How to memorize vocabulary fast: 7 everyday strategies

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So here’s the magic equation. If you learn how to memorize vocabulary fast, your speed of learning a foreign language will skyrocket automatically. How is that?

Because language learning is 80% of memorizing, forgetting and relearning vocabulary. I know, we both want the second word has never existed.

And yet, it’s there. And like a nasty little leprechaun it’s going to impede your learning from the day one.

The only way to diminish its significance is to take care of vocabulary on everyday basis.

So if I’m here to give you just one advice, it would be: learn your vocabulary every day.

Why do you want to build vocabulary every day?

Building a strong vocabulary consisting of thousands of words requires a huge effort. But only in the case when you are trying to rot all of them at once. And, I’m guessing, you won’t be satisfied with just a couple Spanish words learned over the first day, will you?

However, if you break this huge task on eatable daily pieces, it doesn’t look that intimidating anymore. Just 10 words a day is fairly doable.

For the most of us, memorizing vocabulary is a routine and a pretty boring one. So be ready that your brain will get tired of this very soon. Especially if you try to learn new vocab with a consious effort.

Luckily there’s a shortcut that can save your 70% of motivation. Create a learning habit and it will make things go much more smoothly and steadily.

How do you do that?

All you need is to find a cue – a certain action that you do every day without an exeption and – preferably – around the same time. It can be breaskfast, morning meditation, your lunch, evening tooth brushing, walk with a dog, anything. After you found one, all you need to do is just quickly complete your vocabulary review before or right after that cue.

You have to be really careful with a cue. For example, I used to memorize my French vocabulary while travelling. So every time I got on a bus or subway, I took out my phone and learned new vocabulary in Memrise. However, on Thursdays I didn’t have any classes in university and I didn’t travel anywhere. The result? I systematically forgot to review words every single Thursday.
So your first key to memorizing vocabulary fast is to find a routine and develop a habit out of your language learning.

How to memorize vocabulary fast and with no effort?

A picture is worth a thousand words. So here’s an illustration of what happens to your 10 new Spanish words within first few hours:

Does it look like you forget 6 of them just after one hour?

Well, that’s unfortunate. Our brains are wired to forget.

But, once again, this forgetting part is essential for memory formation. If you forget to forget, your life would be miserable and the last thing you would want to do would be learning a new language.

Yet, here’s a beacon light: the brain just waits you to review that vocabulary. And the faster you do it, the better.

Now, let’s see what happens if you systematically refresh that ten of [not really new but still Spanish] words:

It looks better, doesn’t it?

It’s called spaced repetition technique. To master this technique you have to be super annoying with your own brain and ask at least 2-3 times a day if it still remembers those notorious 10 words.

The desired outcome is when the brain capitulates and throws out the white flag with ‘ok, I remember them, leave me alone’.

Repetion helps you consolindate the new information. Day after day, your brain will upload each of these words in the brain folder called “long term memory”.

Tools for building vocabulary

Let’s wrap everything we’ve learned on how to memorize vocabulary fast. Briefly, you need a kick-ass system that would constantly remind you to look after your word garden over a certain periods of time day after day.

You have two options: language learning apps or good old flash cards.

And, honestly, since I’m a spoiled child of XXI century, I have to admit that I have never ever used handmade flash cards to learn anything.

I think that modern vocabylary building apps are much more convinient in this way rather than a deck of cards you pull out during your bus trips to school.

Moreover, as far as I’m concerned, every single language app now uses spaced repetition system. So they basically make a half of work for you.

Of course, there are some downsides of using an application. First, you have a minimum control over the content, especially if you already have some basic vocabulary. In many cases the app will try to teach you words you already know very well.

However, if you just began learning a foreign language, using vocabulary builders on your phone is your best shot. For example, my favorite Memrise concentrates on core vocabulary, no matter what tongue you choose to learn. Plus, it gives you a context. It is to say, you not only learn a word itself, but also how and in what situation you can use it. That’s again a huge advantage.

For personalised vocabulary lists I would recommend to use something like Anki where you would have to create flash cards on your own.

How many words a day to learn?

Well, if your question is how to memorize vocabulary fast, you probably want to maximaze the daily portion of new words to see the fast progress.

And it’s perfectly fine, as long as you don’t overload your hemispheres.

When I learned French, my daily goal was usually to complete at least one level in Memrise. However, the amount of new words and phrases varied greatly from a level to a level. But since I had a lot of downtime (at least 2-3 hours a day that would be otherwise completely lost in Toronto subway), I was fairly successful in learning from 20 to 40 new words a day.
Thus, it is really up to you how many new vocabulary words you learn each day. Just keep in mind that you will have to review the whole bunch of them from time to time.

Level-up: new vocabulary for independent speakers

Nothing is steady, and with these vocabulary learning strategies you will progress very fast. One day you will reach the level when you are pretty comfortable with your target language.

What I mean by “pretty comfortable” is the state when you can read internet articles without addressing yourself to Google Translate too often.

And at this moment the smartest thing you can do is to change your technique. Instead of concentrating on how to memorize vocabulary fast, you will need to focus on maintaining your core vocabulary and submerging yourself in a whole new linguistic environment.

But hey, it’s not that scary as it sounds!

Being an independent speaker, you will be to use your new language as a source of information. From that moment on, you want to access in your target language everything you are interested in. You want to find books, podcasts and YouTube channels, engage with this content 24/7 and soak up new vocabulary like a sponge.

And this is where the real fun begins.

Recap: How to memorize vocabulary fast

  1. Learn new words every single day;
  2. Make a habit out of vocabulary review;
  3. Use spaced repetition to remember more words in less time;
  4. Concentrate on core vocabulary first;
  5. Learn between 10 and 50 new words a day
  6. Use Memrize, Anki or other applications to boost your speed;
  7. Change your strategy as you become independent speaker

I really hope that this article will bring you some real value in your language learning experience! If that’s the case, let me know in the comments below. Vale! :)

Author Details
Polyglot, Author and Founder of Linguapath
Hey! I am Alina Kuimova, and my long-lasting obsession with learning languages led to the creation of this site. Apart from being a grammar enthusiast, I enjoy reading smart books in any language available, finding easier ways for the brain to learn things and buffing productivity stats by 180%.
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2 years ago

Daily habits
With vocabulary learning – it is just as you write. Great blog!

One matter I personally need to consider in the beginning is – as you already mentioned in your blow – is to fit the vacubulary learning period into daily habits. It works fine in the beginning. Later, however, after the enthusiasm slips a little bit, it becomes harder. Not every time I go by busI feel open minded and comfortable to learn. One also needs space to contemplated, simply to think toughts. To continue with force is not a good idea. It creates dislike.
This seems to be the point of need for motivation kicks.

I am curious if you experience it similarily. What you do then?

9 months ago

Hi, Alina! Thank you for the article. I dont read smart books, but I like to read fiction in any language available:) May I suggest an app that I use for memorizing words? Its MemoWord and it`s amazingly easy to use. You can create your own folders of words and idioms, sort them in any way you like. You can also learn by ear. And first month of premium access would cost you nothing with the promo code “Studyland”. That way you can try it and see whether this method works for you or not.

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