What’s the best way to build your French vocabulary?
The bedrock of learning French, or indeed any language, is vocabulary. Without it your ability to communicate is limited to pointing and hand gestures (and we can even get the meanings of those wrong!)
When we start learning French we need to accumulate high frequency words…words that are useful, appear often in the language and can be used in multiple situations. With several hundred well chosen words you can go a long way.
What’s the best way to learn them?
Different ways to build your French vocabulary
There are three main methods for learning vocabulary. Some of the methods can combine. One permutation provides the optimum method.
Method 1: Learning vocabulary through lists i.e. Rote Learning
Method 2: Learning vocabulary through Discovery Learning.
Method 3: Learning vocabulary through context
METHOD 1: Strike Vocabulary Lists OFF the List!
Believe it or not Method 1 this is the number one method of learning new words – and it is also the most inefficient. It is still prevalent for teaching French in schools. Typically we get a long list of words and then we try and force feed our brains to retain it. Our brains are not computers into which we can pour random data. And even if we do manage to cram it in – it sits in the short term memory and will be forgotten.
Dr. H. Douglas Brown in his excellent book “Principles of Language Learning and Teaching” states that if you learn through lists you are likely to suffer from “Systematic Forgetting” – a scary thought which roughly means “in one ear and out the other”.
So Say NO TO LISTS!
METHOD 2: Discovery Learning
Discovery Learning replicates the way we learned our first language. Discovery Learning is learning what we want to know, when we want to know it. It creates an Ah ha! Moment. In essence, when we discover something of importance to us, at that moment, our brains become hugely receptive – like sponges…and because it is deemed important the information locks into the long term memory. Oh Happy Days! We can learn French vocabulary more easily if we can just use Discovery Learning.
Watch the short animated video below to show how Discover Learning works.
But there is a third method that you can combine with Discovery Learning – and that is putting words into context. This can boost your learning further.
METHOD 3: Putting vocabulary into context
I was struck by the recent news of a young man who is fluent in 11 languages. There is a lovely piece on him on the BBC where he does in fact speak in all 11 languages. It is significant that he said only one thing about what makes it easier for him to learn new languages and I wrote it down word for word. He stated:
“THE EASIEST WAY TO LEARN IS FROM CONTEXT. I REMEMBER WHAT I SEE OR HEAR MORE EASILY THAN WORDS WRITTEN IN A LIST”
Meaningful learning means connecting new information with information that is already known. This creates what is called a cognitive structure – in essence the new information is “hooked” in by the known information. And the more hooks there are, the more “anchored” the new information becomes.
Dr Brown says that this theory (its worth reading it all)
“In a meaningful process like second language learning, mindless repetition, imitation and other rote practices in the language classroom have no place. Too many languages are filled with rote and practice that centres on surface forms. Most cognitive psychologists agree that the frequency of stimuli and the number of times spent practicing a form are not highly important in learning an item. What is important is meaningfulness. It appears that contextualized, appropriate, meaningful communication in the second language seems to be: THE BEST POSSIBLE PRACTICE THE LEARNER OF A SECOND LANGUAGE COULD ENGAGE IN.”
KLOO blends methods 2 and 3 to build vocabulary
KLOO Language Games has built these two learning principles into a game. Players will learn how to make sentences in foreign sentences in seconds as well as Discover the meanings of words as they play. The results often astonish those who play. In a game, players will typically learn 15 – 30 French words – without trying. And often it’s not until they play again that they realise they have effortlessly picked up vocabulary and know how to immediately make sentences with them.
If you are learning a language you should try it. Its fun!
Watch this short animated video of how it works.