How to Expand Your Vocabulary in a Foreign Language?

This month, I want to expand my vocabulary in Spanish and English, just as I described in my language learning goals of April 2017.

Sometimes people tell me, “How do you expand your vocabulary in those languages? I want to expand my vocabulary, but I don’t know how I can find words, learn them, and make them stick in my memory”. That triggered me to write this post.

Define your goal

You want to expand your vocabulary. But what do you want to learn exactly?

You can learn many words, but when you don’t use them, you’ll forget them. It’s important that you define your goal. It should include the topics you want to focus on and why.

You can define your goal by asking yourself the following questions:

  • On what kind of words or topics do I need to focus?
  • Why do I want to learn these words? (Is it necessary for my studies? Or for my job? Or do I just learn this language as a hobby?)
  • For what can I use this language? (Find your purpose and try to focus on learning the words you’ll need)
  • What topics do I find interesting? (When you focus on things that are interesting, the words will stick longer to your memory)

For example, you don’t have to learn the names of animals in your target language if you are working in the medical field and you are learning the language for your job. You can focus on the words you’ll use in your field. Or if you are want to speak like a native English speaker, you can focus on learning more phrasal verbs in English.

Define your approach

Every goal has its approach. When you know your goal, you can determine your steps to achieving that goal. Think about where you can find the words you want to learn.

Can you learn those words by speaking with native speakers? Do you have to read academic papers? Are you going to listen to podcasts and read more books?

Take a minute to think about your approach and then, continue reading.

Websites, apps, and other tips to expand your vocabulary

After defining your approach, you may be wondering what websites and apps are useful to learn and expand your vocabulary. Don’t throw away the ideas you already had. You can use these suggestions in combination with your ideas.

The word of the day

The majority of the online dictionaries include an option to sign up for the word of the day. You’ll receive a new word in your mailbox every day. For example, SpanishDict includes this option for Spanish learners of a beginner to advanced level, and Transparent Language has this option for many other languages.

Maybe you can find other websites that include the ‘word of the day’ option for words you’ll use in your field. Ask a native speaker for some suggestions or look for it on Google.

Expand your vocabulary with these tips. Sign up for the word of the day

Social media

There are many profiles on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest that share words with their definitions on pictures on a daily basis. Since those words are on images, you’ll expand your vocabulary and remember words easier!

For example, I’m using Pinterest to learn phrasal verbs in English and expressions in French. I even use it to learn English words I can use in my novel.

Expand your vocabulary with these tips. Use social media.

Speak with different people

Some people find it comfortable to speak with one or two people for practice. I used to do the same. After a while, I was used to the way they are speaking and the words they are using.

Try to speak with different people because everyone uses words in a different way. And you’ll challenge yourself to talk about other topics since everybody has different interests.

Expand your vocabulary with these tips. Speak with different people.

Image by Alexis Brown via Unsplash

Flashcard apps

Flashcard apps include words for learners on each level. You can find flashcard created by other users, but you can also create your  own flashcards after learning a word. Some sets of flashcards are about a specific topic.

You can use Quizlet or AnkiDroid to expand your vocabulary with Flashcards.

Expand Your Vocabulary With Quizlet

Read more about your topics and listen more to them

When you want to expand your vocabulary of topics like healthcare, fashion, makeup, or a topic on an academic level, you can read books and subscribe to YouTube channels on these topics.

By reading and hearing topics in your non-native language, you will learn how to talk about them yourself.

For example, I subscribed to TED in Spanish, because I’m interested in several topics including entrepreneurship, innovations, solving complex problems, etc. But you can also subscribe to YouTube Channels like “Learn German with (name),” “Learn French with (name)”, etc. They share useful words and expressions for beginners.

Expand your vocabulary YouTube


Tips on how to remember words

When I went to high school, I didn’t know how to learn vocabulary. I tried to learn by repeating the word and its definition continuously. I got a high mark for my exams, but two days later, I couldn’t remember anything.

After I’ve started learning other languages by myself, I discovered many useful ways to remember words for a long time. I’ll summarize some of them for you.

Write words down. Or save them somewhere you can review them.

When you learn vocabulary, you need to review words frequently to make sure you’ll remember them. You can write words down in a notebook, save them in a file on your computer, or create a vocabulary list in an app.

Make sentences with the words

When you learn a word, try to make sentences. Don’t make just random sentences but make sentences you will use. It helps you prepare yourself for a conversation with a native speaker. You can either write those words down or record yourself speaking.

Analyze the words

When I’m learning new words, I try to analyze them. It helps me remember them for a long time.

There are a lot of words you can relate to those you already know. For example, the Spanish word Sabio (wise) starts with the same letters as saber (to know). I can remember the meaning of the word sabio if I remember myself that someone who knows a lot (alguien que sabe mucho) is a wise person (es una persona sabia) .

Don’t learn too many words on a day

…unless you have to learn them for an exam.

Make a plan on how many words you need to learn and define a period for yourself. Learn 1-20 new words every day and repeat them frequently.

How to Expand Your Vocabulary in a Foreign Language pinterest-thumbnail

What is your favorite way to expand your vocabulary?

Let me know in the comments. More tips about learning vocabulary? Read the post “How to learn 5000 words in 10 minutes” by languagehacker.tips


Featured image by Richard Revel via StockSnap

Kamila is a polyglot who taught herself over 5 languages using social media and apps. She created Polyglot’s Diary where she enjoys sharing her tips and experiences. Head over to her Instagram profile and YouTube Channel to follow her progress.

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