Enhancing your vocabulary is one of the essential parts of your French learning progress. But how can you be sure to optimize your memorization? What methods should you use? Here are 3 tips to effectively enrich your vocabulary and never run out of words again.
You have reached the intermediate level – and survived the first rules and exceptions of the French language. You may now feel like you’re using the same words again and again to describe different experiences.
Sometimes it’s as if your brain (but let’s face it, it’s your ego) has decided that you know “enough”. It’s true, after all, you can get by in a coffee shop or restaurant. You can express your feelings and describe your surroundings. You can broadly understand what you are reading or hearing.
And yes, if you were to travel or move to France tomorrow, you could book an apartment, find food and drink – survive, let’s say. You could even speak English if you had any problems with your expression or comprehension. And that’s good news, isn’t it?
Except that surviving is not living!
And that you probably want to have deeper conversations with French people. Going beyond ‘small talks’, being able to express yourself and understand others in a richer, detailed, and nuanced way.
Vocabulary is not just an endless list of words, verbs, adjectives, it’s what makes your French alive, modern and interesting!
To enrich it effectively, you need a relevant system, a high-performance ritual. Above all, you need to open up your horizons.
1.The 4 Pillars of Vocabulary Learning
Language learning and the memorization process are areas where reliable and serious studies are available. I am always delighted when I know that I can rely on scientific data. I am literally overjoyed when I collect this evidence from my students themselves.
So you will never go wrong by applying these 4 pillars of vocabulary learning (I spared you the numbers):
- Memorize the meaning (prefer the mental image of what the word refers to its translation in your native language).
- Memorize the spelling! (if you only want to speak in French, I have two questions to ask you: do you never send a message or an email? In what space-time do you live in?)
- Memorize the pronunciation (a precious tip too little used!). I encourage you to spend some time on it. Don’t forget: the clearer you are, the more people want to talk to you. Memorizing words without being able to be understood is not learning the language, it’s creating a new one – that no one understands).
- Memorize the use (a word is a mental abstraction until you put it into context. Make it come alive! Check with your coach or tutor for relevant uses. Create your own dictionary).
2. Duolingo, Memrise and the golden list method
There are countless applications available for learning French vocabulary.
I have tested several of them over the last few years, in French for my students and in the languages that I study myself. Here is my selection:
- The free version is very complete.
- The process of progression and memorization reinforcement is also very well done.
Note: unlike Busuu (where the dialogue simulation exercises rise in level faster than the vocabulary tests), the difficulty levels on Duolingo are progressive and very relevant.
- The premium membership is well worth the cost:
you can listen to natives speak the words or phrases you learn…
- The ‘camera’ option allows you to scan your environment and find the corresponding vocabulary (here is an attractive dictionary!)
Note: there are some downsides though.
- Flashcards are already made for you: this limits your involvement in the learning process.
- You may still not use the vocabulary you have learned: it is known, of course, you will recognize it (by reading or hearing it) but the process of active use can remain at a standstill if you do nothing more.
My favorite method is the one that requires the most commitment: the Golden list method by D. James.
This method allows you to retain up to 30% of the words in your long-term memory. Its characteristic is that it bypasses short-term memory. So what is the consequence? You don’t have to make any conscious effort to remember the words you have learned. Thanks to the process detailed below, the vocabulary is stored in your long-term memory.
Here’s how to apply the Golden list method:
1. Take an A4 notebook and divide it into four: A, B, C and D
Open your notebook to the first double page. Divide it into four sections: A, B, C and D clockwise, starting at the top of the left-hand page. In section A, write today’s date, followed by a list of 20 sentences you want to learn in one column and their translations in a second column, with each sentence on a new line. This is called a “head list”. Read each new sentence and its translation slowly and aloud. Do not try to memorize or remember anything, but enjoy writing interesting words.
Create a new heading each day for the next 13 days only in section A of each new double page. Do not look at any of the old lists during these two weeks.
3. Day 15, test yourself: return to the first list.
Test your memory by covering the column in your target language. You will be surprised to find that you remember about 30% of the expressions (6 out of 20).
4. Copy incorrect answers
Copy the 14 sentences you did not remember (and their translations) into Section B on the opposite page. Don’t forget to write down the date. This is the first distillation.
You won’t see these sentences for two weeks.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the second, third, and all other title lists, always making sure that there are at least two weeks between rewriting the forgotten sentences in section A and section B.
6. Test yourself
On Day 29, go back to the first double-page and test the 14 sentences in Section B. Again, you will have retained about 30%. Copy the rest (10 words) into section C below and mark the date.
Read them out loud, and that’s it. You have just made the 2nd distillation!
7. Continue every day
Repeat this process every day with all sections: continue writing new head lists (section A) and test yourself on the previous head lists and distilled lists in all sections (always at least 14 days after writing them).
3. Awaken the actor inside of you
Have you ever noticed the excellent memory that actors, comedians, or even singers have? What if they had something useful to teach us?
Eleonor is an actress and singer. She performs on stage alone or in theatre companies; she also teaches acting. Listen to her talking about how she learns and memorizes texts and lyrics.
Let’s recap the actions taken by Eleonor to fully appropriate a text:
- she reads in silence
- she reads aloud
- she reads and recites in a group “at the table” in context and with feedback (just like in a coaching session)
- she writes the text (at least 3 times!)
- when a part of the text is learned, she moves on to the next one
- she checks her memorization by reciting aloud with the text next to it.
- she makes it part of her daily life, reciting texts while walking to the subway, cooking, etc.
These 7 steps are progressive and form a solid base for memorization. They can be frightening if they are viewed as a non-stop effort. In fact, they are quite realistic and give you ways to explore to optimize your own learning system.
Try them out and remember that the process of memorizing vocabulary does not have to be ” school-like ” to be successful. Your motivation and the pleasure of measuring your progress, of being able to exchange more deeply with the French are the best support in your daily life.
Join the private Facebook group Speak Up French to boost your motivation, participate in activities, and receive free feedback, it’s over here!
See you soon,
PS: To improve your vocabulary and optimize your French learning with tailor-made techniques, I offer one-on-one coaching including level test, roadmap, supervision, and flashcards.