To memorize or not to memorize, that’s … not even a question. You have to do it.

We know you want to use Your language, not flipping through index cards. However, you can’t have meaningful conversations, read the news, or enjoy your next Netflix binge in the language without enough vocabulary to assist you.

Words are important.

Conclusion: Without grammar and pragmatics one cannot acquire advanced knowledge, but Nothing drives performance gains faster than building vocabulary (especially for beginners).

All four skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) require vocabulary. For example, it has been shown that vocabulary accounts for up to 72% of the variance in reading scores among language learners[1] . Another meta-analysis of many language-related studies found strong correlations between vocabulary size and reading comprehension[2] .

Language level according to vocabulary size

Don’t take our word for it (pun intended) – check out all of these independent studies that show how proficiency levels have increased in line with vocabulary.

This is likely to be confirmed many times over by your own experience in trying to use and understand your second language. You know how disruptive it is to read a sentence or ask someone a question and find that you don’t know the right words.

Authenticity is important.

Don’t believe the myth that explicit and targeted vocabulary learning is somehow incompatible with the principles of communicative learning.

But through “explicit and targeted” vocabulary learning, we do this Not my endless textbook vocabulary lists. We encourage you to learn vocabulary in the wild through authentic sources such as news articles, podcasts, songs, literature, social media, and beyond.

Authentic sources offer the opportunity to learn real, scenario-driven vocabulary. Our brains don’t organize vocabulary in semantic lists like “colors” and “numbers” – they organize it in situations like “rainy day” which can contain a number of currently related nouns, verbs, adjectives and expressions: puddle, umbrella, downpour, Rain from cats and dogs, etc. Scenario-driven learning helps because it reflects how vocabulary is stored in our brain.

Interaction is important.

Ok, ok, you understand, vocabulary is important!

But vocabulary is not learned by accident. If you read or listen a lot, you will be exposed to a lot of contextualized learning. However, for beginners or advanced learners of a language, this context won’t help if you don’t have the required vocabulary (or cultural knowledge)!

One study found that readers need to know 98% of the words in a text to be able to read and understand it comfortably[3] . This is what a passage from The Wizard of Oz looks like with almost 30% of the vocabulary hidden:

Vocabulary size required to read

Completely incomprehensible, even for a native speaker, right? These 70% won’t get you very far!

Unless you are a very advanced learner, you can’t expect to read or hear a word in context and only use context cues to help you figure it out as you could do it in your native language.

So what can you do to learn vocabulary that is quick, fun, and effective?

Before you start making a big pile of index cards, we have a few ideas for you! Learn your favorite methods with Bridgette Claery (a 5 year old language teacher!) So that vocabulary learning is fun and effective – no flashcards required.

[1] Stæhr, LS (2008). Vocabulary size and listening, reading and writing skills. Language Learning Journal, 36 (2), 139-152.

[2] Milton, J. & Alexiou, T. (2010). Development of a vocabulary test for Greek as a foreign language

[3] Nation, ISP (2001). Learn vocabulary in another language.


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