How to learn vocabulary?

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How to learn vocabulary?

Postby AmitS » Sat Sep 23, 2017 5:40 am

I see many language experts and polyglots emphasize the need of learning vocabulary words in context and not by isolation (like here, here and here).
Honestly, I don't understand at all how is it being done. I mean, do I need to write down the whole sentence I encountered with the new word and its translation? Do I also need to memorize the sentence in addition to the new word? Isn't it cumbersome? What if I'm using a word frequency list, in which there usually isn't any context?
Also, some words have more than one meaning, so what about a case like this? Should there be more than one context sentence overall (one context sentence to each meaning)?

Please help, I'm very confused as you probably can see :?

Basically, I want to learn new words in a way that I can view them (like in a shopping list), by writing them down into a notebook. I don't like the common methods such as flashcards and SRS (because they do not enable to view the words together), so don't bother to recommend these to me, unless I'm missing something.
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Re: How to learn vocabulary?

Postby ロータス » Sat Sep 23, 2017 6:57 am

I feel like now of days you cant go any where without someone suggesting SRS, even if you say you dont like it or dont want to hear it. So expect that in this thread. Tho you gave them an opening with "unless I'm missing something"

I see learning words in context as learning words as you come across them through reading, listening etc. Some words just click after seeing once or twice. Some words take several encounters to fully feel like you have learned them. IMO you should try out your method (writing the words as you encounter them) and see if that helps you learn them. Do that for a few weeks. If not working, try adding definitions. More weeks pass. Still not working? Add sentences you found the words in. Keep trying new things so you can find the method that works for you and not the method that works for someone else.
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Re: How to learn vocabulary?

Postby memoryman » Sat Sep 23, 2017 7:05 am

The reason polyglots tell you to learn words in context is because that way you will learn to use the words in the correct way. If you just learn words in a list you may try and use them incorrectly later on.

However when it comes to learning vocab the most important thing is you do what works for you and what you enjoy. if you find a workbook effective, then by all means use a workbook. Just remember to practice using the words in sentences as well.

Personally I like to use language software to introduce me to new vocab and give me practice using it and I then create visual connections between the new word and its translations. I enjoy doing it this way and find it allows me to memorise huge amounts of vocab very quickly.

The biggest mistake you could make is to try and conform to the way someone else learns and give up because you find it too boring / too hard.
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Re: How to learn vocabulary?

Postby Dylan95 » Sat Sep 23, 2017 7:30 am

Yes, it is cumbersome, but the reality is that most words probably don't need to be learned from context, especially if your target language is similar to other languages you may know. You don't need to learn most nouns and adjectives in context. The same goes for a lot of verbs Dog is chien/chienne. Stupid is stupide. Learning most words should be relatively intuitive. (French examples because I see you are learning French).

When I do feel it is necessary to learn them in context, I look up how they are used, and try to internalize the word's meaning(s).
If the word has a single, but not necessarily obvious meaning, or is used strangely, then I simply insert an example sentence with the word into my quizlet deck. Actively reproducing other examples is even more efficient.

If the word has many different meanings, then I set the word aside, and make a real active effort to understand them without quickly moving onto another word.
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Re: How to learn vocabulary?

Postby DaveBee » Sat Sep 23, 2017 7:44 am

AmitS wrote:Honestly, I don't understand at all how is it being done. I mean, do I need to write down the whole sentence I encountered with the new word and its translation? Do I also need to memorize the sentence in addition to the new word? Isn't it cumbersome? What if I'm using a word frequency list, in which there usually isn't any context?
You often hear about learning phrases rather than words, or 'collocation' - words commonly used together.

I looked for some resources in french, but never took it further than that. ... ion#p83002
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Re: How to learn vocabulary?

Postby aaleks » Sat Sep 23, 2017 11:11 am

AmitS wrote:Basically, I want to learn new words in a way that I can view them (like in a shopping list), by writing them down into a notebook.

Have you used this method already?
I myself haven't used even usual wordlists (I just look up words while reading). Even though I believe that they could really be an effective tool, my own approach to vocabulary learning has been working fine for me so I still use it. But to be sure I gave a try to the write-down-words approach and compared it with the one I had already used. So if you have doubts, you could try the versions you listed in your post and you see which one is the best for you. Or maybe you will come to conclusion that your 'old' method works better for you.
About learning in context. I might be mistaken, but I think that if you read and listen to a lot of native materials, no matter what kind of wordlists you use, even if the simplest one - "word - translation", you learn words in context anyway.

edited: a little rephrasing
Last edited by aaleks on Sat Sep 23, 2017 12:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How to learn vocabulary?

Postby mcthulhu » Sat Sep 23, 2017 11:20 am

Did you see this thread on keeping vocabulary notebooks? ... t=notebook

It sounds like that's what most appeals to you. I've done it this way, as well as SRS, flashcards on index cards, spreadsheets, etc. You could experiment to see what works for you, and if something doesn't work, try something else.

There's always going to be a trade-off between convenience and thoroughness. If you try too hard to be thorough you might end up reproducing encyclopedic dictionary entries for you vocabulary items complete with examples and notes; but you might find it too much work to keep up with. Whatever approach you use needs to be sustainable. I usually focus on a few core meanings at most, leave the subtleties for later on, and use example sentences only for really non-obvious information. I figure that I can move from simple toward complex as I progress in my studies.

Context does matter, however, though maybe more for some purposes than others. Words can appear in isolation in flashcards, or vocabulary notebooks, but they rarely do in real life, where they tend to interact with the words around them. Words often have multiple meanings in isolation, but the more information you add from neighboring words, the more you narrow down the range of possible meanings. In addition to semantic interactions you also have morphological and syntactic ones. Verbs might be used with certain prepositions but not others, for example, and verbs or prepositions might require nouns in specific grammatical cases. If you're learning for passive use, you might not need to memorize this kind of information (just be able to recognize it), but if you're learning for active use, you really do, and this is where vivid examples can help.
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Re: How to learn vocabulary?

Postby AndyMeg » Sat Sep 23, 2017 2:02 pm

Learning vocabulary in context is recommended because translation from one language to another is not always accurate or it doesn't reflect the different nuances a word or expression may have. Also, it helps you to get a feeling on how the word is actually used, because, for example, there may be constructions that are correct from a grammatical point of view, but which are so unusual in daily life that they may sound weird (and even hard to understand) to a native speaker of your target language.

For example, I'm studying korean, and one expression I've never heard a native use in isolation is: 감사! (According to Naver's online dictionary 감사 means: "[명사] gratitude, appreciation, thanks, [동사] appreciate, thank, be thankful, be grateful"). But I've seen quite too many non-native speakers use it as an equivalent of "thanks!" to reply when someone has helped them in some way. As far as I've noticed from extensive interaction with korean native TV programs, korean native speakers tend to say thanks using expressions like: 감사합니다! (which actually includes 감사 but not in isolation) or 고마워요 (which I think is closer to the casual way non-natives want to convey when they say "감사!").

Frequency lists may be of great help but it is important to know the data corpus they are based on. For example, some frequency lists are based mainly on newspapers, so they would give you a jumpstart with newspapers, but may leave out some important daily life words or some frequent words from other sources (like movies or TV shows). One series of dictionaries I really like is "A Frequency Dictionary of...". Here is a version for french: A Frequency Dictionary of French: Core Vocabulary for Learners (Routledge Frequency Dictionaries)

And for actual learning of vocabulary, I agree that you should try different things until you find the one that works best for you. For now what I'm doing with korean is to use a list from a korean frequency dictionary and study the nouns within the range of the first 1000 most frequent words. For this I created a course on Memrise which I use mainly for rapid exposure to many of these words (and I'm also using Duolingo for getting exposure to korean general vocabulary). I complement this with extensive interaction with native material (mainly in the form of korean TV programs with english subs, and also by continuously listening to korean songs I like). Another thing I'm doing is transcribing the korean subs from one of my favorites korean TV dramas and also using the same drama to watch segments/scenes four times (1. First with english subs. 2. Then with korean subs, pausing at each line and reading it out loud. 3. Then with english subs again. 4. And finally again with korean subs, but this time without pausing the video). And to top it all I'm handwriting the words and testing myself on their meanings and their korean writing. While doing this I recently discovered a very interesting guide by Iversen: Three-column wordlists which I plan to experiment with in order to improve the way I'm using wordlists/testing myself right now.
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Re: How to learn vocabulary?

Postby rdearman » Sat Sep 23, 2017 8:04 pm

If you want to learn new words. You want to learn them in context. You don't want to use SRS or lists. Then you just need to read, a lot. Read, read, read, read. You'll learn the word in context, you'll not have to bother with electronic stuff, and you can visually see it on the page. It is what people did before computers, so we know it will work.
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Re: How to learn vocabulary?

Postby aaleks » Sat Sep 23, 2017 8:21 pm

rdearman wrote:Read, read, read, read.

Well, it's exactly what I did :) and I'm sure I will do if one day I start to learn French, Spanish or revive my German. I hate worklist since school, so it seems I don't have much of options :)
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