What’s the best way to learn vocabulary?


The British Council recently uploaded a series of YouTube videos as part of its language learning campaign.

One of them – see below – takes aim at vocabulary and provides some practical advice on how to increase the number of foreign words you know, clearly a vital step down the path of learning any new language.

As the videos’ star, Alex Rawlings, puts it: “Learning new languages is about learning new words.”

He outlines four main types of learner:

1. Visual learners – those who learn by seeing
2. Kinaesthetic learners – those who learn by moving
3. Communicative learners – those who learn better by speaking
4. Audial learners – those who learn better by hearing.

Alex Rawlings suggests that you’ll probably find you’re a combination of two of the above categories, rather  than  identifying with only one.

So, how to find the best vocabulary learning strategy for you?

Well, as the video says, you could try to associate the words with pictures. That is, draw the pictures by hand or find them on Google Images, Flickr etc, then print them out, and write on them the words that you’re trying to learn.

You could even stick these around the house – in appropriate places (জানালা on a window, etc) or random ones to test yourself – for a constant reminder of your new words.

Or you could record yourself saying it (though if you’re like 99% of people, that dislike of the sound of your own voice will just have to be overcome). Then put the recording on your phone/mp3 player and listen away for audial reminders.

Not entirely trusting my own Bengali pronunciation my father-in-law helpfully agreed to be recorded reading some of my vocabulary lists aloud – this certainly gave me an unusual soundtrack for part of this week’s run as I ambled around the common at 6:30am in the dingy half-light.

One of Alex’s other tips is that context is essential, He suggests making up short sentences that include the words you’re trying to learn.

It’s something I’ve successfully applied with numbers – counting my steps as I walk, colours – naming the colours of cars I walk by, and currently I give myself a running commentary on the weather as I walk (I do, as may be obvious, walk quite a bit).

Finally, Alex turns to the conversion rate of the amount of vocabulary you remember six months after first learning it. The best way to make sure that you still have a lot of that vocabulary, he notes, is to use it.

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