How to learn vocabulary with some cunning technology!

How do you even begin to learn vocabulary when there are just so many words to learn? How do you know which vocabulary you should concentrate on? How can you learn vocabulary when you don’t understand half of it?

how to learn vocabularyThis video is a step-by-step guide for choosing, recording and learning vocabulary. It’s good for any language, of course – English vocabulary, French vocabulary, Spanish vocabulary, Chinese vocabulary… it doesn’t matter.

Things you’ll need:

  • A web browser
  • Microsoft Excel
  • An SRS flashcards app for your phone or tablet (the one I use in this video is Flashcards Deluxe, but you can use Anki, Memrise, etc.)

How to learn vocabulary

Polyglots are like economists – ask 2 polyglots how to learn vocabulary and you’ll get 3 different answers. There are many ways to learn vocabulary, and the right way is the one that works for you. However, whatever method you use, one thing’s for sure: you need to keep a clear record of new words and phrases.

The reason I like to use flashcard apps is that I can just store new language directly in the app and use it to test myself over the coming days and weeks. Job done.

Sure, you can write things down in a notebook, but then you only have to transfer it all across to your app later.

This approach involves keeping an ongoing record of new words in a spreadsheet on your desktop. In the video I only record a few phrases, but what you should do is let the spreadsheet live on your desktop and keep updating it over time whenever you read things online.

For full instructions on how to transfer a spreadsheet to your flashcard app, see the following pages:

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  • Hi, Olly. I like your video. I would like to ask your suggestion. at the moment I am looking for a flashcard app which I can import my new vocabularies and use on mobile in offline.

    • Hi Saeko, thanks for your comment! I always recommend this app. It costs $4, but it’s powerful and it works offline – you don’t need an internet connection, unlike Memrise. Let me know if you need any help with it!

      • Thank you Olly. I will try the app. I have a lot of flashcards I’ve already made on Quizlet. So I would like to use it also on tube 🙂

        • With the Flashcards Deluxe app you can download your Quizlet decks directly!

  • Virginia Gonzalez Gomez

    Hola Olly! Very good your method but fir the people like that are not very good at computers, it takes a looong time what you do in a minute…. I wonder if its worth it…:s

    • Will

      It is rather labour intensive. I key the vocab directly into (another SRS app) to cut out the Excel step. What would be even better would be a chrome browser plugin to directly populate your SRS list.

      Olly – as your list is on your machine you may be able to do this easily.

      • Will

        Someone has already made that feature request 😀

        • The flashcard apps of the future are going to be awesome! 🙂

      • Sure, for a few phrases I would probably key them in directly as well. But the idea here is to keep a ‘living’ spreadsheet on your desktop that you can add to over time. Once you’ve got it linked with your app, it’s just a case of Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, which is a lot easier than typing it all out onto you phone, I think.

  • Cedric

    Wow! I’ve been using SRS apps for a while (sticking to Memrise in the end), but I’ve never really considered making my own lists with words I learn on the fly from articles or even discussions. So I was mostly relying on vocabulary lists created by other people. What a difference since I do! First of all it’s obvious that I memorize everything much more easily this way (as I always remember the context in which I encountered that specific word or chunk of words). But I’m also feeling that I’m always learning useful stuff and not random words that I don’t feel anything about… and that’s *really* worth the time. So thanks for the advice!!!

    • Hi Cedric, you’re welcome! Glad you found it useful. I think personalising the language we’re learning is one of the most important things we can be doing.

  • Cedric

    Another quick thing: have you tried
    If not, it’s a chrome plugin/mobile app that automatically store in flashcards words that you double-click on, with an internal system of SRS to review them later and a translator to offer automatic translations (it’s precisely what you do in the vid, but literally in 3 clics). Another feature that I like: it stores some of the context around the words you save, so you can work on chunks rather than isolated words. And finally there’s a tool to offer you pages to read in the target language, chosen according to your current vocabulary level (I don’t know if that feature is some kind of hidden advertisement thing, but it’s cool anyway).
    Only regret so far: it seems quite limited in the range of languages available and slightly glitchy (it’s relatively recent). Probably they’re keep on upgrading it…