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How to learn vocabulary

Learning vocabulary
In addition to regular repetition, there are other methods of memorising vocabulary. Whether you are studying a foreign language, or learning difficult terminology for any of your other subjects, learning vocabulary shouldn't be a chore.

Word families and lexical fields

You can make word families and lexical fields with the vocabulary you already know and are studying. What does this mean? For example, if you know the German word lieben (to love) you can learn words belonging to the same family much more quickly. For example, lieben includes the words: Liebende (lovers), Liebevoll (lovingly) and Liebe (love).

Then you can think about what belongs to the lexical field of lieben. Think of other words that can be related: What is the antonym? hassen (to hate). What else is related? Heiraten (to marry), sich scheiden lassen (to get divorced), die Ehe (marriage), die Frau (the woman), der Mann (the man).

The words are contextualised and arranged by theme. By linking the words together, it will be easier for you to learn and remember them. This method can also be combined with the flashcard method.*

Mnemonic devices

Mnemonic devices can be real lifesavers when you need to memorise information quickly. Mnemonic devices can be initialisms, acronyms, songs, rhymes or anything which helps you to remember something. Using this method, you can try to associate one word or concept with another by lining up the first letters of the terms until they form a sentence that you can remember.

A well-known example of a mnemonic device is used to remember the order of the planets in the solar system, from closest to furthest from the Sun:

"My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets" - Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.

But you can, and should, try to be creative and make your own mnemonic devices and word associations to help you remember vocabulary, as the ones you come up with yourself tend to be the most memorable.

Sensory associations

This method aims to involve the senses in order to combine semantic memory with perceptual memory. Hearing, sight, touch, smell and taste all play a role. Maybe you could try learning the words for different amounts and measurements in German by baking a cake according to a German recipe. Or you could watch a film in Spanish with English subtitles. Learning is actually much more fun if you combine it with things you like to do.

Loci method

The loci method is particularly popular with memory athletes. It consists of associating small words or expressions with specific places. You walk along a certain route in your mind and assign different contents to each place. If you have to learn the contents in a certain order, you can recall the information by retracing the route in your head. It is best to use a place which you already know well.

You can also go on a real walk and take cards with you which you learn at different places each time and try to link them to the place in question. You do this as many times as you need to, until you can follow the route in your head and recall the words at the same time.

Literal method of loci

This method works in the same way as the loci method described above. But here you write the words on post-it notes and spread them around your home. They might be on the ceiling above your bed, on the bathroom mirror or on the kitchen cupboards. When you move around the flat, you will constantly be seeing the words and you will be able to memorise them more quickly through constant repetition.


No one should be afraid to learn vocabulary! Learning vocabulary is tiring, but it is also rewarding. And there are many methods which also involve doing something you enjoy. And who says you have to stick to one method? The most sustainable way to learn something by heart is to use as many methods as possible so that you engage as many senses as you can, hence activating the maximum amount of the brain.
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