Strategies for learning German vocabulary

No matter whether you’re a beginner or more advanced learner, if there’s one thing that everyone learning German has in common it’s the need to expand their German vocabulary. This, above all else, must be the top priority. Learning new German vocabulary can either be a dull, plodding, ponderous experience (writing lengthy lists of vocabulary and going over it again and again is a great cure for insomnia!), or an interesting, enriching, and rewarding adventure! At Linguru, we prefer to help our students make it the latter! So, below we’ve come up with some suggestions of strategies for learning the German vocabulary to help make it an easy and enjoyable process.

Mnemonic techniques are a fantastic way of helping students to grow their vocabulary. Mnemonics are systems for improving and assisting the memory. In a practical sense, a mnemonic is a tool that helps us to remember facts and information. Mnemonics come in various forms such as songs, rhymes, images, and phrases and are invaluable tools in language acquisition, especially as using mnemonic devices are a really fun way to learn. Here’s a very well-known example of a rhyming mnemonic (in English) that provides you with the date you need to memorise in a way you won’t forget: ‘In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the Ocean blue’. An example of a song mnemonic is the ever-popular A-B-C method that children are taught to memorise the alphabet. You can put just the same mnemonic technique to use by putting German vocabulary into a song! It’s really that simple. Mnemonics are particularly useful when memorising vocabulary.

One of the secrets to developing good mnemonic techniques for German vocabulary is to convert words into images. For example, the German word for table is Tisch. Think of a word that’s similar to Tisch and form an association, if you’re a native language English speaker, with the word ‘dish’. Where are dishes served? At the table! Easy, huh? The same principle works for much longer, more complex words than Tisch. By breaking words down into their constituent parts, it becomes simple and fun to memorize them through association.

Quizlet is an online study application that students find incredibly helpful when learning German vocabulary or any other language. With a database of literally millions of study-sets that cover thousands of topics, Quizlet uses modern technologies including text to speak audio, images, interactive diagrams, and progress tracking to make studying both engaging and fun. Available to download on any Smartphone, tablet or PC, Quizlet is an immediately accessible, excellent tool for vocabulary retention. Students can create their own custom-made flashcards on Quizlet or access premade study sets that other students have created. It’s an excellent way to ‘learn on the go’. Linguru highly recommend Quizlet to students seeking strategies for learning the German vocabulary outside the live online Linguru virtual classroom.

One very successful way of memorizing vocabulary is the good old fashioned tried and tested method of using post-it notes. Write down the words you want to memorise and stick them all around your home! Once you’ve covered your fridge, doors, tables, chairs etc with post-it notes you’ll be amazed how quickly the words become embedded in your memory. And perhaps you could consider making a poster out of the notes once they’ve served their purpose and pinning the poster to a wall; then start all over again! Post-it notes are a godsend for memorising German vocabulary, literally making words stick!

And allied to post-it notes are flashcards. Simply make yourself a set of flashcards, or better still, download one of the many apps available. MosaLingua is an excellent online learning platform that specialises in helping German language students learn vocabulary. It comes with pre-made flashcards for useful words and phrases that you’ll find yourself using all the time. Just glancing through your flashcards for ten or fifteen minutes a day will be sufficient to embed vocabulary into memory.

If you’re using handmade flashcards or post-it notes to memorize vocabulary, we’d recommend that you that you group together similar concepts. We learn much quicker when there’s a theme to our learning, such as objects in the house. Verbs related to daily activities and so on.

Repetition is a vital strategy for learning German vocabulary. Any word you want to learn, just get into the habit of saying out loud, and doing so over and over again. Repetition is good, and it’s something you can practice all the time. Practice makes perfect!

Something we’d discourage is overloading your brain with new vocabulary. If you try to memorize fifty words a day, your brain will become over-burdened with information and jeopardise the entire learning process. As a strategy for learning German vocabulary, we’d recommend you limit yourself to learning ten to twenty words per day maximum. Even at the lower end of the scale, you’ll still be learning 70 words a week, 280+ words a month. Native German speakers will only use approximately 5,000 active words themselves, so knowledge and fluency will come much faster than you’d expect, even if you’re a complete beginner.