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April 2015

Language learning tip

5 ways to increase your vocabulary in a foreign language

Grammar often seems the larger obstacle when it comes to learning a new language. Getting a handle on how verbs are conjugated, the proper usage of adjective forms, and how sentences are created certainly are important building blocks in mastering a language. But say you've already learned all that. You have all the rules and nuances in mind, but it's still difficult to speak, understand, and read at times. This is when to focus more on broadening vocabulary.

You can know all the grammar and understand the rules, but if you don't know a varied collection of words, you'll always be somewhat behind in a conversation. Unfortunately, building a vocabulary takes much time and memorization. There are, however, useful tricks to not only learn more effectively but also to remember what you've learned. Today we'll take a look at five ways to increase your vocabulary in a foreign language.

1) Read different sections of the newspaper

While it's a good idea to read what interests you, you'll find it's also important to branch out and read about subjects outside your expertise. If, for example, you're a musician, you no doubt have had conversations in your target language concerning music. The vocabulary you've built regarding musical terms would likely be strong. Reading different sections of the newspaper allows us to pick up vocabulary in other subjects from sports to cuisine, politics to weather, increasing your vocabulary for subjects in which you are not yet strong.

2) Watch movies set in modern times

You probably want to learn how to converse like a native in your target language, not like a character from the past or a stage actor. Find films that are set in the modern era and that deal with real-life events. Dramas and comedies are good, particularly the latter as it may introduce you to some witty slang. Keeping in mind that movies are dramatizations, you'll still pick up the nuances of words while enjoying a good film or two.

3) Utilize sticky notes in your daily life

A fun way to learn in your everyday life is to utilize sticky notes. For example, you could attach sticky notes in your kitchen with the translations of each part of your kitchen. You'll quickly learn the words for all the culinary items you use. Leaving the sticky notes up for a while will also help you remember, as each time you reach for something, you'll see its translation in front of you. This is a useful technique for learning the words for things that you actually use on a daily basis.

4) Listen to various podcasts or radio programs

The Internet offers numerous free podcasts in different languages on various subjects. Likewise, you can easily stream radio from around the world for free on your computer. (All of this can be found with a search online. Finding a program that you enjoy is the more difficult mission!) Like our tip with reading the newspaper, choose several programs on different topics. While you listen, you can either write down or quickly look up the words you don't know. Being paced by the program also means you'll cover a lot of new words without slowing down.

5) Visit the country of your target language

There is simply no better way to expand your vocabulary than to be immersed in it. Staying in the country of the language you are learning forces you to educate yourself quickly just to function. The more mistakes you make, the more you'll remember not to make them, and you'll likely remember the words you stumbled on more readily. With this in mind, it's a good idea to be bold and be okay making mistakes because they only help you learn faster. And as you go home to sleep you'll no doubt hear the sounds of your target language in your head instead of your native language. This is when you've picked up the rhythm of the language you're learning, another important part of your path to fluency!

How do you expand your vocabulary of a foreign language? What tips would you offer to others? Share your story at and be sure to "like" us for more articles on language learning tips!