A task facing every foreign language learner is vocabulary acquisition. Learning long lists of words to increase your vocabulary is often tedious and brings back memories of frequently less than successful language learning at school. However there are a number of strategies you can use to aid in the process, which I will discuss below, in no particular order.
Like the old saying goes – “work smarter, not harder” and this applies equally well to vocab acquisition. Simply focus your attention on learning the most commonly used words first. There are word frequency tables you can find on the net which will provide you with the top 1000 words or something like that, so start with those and you’ll have a usable vocabulary much sooner than if you just learn random words.
An old tactic but still good is simply to read some good books, magazines, newspapers or these days also websites in the language you are trying to learn and keep a dictionary handy so you can do a quick lookup of any unfamiliar words. You can start with children’s books and gradually progress to more complex material. If you are reading online or on your pc you can do a quick copy-paste into google translate.
Another popular method is to watch foreign language movies with subtitles so you can instantly see the translation of new words while also having visual context further helping you to acquire and understand the words.
Use flashcards or the modern equivalent – spaced repetition flashcard software which will nag you with new words at varying intervals designed to aid memorizing.
Set yourself a task to learn 5 or 10 or 20 new words each and every day – write them down (choose from the top 1000 or so as mentioned above), email them to yourself, write them on post-it notes and stick them around your monitor or around the house or office – basically anywhere you will see them without specifically looking for them. Many people do this and stick them on the actual objects the words refer to such as a chair, fridge, door, etc. so pretty soon you will know the word for everything you can see around you.
Learn vocabulary related to your profession and your hobbies or interests – this will usually result in you learning a subset of words which are very relevant to you personally and so it becomes much easier (not to mention important) for you to acquire vocabulary this way.
Learn some foreign language songs – find them on Youtube or find a foreign radio station (internet radio is ideal for this) and sing along with the songs you like – you can usually find the written lyrics online so lookup new words in the ever present dictionary and then when you sing along you will quickly remember and understand.
You could also bite the bullet and buy a pimsleur course which uses graduated interval recall and other techniques to teach you lots of new words and get you used to actually saying them.
Try to talk to people in your new language – preferably people that already speak it! Find native speakers to do a language exchange with which is a great way to do some language immersion and learn new words which come up naturally in the conversation.
Last but not least – never give up, never surrender! Sometimes you may just get tired of trying to learn new words but don’t let the task defeat you – the rewards of being able to speak another language more than make up for the effort it took to acquire it!