How to remember vocabulary in a foreign language
This article is not really about memorising vocabulary in a foreign language. If you’re interested in the topic of how to learn or memorise vocabulary effectively, make sure you read my three other posts on this topic:
What this article is about, though, is how to make sure that you don’t forget the vocabulary you’ve already learned. Or, in other words, how to maintain the vocabulary that you have.
How to not forget vocabulary in a foreign language
As usual, I’ve made a video on this topic, for those of you who’d rather watch it, instead of reading this post. If you don’t want to watch it, though, then read on!
Don’t forget vocabulary: spaced repetition
There are several things you can do to make sure you remember and maintain the foreign language vocabulary that you learn. I’m mainly going to focus on one, though, because it’s something that will have the most impact on the extent to which you retain the words that you learn.
It’s called spaced repetition.
What is spaced repetition?
It’s a learning technique that involves incorporating increasing time intervals between study sessions. The time intervals should start small and get longer as time goes on.
For example, you learn a word today. You then revise that word tomorrow (an interval of one day). Next time you revise it is after a week (an interval of one week). Then, you only revise it after three more weeks (an interval of three weeks).
You will find that you can use this pattern for some words and a slightly different pattern for other words. Depending on the difficulty of each word or word group, you might want to make the intervals longer or shorter.
Why spaced repetition?
Spaced repetition trains your brain in recalling vocabulary. At first it’s an easy task. If the interval is only one day, it’s likely you will still remember the word next time you try recalling it. It might be more difficult to remember it after another, longer interval, though. But that’s the point – you’re training your brain to recall vocabulary after longer and longer intervals.
An example of spaced repetition
If you’d like an example of how spaced repetition works in practice, make sure you check out this review of Duolingo that I wrote for Benny Lewis’ Fluent in 3 Months blog. It mentions spaced repetition because that’s one of the techniques the app uses.
And here’s my video about Duolingo, for those of you who would like to try out the app but haven’t made up their mind yet.
Spaced repetition in practice
What I personally like to do is I like to use highlighters in my vocabulary notebook. I use different colours for different interval lengths.
For example, if a word needs to be looked at in a day, I highlight it in yellow. I then highlight it in green to indicate that it next needs to be looked at in a week. And then, I use pink to mark the words that only need to be looked at again in three weeks.
Once I’m done with the one, seven and twenty-one-day intervals, I usually move the words to the back of my vocabulary notebook, and I look at them again after a couple of months. If any of them are still problematic, I bring them back to the main section of my vocabulary notebook. Otherwise, I cross them out.
Remembering vocabulary: reading, listening and speaking
Like I said, spaced repetition is a study technique that will make the most impact on your vocabulary retention. However, in addition to that, I definitely recommend that you do a lot of reading, listening and speaking practice, to make sure you’re constantly using, reading or listening to the words that make up the language you’re learning.
It sounds obvious but it does work, so it’s definitely worth mentioning here!
What are your favourite ways of making sure you don’t forget vocabulary? Share them in the comments below!