Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘advice’


8 ways to remember new vocabulary

Let’s start with a bold statement: everyone is good at languages.

I know lots of people are probably disagreeing with me right now. But the fact is, we all learnt our own language, so technically we should be able to learn another one. Right?

Of course there are lots of elements to becoming fluent in another language. Grammar. Sentence construction. Tones (for some languages). Perfecting your accent. Reading. Writing. Learning colloquial expressions. I could go on.

But let’s start at the beginning. Before you tackle any of this daunting list, you need to learn some words, or you’ll never get anywhere. And for a lot of people, a little bit of vocabulary is often enough to get by with – I survived a weekend in Naples with just a handful of essential Italian words, like ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘water’ and ‘cake’. (What do you mean, that’s not an essential word?)

And having spent January learning German with the uTalk app, I now feel like I could at least make myself understood in a restaurant, a shop, the hospital – although let’s hope that’s not necessary! – and I also know how to buy a train ticket or ask for the nearest cash machine. I might be far from fluent, but this is a big step for someone who knew no German at all a little over a month ago.

So, learning vocab is important. But what happens if you’re not very good at remembering stuff? Another language can look pretty terrifying at first, particularly if it’s one that bears no resemblance at all to your own. So here are a few tips for memorising new words.

The facial expressions are optional…

Start with the basics

This probably makes sense anyway – why would you learn how to say ‘Do you prefer reading or TV?’ before you’ve figured out ‘Hello’? But it’s amazing how much of a boost it is just to have a few simple words under your belt. That way, you know at the very least, you can greet someone in their own language, even if you don’t know how to say anything else.

Take it a bit at a time

Don’t try and learn everything at once. Even if you remember it at the time, by the next day your brain will almost certainly have rebelled and forgotten it all. So break it down into topics, and focus on one a day, or a week – whatever works best for you – remembering to come back to it at regular intervals to revise and make sure it’s all still in there.

How to remember vocabulary

Try to link it to a memory

When I find myself in a real-life situation, I try to think of how to describe it in the language I’m learning. The other morning, for example, when my train was delayed, I amused myself by remembering how to say it in German. (Yes, I’m that cool.) And now when I think of that phrase, it springs more readily to mind because I can imagine shivering on the station platform, waiting for a train that may or may not show up. It did… eventually.

Associate words with images

Another good tip – try and link words to an image or object in your mind, as it makes them easier to recall later. Even better, stick notes on things you see every day, so that when you need the word you can visualise the object with its translation attached.

Make it a game

This could be a game against someone else – see who can remember the most words, you or your friend – or against yourself, but it’s amazing how effective it can be at hardwiring the vocabulary into your brain. And the best bit is you don’t even need to win the game to be successful… The memory game in uTalk is notoriously difficult, particularly if your memory isn’t the best. I struggled with the fruit and vegetables sections, for some reason; I just couldn’t remember where they all were when the cards were covered, and after the tenth attempt, I was ready to throw my phone across the room. But by the time I was done, I knew all the names of the fruits and vegetables forwards and backwards, and can’t see myself forgetting them any time soon.

How to remember vocabulary

Try and connect it to your own language

Even if the language you speak every day is completely different to the one you’re learning, use your imagination. For ‘I had a good time’, which is ‘Mir hat es sehr gut gefallen’ I found the only way to remember it was to think of it as ‘my hat is very well fallen’. It makes no sense, but it works for me!

Talk to other people

Sometimes, telling someone else how to say something can help to cement it in your mind, even if they have no idea what you’re saying. I’ve been cheerfully saying random German words to my startled family and friends for a month now, and although most of them have no idea what I’m talking about, it helps me to say the words aloud to someone other than myself.

Study before you go to sleep

I don’t know if this will work for everyone, but I found it was quite effective. By revising the vocabulary at night before I go to sleep, I find it’s fresh in my mind when I wake up. Probably not recommended if you have trouble switching your brain off at night (not something I have a problem with, clearly).

How to remember vocabulary

Does anyone have any other tips for remembering vocabulary?




6 great language learning blogs to visit in 2015

So how’s everyone’s 2015 going? We hope your year has got off to a great start, and that your new year’s resolutions are all still intact…?

Learn a languageWe’d like to start the year by thanking you all for reading our blog. With a bit of luck, at some point over the last couple of years it’s inspired you, made you smile or just entertained you for a few minutes. We love sharing our thoughts on languages and everything connected to them (sometimes fairly tenuously connected!) so please do keep coming back. Remember, you can subscribe by email to get all our posts delivered straight to your inbox 🙂 And as always, we love hearing from anyone who’d like to be a guest blogger, or with suggestions on topics you’d like to see covered.

But today we wanted to share with you a few other fantastic language learning blogs that we’ve discovered, which are full of great suggestions, advice and ideas. Please share your own favourites with us in the comments, and we’ll add the best ones to our list!


FlashSticks is a UK-based company with a simple yet ingenious idea – vocabulary flashcards on colour-coded sticky notes. Their Sticky Blog is a treasure trove of fantastic articles written by the FlashSticks team, who clearly know a thing or two about learning languages. They also have a really fun and friendly Twitter account, so they’re well worth a follow there too.

We recommend: 6 tips for getting out of a language learning rut

Lindsay Does Languages

Lindsay Dow is a language fan who’s also an English tutor. Her blog is a great mix of written articles and videos, and includes learning advice as well as lots about language in popular culture like movies and music. Right now, Lindsay’s running a fantastic photo challenge over on Instagram, which looks like a lot of fun and a great way to learn.

We recommend: 82 British TV shows to help with your English


Sam Gendreau, the polyglot behind this great language site, is passionate about helping other people learn a language. His blog is full of useful and interesting articles, perfect for those with a language addiction or just a passing interest. We challenge anyone to visit Lingholic and not come away feeling inspired and encouraged.

We recommend: Ten amazing reasons why you should learn a foreign language

Wanderlust Languages

Ok, so we’re a bit biased because the author of this blog is a former EuroTalker. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a great site. As a self-pronounced language geek and freelance translator, she really knows her stuff. Visit the blog for tips and advice for language learners, translators… and anyone interested in how to be British.

We recommend: Don’t be scared… How to get talking in your foreign language

Fluent in 3 Months

Probably most people already know this blog, as its creator, Benny the Irish Polyglot, is pretty famous these days. Benny is the perfect example of someone who struggled with languages at school but has since fallen in love with them. Since 2003, he’s been travelling the world, learning new languages (in three months) and sharing his experiences and advice.

We recommend: How to make a New Year’s Resolution and actually keep it

Pictures by James Chapman

Not a language learning blog as such, but so much fun. James is an illustrator from the UK who draws fantastic pictures all based on languages from around the world. His collection includes everything from how to sound like a monkey in different languages to literal translations of the titles of popular TV shows. Be warned though, you may find it hard to drag yourself away.

We recommend: The sounds of the New Year

There are lots more fantastic language blogs out there, so please don’t be offended if we didn’t mention yours this time…




I Can Read Chinese, So Can You

Today’s guest blogger, Peter Gokey, is learning Chinese in China at Keats School. In this article, he shares his own learning experience in Chinese, with a particular focus on learning to read the language. If you’re a student or speaker of Mandarin and have any suggestions to add, please do so in the comments below.

There are two aspects of Chinese that people from western countries find intimidating. The first aspect is the system of tones where the pitch of your voice can be the only difference between two or more words. The second is the writing system, called Hanzi. In order to speak, learners of Chinese must tackle the tones; however, since the barrier to reading and writing seems so high, many language learners delay studying Hanzi or never study it. This is often a reaction to one teaching method that emphasizes reading and writing at the cost of speaking. I think that either extreme is a mistake. Reading reinforces oral vocabulary and grammatical structures. Keats School finds a good balance by focusing on speaking and listening but also encouraging students to recognize the Hanzi for their new vocabulary words.

Peter learning Chinese

Finding materials suitable for a beginner-level Chinese language learner, can be a difficult and discouraging task. Early on, my wife and I purchased a book of very short stories designed for Chinese children who are learning to read Hanzi. One year later this book is still beyond our level, but Hanzi is only the secondary reason this book is too difficult. The primary reason is that Chinese children learning Hanzi and those foreigners who learn Chinese in China have different needs. By the time Chinese children begin learning to read Hanzi they are already fluent in spoken Chinese. So a book aimed at children can use thousands of words as long as the pinyin (the phonetic system for writing Chinese using the Roman alphabet) is included above each character. Second language learners, on the other hand, are not yet fluent. They are learning both how Chinese words are pronounced and how they are written at the same time. Therefore, second language learners like us need materials specifically designed for second language learners.

And the good news is that there are such materials. After learning to recognize about 300 Hanzi, I began reading the beginner-level books in a series called Chinese Breeze (15元 each). Each book is a short but interesting fictional story. In this series there is a love story, a murder mystery, and even a couple of traditional Chinese tales. So far this series consists of 16 books in three reading levels (300, 500, and 750 word levels). When complete, the Chinese Breeze series will include 80 titles divided between eight reading levels.

Chinese Breeze books

There are a few features about these books that I really like. First, pinyin only appears in footnotes defining select new words. I find it very distracting to practice reading Hanzi with the Pinyin right above it. Second, at the back of the book there are comprehension questions for each chapter and an activity that tests your understanding of the whole story. Finally, each book includes a CD with MP3 recordings of the entire story read by a native speaker at two different speeds.

Learning Chinese through books

Having read all the books at the 750 word level, I am now trying books from two other series. The first is a collection of short stories titled Graded Chinese Reader (three books in this series) and the second is a collection of very short essays called Read It Now (there are many books in this series at several reading levels). Both of these books also include CDs.

All of these books are available at Mandarin Books 漫林书苑 on Wenhua Xiang 文化巷 in Kunming.

Thanks Peter! If you’re learning Mandarin, we hope these suggestions are helpful for getting started on reading. Alongside these, you can use EuroTalk’s programs to begin speaking and listening. Good luck!