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BlogHow to Learn New Vocabulary in Your Target Language When You’re Stuck at Home

How to Learn New Vocabulary in Your Target Language When You’re Stuck at Home

Written by E-QIP on April 23, 2020

As we enter another weekend of physical distancing, you’re probably as eager as we are to get back to work, school and normal life. While things are certainly looking optimistic, we’ve all still got at least a few more weeks of isolation ahead of us, and we don’t blame you if you want to spend them watching Netflix on the sofa in your PJs.

Some of you, however, may be keen to use that time to learn new vocabulary in your target language before rejoining your language classes/the real world, and if that’s the case, you may want to try some of these tried-and-true vocab memorizing methods. While full fluency is (in our opinion) more of a team sport (in that it requires human interaction), vocab acquisition is thankfully one area of language learning that you can tackle all by yourself (or with the pigeons on your balcony that you’ve befriended, as the case may be).

Label items in your home

What better way to learn household vocabulary than to use the everyday items that surround you as 3D picture dictionary entries? Get yourself a package of Post-it notes or painter’s tape and label everything you see: your furniture, electronics, decor… even your pantry items, if you’re feeling ambitious. The repetition of seeing the words over and over again whenever you go to use their corresponding items will help you form mental associations that you’ll be able to draw on in the ‘real world’.

Use a vocab-focused language app

We’ve written before about the benefits of language apps, and it’s times like thesewhen you can’t be in the classroomthat apps are the most useful. Look for an app that’s designed to help you pick up vocab; Duolingo, the most famous of the bunch, will do the trick, but we especially like Memrise for colloquial vocabulary and phrases that are actually used in everyday conversation by native speakers.

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Start a notebook

Studies have shown that writing things down helps us to remember them. That doesn’t mean you can list new words once, close your book (never to be looked at again) and remember them for life; you’ll probably need to write them down several times to see any benefits, and it’s best to put things in context. Place words you’ve learned in full sentences about your own life, or about associations you have with those words, and then review, review, review!

How to Learn New Vocabulary in Your Target Language When You’re Stuck at Home

Read a newspaper article or novel in your target language

...or any other texts written by native speakers. Your new language notebook will come in handy here! Whatever level you’re at, your first song lyrics, article or book will likely present many challenges… sure, you might get the gist of the story, but no amount of concentration is going to magically make the definitions appear in your mind.

That’s where another kind of magic comes in: Google translate (or your digital translator of choice). Write down definitions for any new vocab that you encounter in your trusty notebook, even if it takes up every blank page you have. You’ll find the books a lot easier to follow (and you’ll be able to guess at more of the vocab) if you choose a text or topic you’re already familiar with. If you can, check with native speakers or teachers for any phrases that don’t seem to make literal sense in context; these are likely slang words or idioms.

Watch (new!) TV shows

For those of you with LOTS of time on your hands (we’re not judging), try this: on Netflix, you’ll find many shows available with subtitles and/or dubbing in various languages (in Canada, this is, naturally, especially true of English and French).

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Choose a series with short (~30-minute) episodes and watch one with the audio and subtitles of your target language. Keep notes: write down any words/phrases you’re unsure of and try your best to describe the plot of the episode. Then watch the same episode again, this time with either the audio or captions in your native language/a language you speak fluently. Note any differences in your understanding of the storyline, and compare how different phrases are presented in your target language versus your own language.

How to Learn New Vocabulary in Your Target Language When You’re Stuck at Home
Pick a topic to discuss with fellow learners or native speakers 

Okay, so this isn’t an entirely solitary activity, but if you do happen to have (online) friends who are learning the same target language, or even native speaker friends: use them!

Don’t just jump into a conversation, though (or do that too, but as a separate activity). Choose a topic to discuss before (like your favourite sports team or band, or which city you want to visit first when all of this social distancing is over) and research what you’re going to discuss separately before coming together to talk (either over the phone or computer, verbally or by text). If you’re chatting with another language student, it’s likely you’ll both encounter words in each other’s speech that you’re not familiar with; use that as an opportunity to explain your vocab, which will in turn help you remember it yourself!

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