Mathematically speaking, if you aim to be at the same level of proficiency (vocabulary bank) in a foreign language as your native tongue, you will need to know the equivalent of every word you know in your native tongue. That sounds like a massive task.
Google tells me that the vocabulary size of an adult is about 20,000 – 35,000. That sounds like a lot of words to remember. How many vocabulary flashcards / word lists will that be?
My answer? Zero.
When it comes to language learning, I like to throw all these mathematical calculations and reasonings out of the window. Why? Our brain is better than we give it credit for, and learning a language does not require rote memorisation. This is something that I’ve been saying for the past 10 years, and I still stand by it.
This brings us back to the question of the day.
How to revise / review vocabulary?
That is an honest answer and it’s what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years. I believe in note-taking in languages and for vocabulary, my notes are simple: (1) word; (2) meaning; and (3) example sentence.
Dictionaries I use:
- Korean language: Naver’s Korean-English dictionary
- Japanese language: Naver’s Japanese dictionary or jisho.org
Okay, so what’s next?
The process of note-taking is where the learning takes place.
So what should I do with the notes? you asked.
I don’t re-read my vocabulary notes. After I’m done writing, I don’t need them anymore. This is why I threw away 8(?) notebooks worth of Korean notes a couple of years ago. I still remembered I received a lot of horrified comments on why I would “throw my hard work away” or that I can pass them to someone who would find them useful.
First, vocabulary notes are only useful to the person making them (during the process of doing so). To others, it’s like a random vocabulary list. It’s like tearing pages off a dictionary and giving it to somebody. Unless you enjoy reading the dictionary, it’s not going to be useful to you.
Yes, it’s a pity to throw away memories. But that’s that. I’m not throwing important notes away. Because I’ve already gained what I need to during the writing process.
So what is it about the writing process that’s so important?
Writing helps us process what we are reading. It acts as a reinforcement, because you read the word + meaning + sample sentence on the website, and you likely refer to them several times as you copy them down slowly. You spend more time looking at the word when you write it down. You process the information in a more thorough way.
How do I remember the words?
Okay, I can still see the skeptical look you are giving me 🙂 I have yet to answer the question on how to remember the words. I don’t have a photographic memory, I cannot remember everything that I’ve seen once.
There’s where reading a lot (and by themes) help.
You may not remember a word if you see it once, but if you come across it in several articles, I’m sure you will remember it by the 3rd time you write it down.
By reading a lot, you get to practice reading while learning (and revising) new vocabulary. It’s good to read by themes at the start, so that you see the same set of vocabulary over and over again.