Let’s face it, when you’re a new learner it’s easy for language study to become overwhelming. There are so many unknown words to look up and so many words to learn! How can anyone know where to begin? While it may seem like the dictionary is the only book you’re reading lately, fear not because researchers know some things about where to start and there are a few basic rules you can apply to help guide you down the quickest path to fluency.
Which words should you learn first?
1. Start with what you can see…We mean nouns you interact with everyday: apple, milk, car, chair. When you’re learning a new language it’s important that you begin with concrete, tangible words that you are more likely to try and recall in your new tongue and that your brain has an easier time storing. Leave the abstract and fuzzy terms (say existentialism and the like) for later on when you have become more efficient at learning vocabulary.
2. Learn words that go together…Give your brain a break and don’t go learning monkey and horse one minute only to switch to pencil and notebook the next. Remember that language is connected so when you learn groups of words that often appear in sentences together you are making it easier to learn the words around them too. You’re also lighting up entire nodes of your brain in the process. Learn how to use each word on its own but approach lists thematically before you go all helter skelter in your vocabulary study.
3. Learn words that are easy for you to remember…Sound like a trick question? It’s not. The difficulty of learning a word is different for every word and for every individual that encounters that particular word. It’s a complex formula that factors in what languages you speak, what you already know, what vocabulary is meaningful for you etc. So if you find that remembering words that begin with the letter D, end in -ing or have something to do with cats is easier for you, start with them and work your way towards the more challenging letter strings, objects and sounds when you’re ready.
And of course, the cardinal rule in learning vocabulary is be sure to review often. When you first learn a new word, it needs to be activated at strategic intervals to facilitate the journey from short to long-term memory. So, start off on the right foot with flashcards and a practice-game learning system. Study the vocabulary you want to learn and you’ll be conversing like a native in no time.