Once you have got to grips with the fundamentals of a language
(pronunciation, orthography and basic grammar), you can concentrate
on learning vocabulary. This is probably the most important and
time-consuming part of learning a language.
Associate the familiar with the unfamiliar
Try to find word or phrases in your L1 which sound like and if possible
have a similar meaning to words in your L2. Build mental images or draw
pictures based on the connections. For example, the Spanish for "ice"
is hielo (m), which sounds like yellow. To remember this word
imagine yellow ice. This is an enjoyable method because many of the
associations you think up will be silly, absurd or bizarre.
To remember genders try picturing a Spanish-speaking region, divide
it into two and place masculine nouns on one side and feminine words
on the other. In the case of ice imagine the masculine half covered
in yellow ice.
If your L2 has many genders, imagine a large building with many floors,
assign a different gender to each floor and place words on the appropriate
floor according to their gender.
Avoiding language mix ups
Associating words from each language you learn with places where they are
spoken will help you to avoid getting your languages mixed up. For example,
if you're learning French and Spanish, imagine a map of Europe and place
the French words in France and the Spanish words in Spain. Alternatively
you could imagine a map of North America and place the Spanish words
in Mexico and the French words in Quebec.
Testing and revision
To ensure the words stick in your memory, test yourself on them at regular
intervals. If you learn some new words in the morning for example, check
that you can still remember them later that day, the next day, a week
later and a month later. If you find some words hard to recall, try
thinking up different associations for them. You may need to try several
different associations before you find one that works.
Learn related words & phrases
When learning the word for hand, for example, try to learn related words,
such as parts of the hand; actions of the hand; other parts of the body,
and things you might wear on your hands. Also try to learn words with
the same root and phrases which include the word hand.
As you learn more words you will start to spot connections between
words. The more words you learn the easier you will find it to guess
the meanings of new words.
Learn words in context
Learning long lists of unrelated words is boring, difficult and doesn't
help you much when you come across those words in a different context.
If you focus on learning words in the context you're most likely to
find them, you're more likely to recognise them when you encounter them
or need to use them again.
When learning food words, for example, think about when you'd be most
likely to use them, i.e. when cooking, eating, shopping, etc, and learn
other words related to those situations. Then try constructing sentences
using the new words. Good dictionaries contain examples of usage which
you can use as models for your own sentences.
As your knowledge of your L2 improves, using a monolingual dictionary
is a good idea. This helps you to understand words through their
meaning rather than relying on translations into your L1.
Practice reading as much as possible
A great way to build up you vocabulary is to have a go at reading books,
magazines, newspapers or comics written in your L2. Ideally look for
reading material covering topics you find interesting. When reading,
try to guess the meanings of any words you don't know and then check
them in a dictionary to see if your guesses were correct. You don't
have to look up every unfamiliar word as long as you can get the gist
of the text.
Dual-language books, which are also known as parallel texts are a good
way to get into literature in foreign languages. They usually have the original
language on one page, and the translation on the opposite page. This saves
you the trouble of looking up words in a dictionary.
Reading comic books, like Asterix
and Tintin, is an effective
and fun way to improve your reading comprehension and vocabulary. The
pictures help you to follow the story when you can't understand all
of the dialogue. The dialogues in the Tintin books tend to be longer
and more serious than those in the Asterix books, which are full of
puns and jokes.
WordChamp - learn vocabulary in French, German, Japanese, and Spanish.
Includes a variety of drills and thousands of recordings of native speakers,
as well as a website decoder to read foreign websites - without translation! http://www.wordchamp.com
Mentalcode -a collection of language resources with grammar and vocabulary
references and interactive exercises http://www.mentalcode.com
Interlex - a free Windows application that helps you learn vocabulary in a foreign language http://www.vocab.co.uk