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10 Secrets For Learning Any Word

Language learners are often at a loss when it comes to new vocabulary-- but they don't have to be! After all, we learned plenty of new words when we were children. How hard can it be? Try these tips and then see if you can't do the impossible, learn supercalifragilisticexpialidocious--in German!

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1. Draw a picture

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So you're no Matisse, who cares? Take out a pen, a paper or an iPad and get drawing. Putting an image to a word helps you encode it visually and makes the memory a heck of a lot stronger

2. Say it out loud

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No I'm not talking to myself, I'm just giving the dog a quick lesson on how to order wine in French. No, he will not be accompanying me to Paris next week but it something I'd like him to know. Seriously though, talk to your pets or any other sympathetic listeners you can find. It will help you get comfortable pronouncing the word and it’s guaranteed to improve your delivery.

3. Look it up

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Duh? Free online dictionaries and the likes of Google Translate and Babylon abound these days so take a second to open up a new tab and research your word. What part of speech is it? How else might it be translated? Don't worry about memorizing this extra info as there can definitely be too much of a good thing when it comes to the dictionary.

4. Find its friends

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Want more learning juice? Vocab tends to travel in packs so get to know the lexical chums your word hangs out with (hint: known associates are called collocates) and make sure you’re on good “terms.” So how do you find the “fries” to your “burger?” You could try a thematically organized learning tool like Duolingo or just go with number 5.

5. Google it

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There’s a treasure chest of written, spoken and visual language out there commonly known as the Internet. Think the web only exists in English? Think again. See what foreign Google has to offer and explore videos, images and sites related to your word.

6. Read it in the paper

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Seeing your word in a sentence means you will magically understand all of the special powers it has. Not really, but learning from context makes longer-lasting memories than isolated study. Let a site like find the right articles and focus on perusing the paragraphs instead.

7. Belt it out

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And while you’re at it, rhyming works too! (Okay, you can try rapping but that might be tricky). Mapping sounds to letters and having the syllables roll right off your tongue is so important for language learners. Get to know how your word sounds and it will improve your reading comprehension too- who knew?

8. Love it

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You don’t have to marry it but definitely go ahead and feel the love when it comes to your new word. How would you dress it up? Would you take it to the cinema or a restaurant? Above all, keep it on your lips. A little lexical love can go a long way.

9. See it again

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Sadly, tried and true methods actually work. That means drilling and repetition are necessary evils in the learning process. But don’t let it get you down. Make some tricked out flashcards with Quizlet and Anki and only review when they tell you to (it’s called spaced repetition, actually).

10. Use it or lose it

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Don’t go to all that trouble to learn a word that you’re never going to use again. Keep up the practice routine and communicate using your new word whenever you can. (Hint: If you have no one to practice with go on Twitter and hashtag the bejesus out of it. Someone will eventually write to you.)

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