I’m reading English and Spanish at uni and I studied 3 languages (Spanish, French, and Latin) at A Level.

Here are some of my top tips that I have learned over the years -those that I wish I had adopted more often or more effectively when I was trying to learn!

1. Buy a small dictionary

I mean a very, very small one. Learn the words one page or one letter at a time. I still have my boring old dictionary that I bought in the hotel duty free when I went to Granada 4 years ago. Don’t – whatever you do – buy a big one, because it is just so chunky that even the mere consideration of studying it will turn your mood downbeat. Go for a small one – maybe even the smallest one you can find – and go through the words. If you have been studying the language for a few years, it is highly probable that you will know the majority of the words inside. Often these types of pocket dictionaries have useful idioms and set phrases that will make your speech or writing more colloquial, so this is a good place to start. Despite knowing the majority of the words in that old dictionary of mine, I still peruse its pages every now and again to refresh my mind. This is an inexpensive solution to vocab learning, and you can carry it with you to take out when you have a spare moment.

2. Use pictures

I cannot stress this one enough, because too often when we learn vocab we are faced with ream after ream of black words on white paper. It is uninspiring and incredibly dull, and the fact is that you will learn words much better if you actually use them in your own speech. If you learn a new word – for example, the Spanish word for tie (‘bufanda’) – in a vocab list, you may never actually use it in conversation or in writing. However, if you place a clip art or a cartoonified picture of a scarf right next to the word ‘bufanda’, your mind will create a connection. This is also a great tool for word groups: take an image of a kitchen from the internet and put a word next to all the main items. Blender, toaster, oven, knife, fork, spoon, drawer, fridge, washing machine. You will find gaps in your vocabulary that can be easily rectified – and it’s much more fun than the boring alternative.

3. Try to translate everything in your vicinity

Where are you right now? Can you translate the things you see into the language you are learning? What about the monitor or laptop on which you are reading these words? This leads on from the visual word groups, but this is highly important. Until 2 weeks ago, I didn’t know what the word for ‘keyboard’ was in Spanish (it’s ‘el teclado’), even though I use this piece of equipment multiple times every single day. And the computer mouse? Do you know what that is? Regardless of your level of proficiency in the language, these words are important as we use them frequently, and once they are ingrained in your memory you will probably never forget them due to repeated usage.

4. Vary the medium with which you are learning your vocabulary

I mentioned the visual element, which is highly important in any vocab learning, but another great trick is the audio format. This tool should never be underestimated, and you might like to combine them both by watching a YouTube video. YouTube has thousands of videos recorded by speakers in your language (in Spanish, for example, there are a wide range of great videos on false friends and verb tenses that I have found very useful over the years). Have a browse through and check out the channels of the main contributors – this is fun and can be done alongside regular YouTube clip streaming! Of course, there is a danger of procrastination on YouTube, but if you are disciplined then it could be a great way of learning vocab. You will remember the tone in which the word that you didn’t know was spoken, and this will help you to retain it in your memory.

5. Make it colourful

Once you have your list that your teacher has given you or one that you have found on the internet, use some colour to award yourself when you have learnt certain words. Go through once with two highlighters and highlight the vocab that you really don’t know in one colour, and those that you are slightly unsure of but think you probably do know in another. Spend some time (maybe 1/2 an hour or so, depending on the length of the list) going through the second colour (the ones over which you are a little uncertain) until you feel very strongly that you know them well. In two simple steps you will have cut that list down into a much more manageable selection. Now it contains only a few of the most difficult words. Now you might like to create a different list (or scrap lists altogether, cut them out, and stick them around your room together with the translation!) containing only those words. However, the disadvantage of this is that it can seem once again quite daunting. My own preference is to retain the original list, because I might end up with only 1 or 2 very hard words per page, and if I can learn them quickly, I will know that that page is done and covered. (Just a little confidence booster -because that’s what so much of effective revision is about, really!).

6. Use what you have learnt!

Go downstairs and talk to your family, and say something like “Ah, what’s for dinner? Chicken and peas? I know those words.” Yes – you do. Because you created a link between the word printed or written on the page in front of you and the actual image or smell of that item when you experienced it for yourself.

Please comment, rate, and share to any fellow friends and students!

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