocabulary, e.g. for preparing for exams such as FCE, CAE or TOEFL.

In this situation, acquiring new vocabulary can help us improve our professional qualifications, get a new job or ask for a raise. That’s why it’s worth learning new vocabulary.

Learning vocabulary as a process

Morgan and Rinvolucri in their book “Vocabulary” (2004) state that vocabulary acquisition is a “relational process”, or “bonding with words in a foreign language”, and in fact even several different processes:

  • branching, understood as linking a new word with others by creating associations,
  • an individual process in which the associations are ours and unique, depending only on our experiences,
  • a social process of expanding the understanding of the meaning of a word in contact with other people by discovering how they understand them,
  • the process of learning through experience, with an active student, consisting of acquiring not only new knowledge, but also the ability to understand a word.

On one hand, learning vocabulary may seem easier than learning grammar. This process does not require performing such complicated mental operations as those needed to understand complex grammatical rules (not to mention putting them into practice!). On the other hand, if we want to learn Spanish, German or other words, we just have to spend time learning them.

In the I.S.P. Nation publication “Learning Vocabulary in Another Language” (2013) we find the information that by acquiring the 1,000 most popular English words , we will be able to understand 81% of the content of any material created in English. 2,000 words will allow us to learn 89%, and if we know 3,000 words it will be 94% of the content. With further thousands, the percentages grow only slightly. So, it seems that the optimum knowledge is 3,000 English words.

It undoubtedly takes time to learn this number of new items. Interestingly, we learn some words faster than others. What does it depend on? This is influenced by:

  • word sound,
  • internal sensations of the speech organ when pronouncing it,
  • speed of pronouncing it,
  • context in which we remember a word,
  • how it is spelled,
  • associations,
  • situation in which we first came across a new word.

Learning vocabulary is not just about the words themselves. Some people find it easier than others. It certainly depends partly on linguistic predispositions, and partly on the motivation behind our language learning. However, it is certain that the effectiveness of acquiring German, Spanish and other words is largely determined by the methods we use.

So, how can we learn foreign vocabulary?

It is difficult to give an unequivocal answer. Each of us is different and will choose different ways. However, it is worth mentioning rules that work regardless of the chosen method of learning vocabulary.

  1. When learning vocabulary, if possible, absorb the pronunciation at the same time – it will definitely make it easier for you to use the language later in practice. In this way, you will avoid the stress that could arise from the lack of self-confidence related to the use of a given word during conversation.
  2. Learn German or French words right away with the article (for nouns). This advice also applies to other languages in which articles are used. It will be much easier for you to use them correctly later on.
  3. Learn words in the context of a whole sentence, not as an isolated thing. Thanks to this, your brain will remember it much easier.

Vocabulary learning methods

There are really many of them – from simple ones known to all of us, to non-standard and niche techniques. We have made a short review of them, hoping you will find something for yourself.

Learning by heart – boning up

Unfortunately, this is still the most common method of learning vocabulary . This is probably because it is the only way most people know. We will not describe this technique in more detail, but it certainly takes a long time and has no long term results.

Flashcards

This is quite a popular method, standing on the verge of classic and non-standard methods. This method has been used since the 1970s, when it was created by a German journalist, Sebastian Leitner. Learning in this system uses two-sided pages on which a given word is written – on one side in a foreign language, on the other in the native one. We learn by viewing the content displayed on both sides. Is it worth learning words from flashcards? This is what each of us has to find out on their own.

Post-it notes

This is a variation on flashcards, often used at the very beginning of learning a language. The method involves writing a foreign language word on a post-it note and then sticking it to the object to which it relates. In this way, we can stick the notes to items from our immediate surroundings. The fact that we keep coming across the new words will help us get used to them.

Vocabulary learning apps

There are many vocabulary learning apps. One of them is SuperMemo, a system based on the spaced repetition method, an original algorithm that allows you to remember forever. Using this system is especially useful when mastering vocabulary which requires regularity.

Extreme series courses are perfect for learning language vocabulary. They will help you learn English, German, Spanish and French at any level (A1-C2). The app also allows you to create your own courses by adding MemoCards and to use vocabulary databases prepared by other users.

The SuperMemo vocabulary app allows you to learn words on many devices and in many situations, regardless of Internet access. You can study wherever and whenever you want. In the context of learning vocabulary, accessibility is undoubtedly a big plus – thanks to it, we can spend any moment on expanding our vocabulary, and learn even when standing in a queue or taking a bus. This will definitely pay off in terms of effects.

Reading a book

Are you a visual learner? Great! You can learn many new words with confidence by reading. You can reach for books and underline unfamiliar phrases, or save them in the SuperMemo app as a MemoCard. If you have less time, try newspaper or internet articles. The subject matter is basically anything – choose whatever interests you, then you will remember the new items more easily, and additionally learning the vocabulary will be fun.

Learning from movies and series

Let’s combine the practical with the pleasurable. You can watch a TV series and at the same time learn new words: with pleasure and extremely effectively. Sounds like a fairy tale? Read more about it in our article Language learning with Netflix and…SuperMemo.

Learning from songs

Foreign language songs are a great way to expand your vocabulary. All you have to do is select a song and use one of the many lyrics websites available. Some already have translations prepared. The genre of music doesn’t matter, it’s best to start with your favourite artists. You like to sing? Great, you can also practice your pronunciation!

Mind map

You can use this method to learn words that are related to each other in some way, e.g. thematically. You need a piece of paper, a pen or coloured markers, or virtual software to create mind maps. This method is based on writing down words and visually reflecting the relationship between them in the form of lines or arrows. It can be especially useful for revising material.

Notes

Do you keep a diary? Do you write shopping lists? Do them in another language! This way you can repeat words you already know, and if you find a phrase that you do not know yet, reach for the dictionary. You can also add words to the SuperMemo application to revise them regularly.

Summary

Is it worth learning vocabulary? Without a doubt! It is only the acquisition of vocabulary that enables what is the true meaning of learning a language – communicating in it. And if we use the most effective methods, new Italian, German or Spanish words will be mastered not only in no time, but also forever.