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#learning vocabulry

Vocabulary, or linguistically speaking lexis, is relatively easy to learn. You get a list, you memorize it, and you feel like you’re good to go. But after a while, you realize that you can’t communicate. You blame your poor vocabulary for it, so you study more, then again, you can’t communicate… and that’s how you start vicious circles. How come tho? You memorized so many words, so many swipes on Memirse, Quizlet, and Anki and you still can’t handle a conversation.

Let me show you where the problem is.

What does it mean to be conversational?

Well, it’s easy; you want to be able to strike up a conversation with a native or a non-native speaker and carry it for a longer period, utter meaningful sentences, and survive, right? The first thing that comes to your mind is “To do that, I need to know more words” (that’s where our vicious circle starts). You go to Memirse, Quizlet, or Anki and you start memorizing your super long lists. There is potential in that, but the execution is extremely poor.

Tip#1 To be conversational decide what topic you want to talk about in the first place. About games? Fashion? Daily activities? Search useful language related to the topics you want to learn to talk about.

Tip#2 Set mini goals, for example, “By the end of this week I want to be able to talk about my favorite game!” and focus solely on that.  

Pockets of fluency

Have you heard of that? An extremely useful term. When you study a language at some point you’re becoming well-versed in certain topics. You know lots of words related to those topics and they create your pockets of fluency. I’m well-versed in teaching methodologies and anime because I studied the first one (I’m a language learner myself too) and I’m obsessed with the other one (my master’s thesis is on anime). In this case, my pockets of fluency are extremely full.

Pockets of fluency = topics you want to be able to talk about -> becoming conversational.

What if I need English for work or any other professional purposes.

Sit down then, and think about your duties at work. What phrases, words, and sentences do you use daily? Make a list of them and start searching for translations. Don’t limit yourself to words only; look for whole sentences too. Are you a sewer? Then look for articles related to sewing, extract useful language, and adapt it to your needs.

Tip #3 Useful language in teaching means words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. Not just words! To become conversational you need to learn as much useful language as possible.

Tip #4 Don’t look for lists of words only. They are a good jumping-off point, but you need more. Articles, people’s comments, videos will help you sound more natural.

What to avoid!

Learning words that you don’t really need. Let me tell you, during my college years I learned a shit ton of words that I haven’t even used since then (not even once). I’ve seen, maybe, 10 in novels and NY Times articles. But hey, that’s what you get when you major in languages.


Whenever your brain sees new words it immediately starts making connections with the words it already knows. That’s why you remember some words faster and some not. When you learn a completely new word, your brain is kind of lost, it sort of asks “What am I supposed to do with that word?” So, your brain puts it in a random place and just waits… for you to use it again in a context. When you use words in context your brain easily associates the new words with the old words, it says “Hey! I remember that! We spoke about it last time and we used these words… ok I’m going to put it here in this pocket of fluency, seems useful!” Conclusion? If you don’t use words, your brain forgets them.

Passive learning. Study actively. Anki, Memrise, and Quizlet are good for revisions but the real learning starts when you use the words you’ve learned in real-life situations. If you can’t put yourself in such situations then create them yourself, in your head, on paper, with other language learners.

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