and welcome to a special episode, because today we’ll not deal with a bunch of words. Today, we’ll deal with a Shitton of words. That’s Japanese for “an amount as numerous as the petals of cherry trees in spring” and it’s the perfect word because today we’ll talk about learning vocabulary.
In my opinion, learning vocabulary is really THE key, especially in the beginning. Like… you can go to intensive courses all you want. If you don’t have a way to effectively learn words, it’ll be a drag and the language will always feel frustrating. But if you DO have a way to quickly learn vocab, that really is like a turbo boost.
So today, I want to share with you a method for learning words. And no, it’s not some app.
It’s my very own way of going about it and I call it Learn LOV-LAB™
Learn Lots of Vocabulary – Like a Boss ™
With this method, you can learn a lot of words in little time, without pressure, failure and the most important thing is… with very little effort.
Sounds amazing, right?
Just a warning… the article is long. Not because the method is complicated but because it sounds weird and I want to explain why it is working.
So read this, if you have enough time.
That said, let’s jump right in and find out…
And that method is… drum roll…
old school rote learning with self written vocabulary lists
Now, this probably sounds like one of those super funny jokes that I do all the time. But it’s not. I’m serious.
Now you’re like “The 1960s called, they wants their method back.” and I know it’s super old school. But the thing is … it works incredibly well, even if you’re lazy. If you’re NOT lazy… 500 words a month is no problem.
And the key is in the details, so let me explain my method to you and also the reasoning behind it and why I think it’s works as well as it does.
And even if it doesn’t work for you, you’ll still get some new ideas and perspectives on learning words, that might help you.
Let’s start with a sort of mission statement. Here’s what the method is for:
learn a LOT of words with little effort in a short time.
Not grammar, not building sentences, not refining anything. Just binge-ing words.
And the first thing we need is the right mind set.
1. The Mind Set
Have you ever moved to a new apartment? Then you know how it goes. The van parks outside, you take out the bookshelf, carry it upstairs and assemble it. Then you get a box of books, carry it upstairs and unpack it. In alphabetical order.
Now you’re like “What the hell, this system is ridiculous.” And of course you’re right. No one does it that way.
What you do is taking all the boxes and the stuff out of the van and you dump it into the new place. And then, you unpack over the next two weeks. Or months. And some boxes you might bring back down to the basement.
Now, why am I talking about this?
Because that’s exactly the mind set we need. Just throw it all in there and clean up later. Or in a bit more fancy terms
quantity and speed over quality and accuracy
For a beginner, it makes way more sense to learn 100 words kinda sorta than 20 words “properly”. You can express more and also, the more words you’re sort of familiar with, the higher your chance to recognize something when people talk. Even if you don’t understand the content… breaking up the stream of sounds into words is a HUGE step already.
To give you a personal example for the mind set… I am learning Bulgarian at the moment (I’m SUPER lazy about it). Bulgarian has three genders, just like German. And I do not have them on my lists. Because I don’t care at this point, and it feels like work. And work shmork.
Now, people (especially teachers) say that it’s super important to learn everything properly right away. Because it’s super hard to correct something once you’ve learned it.
Nonsense, I say!!
You can ALWAYS relearn
Life is motion and transformation. The only thing that keeps you from relearning is clinging to old stuff. And just because you said die Fahrrad ten times doesn’t mean that it’ll be super super hard to switch to the correct article das Fahrrad. It’s just a little odd for a couple of days. You might think “But why should I work twice when I can do it properly once.” And my answer is: learning a word isn’t much work and neither is relearning something, when the urge arises. What makes it feel like real work is the idea of having to do everything properly right away.
I’m not saying you should skip the gender in German. If you don’t mind it, then add. Just don’t be perfectionist about it. Be quick and relaxed. We’ll do the cleaning up later along the way to fluency.
Cool. So that’s our mind set. Now let’s look at the core of it all… the list. Because it’s quite a lot to be done wrong.
2. The List
The list itself and how it is constructed is really important for the system to work. But don’t worry… there’s not like this detailed, fine tuned plan you have to follow. Just a few underlying ideas and principles.
Here’s how a list might look like, if I were a beginner in German…
- because – weil
- to walk – laufen
- to convince – überzeugen (von)
- and – und
- although – obwohl
- since – seit
- tree – der Baum
- to learn – lernen
- although – obwohl
- to walk – gehen
A real list would be longer, of course, but this sample contains all the important aspects. And the first one is…
Of course, as a beginner especially, you want to have the most common and most useful words on your lists. That are verbs and all those small words like but, and, maybe, sometimes, never, difficult, behind and so on (adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, if you know the jargon).
What you don’t really need that much are nouns. Like… there’s actually only one noun in my snippet. Not that nouns aren’t common, but they’re not as common as those small words I just mentioned. Also, nouns tend to be rather defined. Like… a noun stands for one thing. Verbs are more versatile. And also, many of the every day nouns are things you can point at. So you can basically communicate them. You can absolutely not point at because. If you don’t know the word, you cannot express the idea. Sure, there are lots of nouns you can’t point at. But they often are based on a verb and verbs are always the better choice, especially in German. Oh and while we’re at it… you probably know this method of putting post its all over your flat with the German word for it, chair, table, fridge and so on. I’d invite you to put a fitting verb on the note instead. Open, close, turn on, turn off, sit, write… that’ll be MUCH more helpful than a bunch of words for things you can point at.
So yeah… your list should be the exact opposite of the lists that you can find at the end of chapters of a beginner’s textbook. Because those are full of nouns and the lack those super important small words because “your grammar’s not ready yet.”
Whatever, you dumb textbook!! Keep your egg plant and gimme if instead.
If I have word for I want say, I not need grammar.
12 words, 2 nouns. Case made :)! Let’s move on to the next crucial feature.
You all know these words that just won’t stick in your mind. Well, if a word is being a bit of a princess just put it on more than one list. Or on the same list twice (like although in the snippet). The idea is not to have each word only once. The idea to learn as many words with as little as effort, and if one word is hard to memorize for you, then you need more exposure.
And in fact, redundancy is not only for those words that are being a bit of a diva. It happens automatically. Imagine you’re making a new list, you brainstorm for words, and you think “Oh laufen would be a good word.” Then just put it down. It doesn’t matter if it is on another list already. Apparently, you don’t know it well enough. This happens to me all the time.
And it doesn’t end there. I actually add words that I more or less know to a new list. And the reason for that is the next feature.
A page full of words you’ve never seen before is super intimidating. Humans always look for some familiarity, a feeling of “home”. A few familiar words on a list will do just that. They give you a moment of rest, AND a moment of success because… you get them right. That makes it MUCH easier to deal with all the weird new words.
The key really is to mix various degrees of familiarity. Some words that you know well, mixed with some words that you half know and of course all the new words. Not only will that help you feel “at home” on the new list, it’ll also stimulate your brain because the “intensity” while going through the words varies constantly. And, words you half know will change to words you know quicker than completely new ones, so you have a constant feeling of progress, but without putting numbers and goals on it. Ugh… goals. Anyway, let’s now talk about what might be the most important feature of those lists…
the beauty of C h aos
You might have noticed it … the words on the list are all over the place. And that is on purpose. This probably seems counter intuitive. I mean, most apps and programs organize vocabulary by certain topics. But let me tell you why I think this isn’t all that efficient.
First of, in daily conversation, the words in a sentence are also quite “chaotic”. Take a look:
“I am hoping for a good summer.”
That’s a normal every day sentence. Now let’s put that into a list:
- to be
- to hope
Do you see what I mean? This kind of looks like my snippet. It’s pretty chaotic, too. And by the way… there’s only one noun in it.
But that’s not all. I think, this clustering up is actually counter productive. Why? Because the idea a single word evokes in your loses intensity because of all the other words of the field.
Here’s what I mean..
This is a classic cluster that you might find in a textbook. Five emotional states in a row. And none of them has room to breathe. How is your brain going to connect a bunch of letters to an idea, if the idea can’t fully flare up? Now take a look at this instead:
Here, happy has room to breathe. It can still be there as an echo when we move on to the next word. Just as flower can be there as an after thought when we look at forget. The progression doesn’t need to “make sense”. In fact, it’s better if it doesn’t. Our subconscious loves it and it makes its own little journey from it. Not a journey we are aware of, not a story we can tell. But it’s there, and it helps. Just think of your dreams and how incoherent they are.
A word activates an idea in our brain and that idea needs room. Making a list of similar words lessens the intensity of individual ideas and our powerful subconscious is bored and goes to sleep because it has nothing to play with. No random impressions. Just look at the two lists again
- happy surprised bored sad
- happy flower forget until
Yes, the first one is the better overview, it’s a great archive job. But which one is the more inspiring? The one that tickles your creativity. The one you’d like to look at more often.
That’s how you want your list to be … chaotic and balanced.
A few new words, then a familiar word. Or a word you totally know. Never stay on a topic for too long. And not with one word type for too long. Verbs but not too many in a row. You go for useful words, but they don’t ALL have to be useful. Sometimes, there’s a connection between two or three words in a row. And then, you break it. After a bunch of abstract or functional words, make sure to throw in something random from nature, something you like, regardless of whether it’s useful or not.
Don’t make a plan when making a list, just go with the flow and avoid being too systematical, too much in your head.
The result will be a pretty chaotic collection of words that is challenging you, annoying you, confuses you, makes you feel at home, bores you at time, and it’s tickling your subconscious, it’s inspiring you. Or to put in in one word…
it has a character
You don’t see it at first, but you will get to know it when you learn the list.
And this bring us to our next point.
3. The Learning
When people think about learning vocabulary, they usually think that they have to do something. Like… they have to remember the word. But you can’t really do that. Your brain does that, if it so chooses :).
All you have to do is ask your brain for the word by looking at it in your native language. And then check the solution. And yes, even if you haven’t “learned” the list yet. Just start asking.
Now, I know this sounds weird but it’s actually not that outlandish.
Let’s take push ups. When you want to train push ups you go basically go to your muscles like “Could you do a push up?”. And if they can, then they do. And if they CAN’T, maybe because they’re tired, they will be like “Oh shit, I failed. Guess I gotta grow a bit.”
With our brain it’s the same. It’s not a muscle, of course, but it also has a built in desire of life, to be up to the task.
If we want to know something, a word for example, we’re like “Hey brain, what’s because in German.” and the brain is like “Sure, hold on.”. And if it can’t deliver, if it FAILS at the task, it has an incentive to memorize it, so it’s ready next time. You don’t have to “remember” it. Your brain is naturally primed to do that. What you need to do is make a query (ask for a word) and then present the answer.
Tree in German?
Tree is Baum.
Again, please don’t feel like “Uhh.. okay, I have to remember that now.”
Just be aware of the random sequence of letters and what it stands for, the mental idea you have. Give it a moment to breathe and observe anything that comes up.
Maybe you think “Oh, that’s like bammm, when the tree falls.” Or you think “That doesn’t sound green”. Or you think of a gesture. Or of baguette. Or you think how stupid it looks. Or that it looks like this other words on that other list. Or you think about the word before. Or how you’re pissed of because you should know this one. Or the coffee stain on the list. Or that you hate that part. Or sex. Or how the park is beautiful. Or just nothing.
If you want, you can repeat the word, if you want you can think of an example. But there’s no “must do”.
And then move on. Your brain will do its best to be up for the task next time. Maybe it won’t remember the word, but just a couple of vowels or the length. Or maybe just where the word is on the list. But it will remember SOMETHING.
And next time you go over the word, it will add something more. The list will feel familiar, the order will feel familiar, the list will have a “vibe”. And eventually, maybe even when you don’t expect it, the word will just be there. Because at the end of the day…
Our brains are awesome!
Yeah… that “at the end of the day” made no sense. I just wanted to sound like a business consultant for once.
But seriously, our brains really are awesome! They store all kinds of stuff without us knowing, and in the weirdest associations sometimes.
We can use that power for learning vocabulary. All you really gotta do is ask the question and then look at the answer and really be aware.
Oh and yes… you do that right the first time, even if you’ve not gone over the list before. There is no point in looking at it and trying to memorize the words first. Just ask, your brain will fail and it will adjust.
It’s really pretty chill. And because it is so chill it is no problem to deal with 100 to 200 words at a time. Me personally, I usually “work” with four lists…. one completely new one, two sort of new ones and one that I more or less know about. If you only use one, you will get bored.
I know, I know… part of you is like “No way… I can’t do that.”. But please… of course you can. Remember… you don’t have to remember anything. There is no pressure. In fact, pressure will make learning vocabulary suck. If after three weeks, you still don’t remember all words on a list, that’s fine.
“But, but Emanuel, wasn’t our goal to learn a lot of words quickly?”
Well, yes but for that, we need to …
4. Stop Counting!!!
You see, to be anywhere near able to hold a basic conversation you need at LEAST 500 words. Probably more. That’s a lot of words. A frightening amount.
If we go at a speed of 10 words per day, we need almost two months for that. Ten new words every single day. Miss a day, and, boom, it’s 20 new words. And of course you have to repeat the words of the day before, half of which you’re not sure about. And the day before that. . And you have to repeat the ones of the day before. And the day before that. And those of last week that just won’t stick.
The thing is… you will fail at your goal of ten words a day. Maybe after three days. Maybe after two weeks. But you will fail. Now you might say “Well, then let’s make it five words a day.” but it’s the same. You will probably still fail.
Learning words is not doing dishes. You don’t know how long it’s going to take. Some days you’re like a sponge, other days you can’t take in anything. Some words stick right away, others you can’t remember even after 20 times.
A fixed quota is not how learning works. And all you do with these kind of goal and quotas, all you do with counting is setting yourself up for failure and frustration.
Instead, you kind of just need to surrender and expose yourself. Surrender to the fact that there’s an ridiculously large amount of new words, and you can’t imagine how you could possible learn them all. And then you just dig in. Large batches at a time. Like 50 for instance, which is about how many I usually have on a list. And as soon as you feel familiar with a list, you start a new one and “work” with both. Some days you go over them twice. Some days you don’t. The more often you do it, the faster but the system doesn’t need a fixed routine to work. Like… I usual don’t do anything for like a week. Like… NOTHING. And if the list feels new when I get back… well whatever. I’m still a LOT quicker than I would be with Memrise…. that was an awful experience.
Think of it as throwing pasta against a wall. Some will stick, the rest you’ll pick up and throw again. And if most of them are on the wall, you cook more.
And that’s it :).
This is my approach to learning vocabulary and I think we can all agree on one thing:
5. this was too long :)
But I hope it was worth it.
Seriously, I know this was a lot to take in, but I felt like I needed to explain the system because it’s just so against what the common beliefs are.
But it works really really really well. Like… you really can learn a lot of words in a very relaxed way with almost no effort. I mean, why else would I make sooo much effort to explain it to you.
Sure, everyone is different and yada yada yada but I’d really invite you to try the system for a couple of weeks, even if it sounds and feels weird at first and goes against all your beliefs about learning vocab. As with any method, it’s also a matter of training. If you can really say yes and try it, I’m almost certain you will be surprised by how much you get without it feeling like work.
Now, I’m super curious to hear from you. What do you think about my approach? Does it make sense? Do you have questions? Will you give it a shot?
Or did you get at least some ideas or new perspectives. Or d you disagree? What’s your method and why do you like it?
And of course, if you tried my system, how did it work for you?
I’m really looking forward to hear your thoughts, so I’ll be in the comment section.
Nah, kidding… I’m gonna go outside now :).
But yeah, let me know your thoughts in the comments. I hope you liked it and see you next time.
Hi, is it good to make that list in excel and check it up later on your smartphone? Sounds like very convenient and may come in handy, doesn’t?
You mean instead of having a sheet of paper? Yeah that totally works!
Maybe just try it out and see if you like the “feel” of it. Like… do you ENJOY studying this way. That’s the most crucial thing to find out!
Yes, instead of sheet of paper. I’ve got four tabs to replace four pages and that’s it. All my lists are always in my pocket.
Hallo, ich habe eine Frage. Du hast erwähnt, dass du mit vier Listen gleichzeitig lernst. Wie ist das eigentlich? Benutzt du vier verschiedene Collegeblock oder nur einfach vier Seiten nebeneinander? Ich werde diese Trick auf jeden Fall anwenden, da mein Wortschatz eingeschränkt ist.
Könntest du es bitte noch ein bisschen genauer erklären/ergänzen? Vielen Dank!
Ja, damit meinte ich 4 Blatt Papier. Aber natürlich nicht nebeneinander :).
Im Prinzip geht es nur darum, dass du genug Wörter in “rotation” hast. Also nicht nur zwanzig, sondern 50 oder 100.
Das kannst du mit Listen machen, oder mit Flashcards.
Mit Flashcards habe ich das auch gemacht. Da hatte ich dann einen Stapel mit 30 “neuen” Karten, und den habe ich dann langsam größer gemacht zu 100 oder so.
Dann habe ich einen neuen Stapel angefangen, und beide parallel benutzt, und so weiter.
Viel Erfolg auf jeden Fall, und sag mal Bescheid, ob das System für dich funktioniert.
Do you use online flashcard or just index card?
if you use online, which app will you recommend? Thank you again for answering my question!
The only app online that I’ve tried is memrise.
I HATE typing feature though, and I hate their repetition rhythm, so I very much prefer paper cards.
All this clicking and looking at a screen is not helping, imo.
Also, with actual paper cards, you have more flexibility to add notes and the process of making them can be nice. Much nicer than yet more screen time.
Okay, I will try index cards. I still have another question. How should I write the verb ones? Because Nouns are probably okay to write its translation, but Verb is different. Do you have any tips? My main goal is to deepen my active vocabulary since my passive vocabulary is already huge.
Thank you so much for answering my questions and I will definitely try your techniques!
I guess you’re referring to the multiple meanings a verb can have.
I would go with YOUR language as the baseline. So if a verb in the foreign language has multiple translations in yours, then I’d pick the most idiomatic one, and if it’s got two independent translations that’ll be two different cards.
Also, if a verb in your language has a couple of meaning that have nothing to do with each other, put them on two separate cards with a little note which one you’re referring to with this card.
For “ankommen” for instance, I would make at least two cards. One for “arriving” and one for “to depend”.
I’d then at some point have two cards for “to depend” (ankommen auf”, “abhängen von”) so I never really know which one it is. In that case, I’d recall both options for the count to pass.
Not sure if I’m making sense :)
Let me know if you need me to explain it a little better.
Doch, it really makes sense! So, for nouns i just need to write the translation without any sentences, and for verbs i will just make different cards when there are two different meanings.
I finally understood it! Thank youuuu
Yeah, if you have to learn like 3 different meanings/ideas for one verb, it’ll be very slow and tedious in the beginning and the main goal of this is a speedy process :). Let me know how it’s going!!
My only problem now, is how to start to make a list a bunch words in random order since I don’t even know where to start or where to based my list on. Do you have any tips?
So for the very beginning, I used random words that I can think of that I use all the time. Like “to go, to make, to do, maybe, because, after that, before that, small”
Don’t get too systematic, though. Like.. don’t be like I’ll do ALL time words.
Just jot down the first 50 that come to mind. If there’s a weird one in there, keep it. It’s a bit like a creative writing exercise, but there is virtually no pressure.
You know like thousands of words in your native language, so writing down 50 that you use a lot is objectively easy. if you do it and you find you get stuck… that’s your inner critic trying to pick the BEST words, wondering if what you have in mind is “useful enough.” Just tell that voice to shut up then and write whatever :)
If I were given only a week to learn a language from a survival perspective, I would memorize a list of essential verbs, followed by nouns before tackling other articles of speech, or even attempting a sentence.. Most locals would know what you want or need by simply combining a verb with a noun.
Yup, that makes perfect sense. Grammar really doesn’t help much in such a scenario
didn’t learn german
I totally agree! I found the approach of practicing with flashcards was really really helpful because it helped me to read and listen faster. Only half understanding words wasn’t really a problem because it laid the groundwork to recognise and build a intuition about how the word was used once I saw it in context. Rather than trying to teach too much about a word in the flashcards it seemed better to just get a vague idea about a lot of words and then just absorb as much interesting content as possible. The little flash of recognition every time I saw a word I’d recently learnt (which happened astoundingly often, as if they were all just lying in wait) seemed to be much more important than the flashcard itself. That gives the added benefit of naturally focusing more on words that are more important and common because the bulk of the learning is done with real-life German, rather than the words on the cards.
In my case I use Anki (but write the cards myself) and the algorithm seems pretty good at giving me a good combination of difficult, moderate and completely new words like you described. Perhaps the only thing is that watching the words stack up after missed days can be a little discouraging, so it’s not as simple to just pick up a deck after a long time away.
Cool, thanks for sharing!!
I totally agree about the flashcards. Sometimes, people make a lot of effort for one card… like with colors and examples and plural. But I think it’s an overload.
Emanuel, how do you learn the works that have a ton of different meanings (like for example every german word)? I feel like it’s more convenient for me to learn the work traditional-memrise-throwing-words-at-me-10-times approach, but what to do with multiple meanings? Do I separate them in time? Do I learn them all at once? Or in one session? What do you think? Am I asking too many questions?
And I know I made typos in a word “word” multiple times (honestly I don’t know why because k and d are on the opposite ends of the keyboard…)
Hmmm… maybe a Freudian slip of the tongue… or finger. You subconsciously consider every German word work :)
When I did it with Italien, I would separate out ideas. So I’d have one flash-card “ausgehen – to go out” and one “ausgehen von – to assume” (not German-English of course). So I would treat the prefix verb as two separate verbs but then in my mind I would try to make a connection between the meanings.
Writing all of them on one card is too much info, in my opinion. But just try it out, what works for you…
What do you think about learning new words with a Kindle reader?
It worked for me to read German books of levels A1/ B1 and with a help of an English-German dictionary, installed on Kindle, to quickly search for the words’ meaning. However with this approach I find it difficult to memorize the articles.
Do you have any suggestions on how to memorize the articles?
That actually sounds really convenient. I am reading a Bulgarian book at the moment (I am learning Bulgarian) and I constantly have to type words into my vocab app on my phone. Having them “built in” with the book would make it much quicker.
I don’t have a Kindle, but this feature is definitely a pro of having an e-Reader.
As for the articles… honestly, I think you shouldn’t worry about those while reading a book. Learning new words + following a narrative is enough. Also paying attention to the articles would be stretching your focus too thin.
In my opinion, you should use a gender app and just do mechanic rote learning of those. That’s what I would do, anyway.
Honestly… in no language I have learned (French, Italian, now Bulgarian) have I ever bothered with Gender too much and it doesn’t make a difference in the grand scheme of things… like… you get reach fluency without caring. And then, you can hone the endings.
I’d like to share my weird method that I came up with to learn vocabulary.
I don’t do this for every word, just the ones that I feel that are somehow more important than the others. Or maybe just because I liked the way it sounds.
So, I basically write a list of those words and I for each of them I do this:
If it is a word, for example, that has direct English translation but can’t be used always in the same manner, one example could be “vernünftig”
and “einigermaßen”, both of which can be translated to “reasonably”, but vernünftig is more in the sense of sensible, rational and einigermaßen in the sense of “somewhat”, “fairly”, “to some extent” etc. I usually get this straight looking at some examples of the word at http://context.reverso.net/ to get a better feel for it.
Then I write this word down and its translation, alternating between then. When I write vernünftig I try to think of reasonable and when I write reasonable I think of vernünftig, if this makes sense. I find this helps being able to think of the translation spontaneously when I think of a word.
Then, all I do is fire up a series in Netflix or something and try to keep that word in mind, I keep a note on the screen at some non obnoxious place just to remind me to keep the word in mind, in case my mind wanders. Don’t need to actively keep constantly repeating the word, just say it in your head when there’s nothing important going on, maybe try to briefly think of the contexts it is used on. After 5 minutes, 10 15 20 minutes the word simply is fixated in my brain, the amount of time itself varies for many reasons, but still, doesn’t matter, at least you did something slightly productive while procrastinating on netflix.
I like this because it allows me to learn vocabulary, what alone by itself normally would be really boring, while doing something fun. Of course, it is not very time efficient, but, at least personally, allows me to basically retain the word forever, barring a few exceptions. Most of the words on this list I never had to revisit at all and if I need to use it or I hear it I naturally remember it. YMMV though.
Of course you could do the same thing without watching anything and that would probably be much quicker. Or something like Anki. But I find it really boring.
Another thing I do is watch English series with German subtitles, just in case an interesting words pop up so I can later on learn it properly. Also, I think it helps fixate the words you already learned in your head, like when you read the subtitles and you think oh shit I know this word and then the actor actually says what you are thinking. Feels good man. Don’t know if it actually helps, but makes me feel happy so I do it anyway.
Wow, that’s a peculiar method indeed. Just to make sure I understood correctly: you#re watching completely unrelated stuff in your native language. So you’re not really on the lookout for the word to appear in the movie, right?
Also, do you do that with just one word at a time?
Thanks a lot for taking the time to share this!
If I run into one of those hard to remember words in Bulgarian I’ll give it a try :)
I’m happy to learn that this is very close to “my how-to-learn-vocabulary method” ;)
However, I was using it while going to German lessons and so my notebook was full of random words here and there that I wrote down whenever I read/heard them. Right now I’m not taking any lessons, so in your opinion, what would be a good source to get my daily dose of words?
Vielen Dank :)
Nach meiner Erfahrung ist diese Methode (zusätzlich zu vielem Lesen) unbedigt korrekt. Seit eineinhalben Jarhen habe ich das mit zwei Sprachen getan, und ich bin sicher, dass es erfolgreich war. Ich habe auch andere “aktivere” Methode wie SRS verwendet, aber es war ganz langweiliger und nicht genauso wirksam.
Super, freut mich zu hören :). Welche Sprachen hast du denn gelernt?
I totally agree with you, hand written word lists are the best, but being told so many times that they are terrible and no one should learn from them, I started thinking that there are more effective ways to learn vocabulary and I was just wasting time writing it all down. Well, I tried everything and I was wrong, lists are the best and that’s it.
It’s really cool to hear that from someone who has actually tried out other methods. I mean, I have too, but only for a day or so and then I was always like “Nah, I like lists better.” :)
But yeah… all the marketing for apps and programs does create a certain pressure to use “tech”. Kind of like the shoe industry that keeps telling you you need special shoes to run, when in fact, you have feet for that.
Couple of questions! First, are you making the list in your native tongue or the target language solely(i.e. think of a word to put down and put it down in english, or put the translation down)? Second, are you translating the list by hand with the translated words written next to the original word, or just a list of target language words or native language words (I guess that’s sorta the same question as my first… oops)? Thirdly, do you review the list by going over the words in your head, or aloud, or by writing the translation next to them? Thanks so much!
I put the word in my language on the left and the translation next to it. Like so:
Baum – tree
und – and
wegen – because of
And then I cover the language I’m learning with my hand and slowly slide it down.
When I am alone, I might say the words out loud (in the new language). That does help my memory. I never ever write them (except when I put them a new list).
Emanuel, zuallererst muss ich dir für deine Hilfe und diese Seite danken. Allerdings nutze ich die Seite nicht oft genug als ich soll, aber sie ist doch immer hilfreich für mich. Ich habe eine Frage, die vielleicht irgendwo anders gewöhnt, aber ich möchte dir ihr stellen. Wie kann man sein Höreverständnis verbessern? Es is einfacher Deutsch (oder vielleicht alle Fremdsprache) zu lesen, denn man kann sich bestimmte Wörte erinnern wenn er langsam liest… das ist zumindest Wahr für mich. Deutsch ist in meiner Meinung nach viel schwieriger verstehen, wenn es ausgesprochen ist.
Kennst du “Slow German”? Das ist bestimmt super für dich. Und wenn dir das zu langsam ist, dann vielleicht ein Audiobook, wo du dir das richtige Buch daneben legst. Dann kannst du hören versuchen , und immer gucken, wenn du dir nicht sicher bist.
Achso… und nachsprechen hilft auch :)
Ja! Slow German gefällt mir sehr. Annik Rubens leistet eine gute Arbeit.
Finde ich auch. Ich sollte mal ihre Seite verlinken :)
Ja, vielleicht. Das könnte alle helfen, die ihre Höreverständnis zuverbessern
– Das könnte allen helfen, ihr Hörverständnis zu verbessern (no “die”)
auch wenn es Ok ist, kannst du mich korrigieren, wenn ich Fehler hier mache?? Ich lerne immer noch
– Ausserdem, wenn es ok ist… kannst du mich korrigieren, wenn ich hier Fehler mache?
You’ve mentioned Memrise, which I’ve never used, but I find Anki really useful. I make my own lists (started with a list of the 2000 most common nouns in German, quickly realised that I needed lots more variety and also needed to learn words that were the ones *I* most commonly needed). My lists are mostly based on what I read/words that fail to come to mind when I’m trying to talk. I find adding the words perhaps the most tedious part. Normally I try to note down words to go into Anki in a little vocabulary notebook and then once a week/month/year depending on how lazy I am, I add a whole bunch more. Still haven’t caught my learning in Anki up with the notebook yet, but I’ve not run out of new words within the Anki deck so that’s fine by me. I’ll get around to it someday.
By tinkering with the settings, and if I’m diligent enough to add a gender tag as I add any nouns, I’ve made all the ‘der’ words appear in blue on the left of the screen, ‘die’ words in pink in the middle, and ‘das’ words in green on the right. I started out with just the colours, but realised that I have an annoyingly good memory for location (e.g., I can remember where a word was on the page, even when I can’t remember the damn word itself), so thought using position on the screen to give a little prompt for the gender would be useful. Colour and position only shows for the German (not for the English). It’s amazing how often I can’t remember whether a word is der, die, or das, but I have a feeling it was on the left/right and my feeling turns out to be correct. Others suggest creating imagery (feminine/masculine) which I tried for a little while – it certainly helped, but really only for concrete nouns, and not for words that had lots of potential synonyms. It was also tedious and too much like hard work when I had more than a handful of new words to learn. Position on the screen is (for me) quick and requires no extra work on my part because it appears automatically within the Anki deck.
I find it really fast just to flick through my Anki deck at a rate of about 10 words a minute. They come in a random order, and it’s a mixture of words that are due for review and new words I don’t worry too much if I can’t remember a word – just click ’10 mins’ and it will appear again after (roughly) that amount of time. Gradually the words shift into long-term memory and then don’t appear for ages. If I’m busy (i.e., lazy) for a few weeks, then there’s a ridiculously big list of words due for review, but the bonus is that if I *can* remember them, despite the long delay, they won’t appear again for a few months or longer – since I got them right after a big delay, there’s no value in reviewing them any time soon, because I clearly know them better than I thought I did!
Like a previous commenter, I also found it super useful to create silly stories, in my case for the irregular (strong) verbs. Gather them into groups e.g., there’s a bunch where the vowel changes to ‘a’ in the preteritum and ‘o’ in the partizip II (e.g., werfen – warf – geworfen, schwimmen – schwamm – geschwommen) so find an English word with ‘a/o’ – I’ve used ‘lasso’ and then make up a story that uses with all the verbs in this category (and preferably no others!) about a cowboy and his *lasso*.
Ich finde es einfach nun, zu einem Artikel zu lesen. In dem scheibt ich alle Wörter , habe ich nicht gelernt. Also, lese ich den Artikel wiedermal. Nachdem nur nicht habe ich die Wörter gelernt. Habe ich auch ihre. Bedeutungen so die die Deutschen benutzen.
One of the things I’ve had trouble with in vocabulary acquisition is in “active” versus “passive” vocabulary. I’ve learned a massive amount of vocabulary which I can recognize and understand when reading or listening, but my capacity to actually use this vocabulary in the context of a conversation is very limited, and I find myself falling back on my high school German proficiency. I know that practicing with a conversation partner is perhaps best for this, and I’m aware there are online conversation forums and tutors, etc., which I expect that I’ll get involved in eventually. I’m wondering if there are any exercises I can work on by myself in the meantime to increase the availability of new German words when trying to access them on my own. I’ve been practicing at writing out imaginary conversations I might have with people, coming up with what I would imagine talking to someone about in a particular context, then looking up the words and idiomatic constructions which express this. This has helped, but I’m still left with a vocabulary list which I have to study, only to end up with a still more passive grasp of the terms than I’d like. Any ideas for this particular problem?
Well, you kind of got it already… writing helps a LOT. It’s like speaking, just slower (if you do casual writing, of course) But just write about something that interests you and don’t try to make a dialogue. Just express thoughts, you can even switch topics. Stream of consciousness. Don’t try to fabricate conversations that you know to be everyday stuff. Express what’s in there, not what you think is beneficial.
And then, try to use the words you know. You said you have a solid passive vocab. So you shouldn’t come across too many unknown words (except those that are topic specific, like… jaw for instance, if you were at the dentist).
Oh and don’t give up. Sometimes you run into a dead end and you feel like you can’t express what you want to say.
Do what I do, if I have to do 45 seconds of push ups. Whine like a baby, bitch about the set being too hard but try to finish it, even if it’s ugly :)
Curious to hear your thoughts on this: I’ve had several people claim that it’s better at a certain level of German to no longer look up what words are in one’s native language and instead look them up in a German dictionary (like Duden). The thought is you won’t learn/remember the words as well when you keep switching between English and German, for example. Thoughts?
Well, I can only speak for me, but for me I can wholeheartedly say… it’s nonsense. We had to use English to English dictionaries in school and I hated the crap out of it (and I left school not even able to give directions).
I don’t really see what the benefit is supposed to be.
What you want when you’re an advanced learner is getting is getting as precise an idea of a word as possible.
I always think of words as a sort of cloud. These clouds overlap but rarely do they take up exactly the same space. If you want to know how the cloud for a word in a foreign language is shaped (roughly) it’s good to know which clouds in your language overlap with it. For that you NEED translations. You can then try to get a feel for the “centroid” of the foreign word (this is something I regularly do, also when writing an article).
A description in a foreign language can be helpful at times, but generally it is slower.
And that’s my main problem with it. It’s slow.
As far as the switching goes… I’m not a scientist, but I like it. I’d like my brain to be as flexible as possible. Think fitness… what’s better for survival in the wild, being able to do one thing really well or being able to switch and adapt constantly :)
Hi Emanuel, please clarify
As an English speaker, learning German, would my list be in English with the German to the right, or would it be in German with the English to right?
Sorry I am a bit confused on the construction of the list. I know you show the list as English first with German to the side, but later in the explanation you mention not remembering laufen so was wondering if the list would be the other way around.
I love what you do and am eager to try this method.
Thank you for all you do
Great question ;)!
I always have my mother tongue on the left and the translation on the right. And I have two column per page so they’re not super spaced out.
I guess it doesn’t really matter though. What matters is that you look at the word in your mother tongue first. And not at the word in the language you’re learning.
You can mix that up later when you’re familiar with a list.
By the way, once you’re familiar with a list, it’s also a challenge to go through it top to bottom. If you can do that just as well as you can do bottom to top, then you really know the words :)
“What matters is that you look at the word in your mother tongue first.” Ohhh, my lists are all backwards. I’ve been taking words I don’t know and writing the English next to them. I may have to try that and see if that makes a difference. Probably difficult to measure since we’re not counting…
Try it and see how it feels. If it makes a difference you’ll know it :)
Ah! Right so this is what I was wondering about. So you have the translation right next to the word you want to translate? How do you stop yourself from just reading the translation straight away? Or is that the idea?
This is one thing that drew me to Quizlet, when I was making my word lists it was a lot of faff covering up the translation, and I didn’t want to have huge wads of cards. I had assumed that you want to look at the word, try and think of the translation and then either give up or look to see if you got it. It seems like you’re thinking about it a bit of a different way? It would be really good if you could give some idea of what happens in between looking at the word and looking at the translation.
A friend of mine who is an impressive polygot says that when he uses grammar books, he doesn’t really try that hard to get the exercises right. He just looks thinks a bit then checks. When he said this, this made sense to me, apparently there’s this psychological phenomena in which if you try to hard, you can reinforce your confusion. So like sometimes I catch myself thinking with a difficult word, ‘oh yeah, this word, this is the one where the translation is not the thing that you think it is’. Which is obviously really unhelpful. Do you have any views on how much you should strain yourself on remembering the translation.
This is not that clearly expressed, but I hope you get the gist of my question. Seems like there should be something in between just reading the translation, and straining really hard to get it?
so I simply cover the translation with my hand and then slide my arm downward as I go down the list. Super old school.
As for straining really hard to get it… you can’t really do that. If you just remember “oh this is the weird word that’s not what I think it is.” then that is already something that you recall. Then you just look at it and think “but this is what it means instead.” Maybe tell yourself “not X but Z”. And then you move on.
It doesn’t matter if it takes 30 times before you know it, that’s the main thing. Some words stick after four repetitions, other after 30. But you don’t count. You just keep ’em coming.
Let me know if that answers your questions :)
Reading your words is just like entering the Disney world — I feel like sitting in the garden of the Wonderland, with the fairies, those cartoon figures and all those lovely creatures surrounding me. Then a gentle voice (like those in Disney-classic cartoons) is telling us a story so tenderly that it just makes me feel all the wonderful things in the world (with “When You Wish Upon A Star” as bgm ;))! I’m still hearing A Dream Is A Wish You Heart Make in my head now.
I think you just presented a fabulous idea. If I may say so, I think it’s very Disney-ish and it’s wonderful! I would definitely like to add some Disney elements to my magic learning-German journey!
Thank you for making the world a better land. You are a genius :)
Thanks again for all the efforts! We all look forward to hearing your next story!
Wow, this is one of the greatest and most motivating comments I have ever gotten, because I’m really looking to add an element of irrational to it, like you find them in dreams. Those are weird as hell but we just go along with it. I believe it helps if your whole being is engaged, not just the “intellect”.
Vielen vielen Dank. This really made me happy :):):)
Dein Blog ist mir echt helfreich, aber ich finde, dass mein Englischskill schneller steigen wird, wenn ich vor allem den Kommentar lese.
Ja, meiner auch :)