How to Learn New Words Fast: 13 Smart Techniques for Language Learners

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      The ability to speak one, or more, foreign languages is an increasingly sought skill in today’s world. However, mastering a foreign language means more than just memorizing vocabulary words – it takes time to properly learn a language, but it is ultimately worth it as it gives us broader access to education and information and allows us to connect with people from all over the world, making life decidedly more interesting.

      Colored papers on the table

      The importance of learning foreign languages

      In an increasingly globalized world, the importance of learning foreign languages cannot be played down. Foreign languages are important because they open up new worlds of possibilities for learners:

      • They facilitate travel, allowing for more authentic experiences abroad.
      • They improve one’s employment prospects.
      • They have cognitive benefits for the learners.
      • They allow one to connect with people from other cultures in meaningful ways.
      • They help learners gain a cross-cultural perspective, fostering tolerant attitudes.

      The amount of time it takes to learn a new language from scratch

      The amount of time it will take a person to learn a new language from scratch depends on a variety of factors. These include the age of the learner, their attitude, and the amount of time they spend studying and using the language. The amount of time required to learn a new language will also depend on whether the learner has previous experience with other foreign languages or not.

      Another issue to consider when trying to answer the question of how long it takes to learn a new language is which language is being learned. The US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) categorizes different languages into different groups based on their difficulty for native English speakers. According to their rating, it is easier to learn French (Group 1) than it is to learn Turkish (Group 3) or Japanese (Group 4).

      A rough estimate is that to reach limited working proficiency one needs to spend 480 hours on a new Group 1 language and 720 hours on a new Group 2-4 language. The amount of time will vary depending on which learning method is used: full immersion is quicker than structured weekly lessons.

      How many hours a day should you study a foreign language?

      Students wishing to master a new foreign language fast should obviously dedicate as much time as possible to learning it. In the early days of foreign language study, learners should spend thirty minutes to an hour a day actively studying the basics of the language, like pronunciation and grammar.

      Once more comfortable with the language, students should start incorporating language exposure to their day, which involves reading books or listening to audio in the foreign language and spend longer periods of time studying.

      For those who don’t have that much free time to dedicate to learning a new language, it should be added that, according to a methodology called microlearning, a few minutes per day can be just as effective. The thinking behind is that quality matters more than quantity and, if you do one small thing every day for a short amount of time, you will gradually improve.

      Can you learn a language in 15 minutes a day?

      According to the Babbel language learning approach, 15 minutes a day is enough to learn a new language. Studying for such a short amount of time means that our brain doesn’t overload with information that is unlikely to stick to our long-term memory. The approach builds repetition into short, dynamic lessons.

      A language is a collection of words structured by a set of rules put in place to combine meaningful messages for communication. These rules are important aspects to take into consideration when learning a new foreign language.

      The four main aspects to master when learning a foreign language

      Language is the ability to produce and comprehend spoken and written words. All languages have underlying structural rules which make communication possible. The four main aspects one has to master when learning a foreign language are grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and syntax.

      Teacher hand writing grammar sentences on the blackboard
      • Grammar consists of a set of rules that speakers of a language must internalize.
      • Vocabulary refers to the words of a language.
      • Pronunciation covers the sounds that humans make up a language.
      • Syntax is the study of how people put words into the right order so as to communicate meaningfully.

      By mastering these aspects, we can use a foreign language to convey an infinite number of concepts.

      Vocabulary Skills

      Vocabulary skills refer to one’s ability to express themselves effortlessly using a wide variety of words. You can improve your vocabulary skills in a foreign language by reading, listening to songs, or watching movies in that language.

      The Four Types of Vocabulary

      There are four types of vocabulary, namely:

      • Listening vocabulary: the words we hear and understand.
      • Speaking vocabulary: the words we use when we speak.
      • Reading vocabulary: the words we understand when we read text.
      • Writing vocabulary: the words when we write to express ourselves.

      Vocabulary builder

      A vocabulary builder is a popular online tool designed to teach learners specific units or themes of words briefly and in an engaging manner.

      The advantages of using a vocabulary builder are:

      • Motivation: It helps you stay motivated since you tend to get rewards (points, level-up, badges etc.) for achieving tasks.
      • Personalized approach: The software optimizes itself to your specific learning needs.
      • Effective learning: Learning units of words, i.e. word building, is a more effective way of learning new words than memorizing.

      Here are 3 good vocabulary builder apps you can download:

      And in this video a talented English tutor shows how such a trivial word as tree can help you improve your vocabulary immensely!

      Vocabulary list

      A vocabulary list is essentially what you would expect: a list of words. Making a list of specific words that you want to learn and repeating them over and over again will help you remember them.

      The 5 words most commonly used in English are, unsurprisingly, articles, verbs, prepositions and conjunctions. They are the following:

      • the
      • be
      • to
      • of
      • and

      If you’re interested in finding what the 1000 most common words in English are, or any language for that matter, check out the website 1000mostcommonwords.com that is dedicated to telling you this specifically.

      The Importance of Learning Vocabulary

      When learning a new foreign language, it pays off to focus on growing your vocabulary. Vocabulary is essential because:

      • It allows us to successfully communicate ideas and express ourselves accurately.
      • It is important for language development and improving general literacy skills.
      • It improves reading comprehension, permitting us to consume a wider variety of cultural material.

      Linguists often debate the definition of fluency. What makes someone fluent in a foreign language? Is it about how many words a person knows or is it more about their comprehension? How long does it take to become fluent in a new language? We take a look at the concept of fluency right below.

      Defining fluency

      Defining fluency is far from simple. While the word originates from the Latin fluentem (to flow), language can “flow” comfortably for many speakers even if they are not fully fluent. People can be conversationally fluent in a language they are learning (meaning they can hold their own in a conversation) or natively fluent, which the highest standard of fluency (meaning being able to think in that language).

      You are considered to be fluent when your speaking ability allows you to talk freely and without hesitation and when you are able to follow a conversation in a group of natives while talking about things you’re not used to talking about.

      A young woman in a university library

      Fluency in numbers: How many words do you need to know to be fluent?

      While it is difficult to precisely measure fluency in a number of words, there are some rough indicators of how many words you would need to learn to reach specific proficiency levels in a foreign language.

      Learning 250-500 words will be enough to get you through everyday tourist situations in a foreign country, while 1,000-3,000 will mean that you are also able to have meaningful conversations. An advanced learner would know 4,000-10,000 words, including specialized vocabulary, whereas fluent speakers tend to have a vocabulary of over 10,000 words with native speakers topping the “vocabulary ranks” with their 10,000-30,000+ words.

      Fluency in time: How long does it take to learn the number of words that is necessary to become fluent?

      Becoming fluent in a foreign language is a process that takes time. The amount of time it takes differs from individual to individual, depending on the level of fluency they want to achieve, their familiarity with the study of foreign languages, and the method they use to learn the language.

      According to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), there are six levels of fluency, beginning with A1 and ending with mastery in C2. Each of these levels takes approximately 200 hours of study, suggesting that the highest level of fluency would take an average of 1200 hours of study to attain.

      Memorizing words daily: How many should you learn?

      Experts claim that learners are capable of retaining 10-20 words per study hour. Even if you think you can take on more than that, resist overwhelming your brain with new information and set small goals to learn new words daily instead.

      Grow your vocabulary every week

      For 15 minutes of self-study per day, set a weekly vocabulary goal of 20-25 words. Increase the number of words for longer study periods. Repetition is key when it comes to successfully learning new words, so try to use learned vocabulary over and over.

      Growing our vocabulary is a very important part of learning a new language: the more words we know, the better we will be able to express ourselves and understand the world around us. However, sometimes just reading a word and its translation isn’t enough to make us remember it. Some students find memorization techniques useful when learning vocabulary.

      10 Techniques to Memorize Vocabulary Quickly and Effectively

      If you need some tips to help you remember new vocabulary, look no further. We’ve got you covered!

      1. Mnemonics

      Mnemonic devices are mental shortcuts, like associations and acronyms, which help you remember complex words. Some examples of spelling mnemonics would be:

      • The phrase “A rat in the house may eat the ice cream” for ‘Arithmetic’.
      • The phrase “Big elephants can always understand small elephants” for ‘Because’.
      • The phrase “George’s elderly old grandfather rode a pig home yesterday” for ‘Geography’.

      2. Flashcards

      Making flashcards is a popular way of learning new words. Place your flashcards where you will see them regularly and read them daily. To find free flashcards with pictures that you can print, head to:

      3. Word association webs

      A word association web is a visual tool that helps you remember words by associating them with other words. Write the word you want to remember on the center of a sheet of paper and draw lines outward connecting the center to other words that you associate with it.

      4. Sentences

      Making sentences helps us understand the words we learn, which is the best way to memorize them.

      5. Avoid translation

      In order to remember a word, it is useful to try and describe it in the language one is learning rather than translating it to their mother tongue.

      Some English words that are difficult to remember for a lot of learners but you can use this method to remember are:

      • Unabashed, which means not embarrassed.
      • Nonplussed, which means filled with bewilderment.
      • Bewilderment, which means the state of being lost, perplexed, or confused.

      6. Draw

      Drawing a picture for each new word ensures that we will remember it better.

      7. Repeat

      Repeat the words you learn often. Go back to revisit them and do some vocabulary practice after your lesson until you have no problems remembering them.

      It is advisable to have a separate copybook for writing down a word correctly when you first learn it and another for practicing and revisiting them. This is because you might make some mistakes when practicing, but you need to keep your notebook for reading words clean.

      A great way to organize your vocabulary copybook is to divide it into three columns: one for new words, one for the description of their meaning, and one for translation.

      8. Visualize

      To memorize new words, it helps to have them printed out in front of you.

      9. Study to music

      It is suggested that certain sounds and music can help with memory when it comes to language learning.

      10. Play vocabulary games

      Use language learning apps that allow you to do word puzzles and games like crosswords using newly learned vocabulary. Some great examples of vocabulary learning games that you can also easily find and play online are:

      A girl's hands holding flashcards with Latin words

      3 fun ways to learn vocabulary

      Not a fan of flashcards? Don’t worry! Here are three fun vocabulary activities that can help you learn:

      1. Read comic books

      Comics have a lot of simple dialogue, making their plot easier to understand than that of a novel. Here are some examples of comic books that are suitable for learning vocabulary:

      • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: A series of illustrated books about a boy named Greg and his adventures trying to become popular in middle school.
      • Calvin and Hobbes: An American newspaper comic strip about Calvin, a six-year-old very imaginative boy, and his pet tiger, Hobbes.
      • Garfield: A comic strip about the everyday life of a lazy cat with a love for lasagne.

      2. Make word pairs

      Whenever you learn a new word, find a synonym and the opposite for it. Some examples or word pairs are:

      • Pompous. Synonym: Arrogant. Antonym: Humble.
      • Courageous. Synonym: Brave. Antonym: Cowardly.
      • Noisy. Synonym: Loud. Antonym: Quiet.

      3. Watch your favorite show with foreign subtitles

      You will easily pick up on new vocabulary when watching re-runs of your favorite shows with subtitles in the language you’re learning.

      To find shows with subtitles, you have two options. Either try platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu that offer subtitled shows and caption/ subtitle options or go to websites that allow you to download subtitles for your favorite movies and shows like:

      Learning vocabulary overnight

      If you are aiming for significant vocabulary expansion in one night, the best techniques to use would be mnemonics and the chunking method of memorization.

      It is estimated that using mnemonics you can learn vocabulary at 400% your previous speed. You simply need to create a connection, like a shortcut or an acronym, that helps you remember a difficult word.

      As for the chunking method, it involves learning things in groups instead of by themselves. Because our brain can only hold 5 to 9 things in its working memory at a time, the best ways of memorizing include memorizing information in “chunks”. Creating lists of similar words grouped by theme or category is an example of this.

      With languages, you are at home anywhere!

      Speaking foreign languages is an important skill nowadays and it is said that language learning helps our cognitive abilities, while also improving our career prospects as well as making us well-rounded people.

      While there are no shortcuts to learning a language and true native-level fluency takes years, when it comes to learning foreign languages practice does make perfect. Dedicating a little bit of time every day to learn new vocabulary will ensure you’re ahead of the game!

      If you are struggling with memorizing new words, there are plenty of useful memorizing techniques that you can use to help you remember your vocabulary. Complement your learning with online classes at Eurekly, which are taught by native experts dedicated to maximizing your potential!

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