The Key To Fluency In a Second Language: Building a Large Vocabulary

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.” Frank Smith

You Can Do It! How To Learn A New Language

“You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.” Geoffrey Williams

Learning a new language can be one of most rewarding projects that you can undertake in life. It truly opens up a whole new world. It exposes you to new people, new ideas, and forces your mind to think in new ways and therefore make new connections.

Learning a new language is also not just for the people who we would label as being extraordinary or gifted. The number one secret to learning a new language is just plain old hard work. It’s all just a matter of the hours you put it. Sure many other factors come into play, but at the end of the day all that it really comes down to is having the right attitude and the amount of hours you put in.

To me the greatest attitude is the one similar to when you where a young child. Having an insatiable curiosity of the world around you is the fastest way to language acquisition or any type of learning for that matter. If you can tap into your childlike curiosity, learning a new language will take on a whole new meaning for you and become less intimidating.

In my journey to becoming tri-lingual I currently find myself at a point where I understand a lot of the grammar but I lack a large vocabulary. I understand the general structure of the language but lack a sufficient vocabulary to express myself in a semi eloquent manner. My ticket to fluency now lies in my ability to memorize and internalize a large vocabulary of the most common and relevant words for my goal of being conversationally fluent in Korean. Below I will give you several tips for memorizing new vocabulary.

Easy Tips For Memorizing New Vocabulary:

  • Be diligent. Make a daily schedule and stick to it. I have a notebook which I carry with me everywhere I go of all the essential vocabulary that I need to learn. Use any idle time to review the words. It doesn’t require a strenuous and focused effort, it can just be a passive exposure to the same words. The key is that you keep exposing yourself to them and at regular intervals. Once certain words become part of your long term memory you can move onto the words you are having difficulty with.
  • Don’t overdo it. Your brain absorbs a certain amount of information, and after a certain point the effort you put in doesn’t yield any proportional results. Listen to your body and mind, when it starts to feel overwhelmed, take a break. Switch gears and do something else. The goal is when you study it should be focused. Get in your zone. Be present to what your doing, but as soon as you feel yourself internally wandering and it becomes harder to focus, it might be a good time to stop. For me, Monday through Friday I can get 1-2 hours of studying done in the morning and then later at night another couple hours of review. This regular schedule fit’s my lifestyle quite well. Whats important is that my study sessions are focused and at regular intervals. Once you find your sweet spot stick to your daily schedule and you will notice yourself progressing. You will also hit plateaus on your journey, keep at it and don’t give up.  Seemingly out of no where you will make a breakthrough if you stay consistent.
  • Your IPod is your best friend. I have removed all my English music off of my I-pod and have only loaded Korean learning content on it. I have certain play-lists organized into verbs, nouns, adjectives, common expressions, etc. and I just play them over and over. You can listen with focused attention or even just passively. Not only are you learning vocabulary but you are improving your listening skills and just becoming more comfortable in general with your target language. Then at night before going to bed I load a play-list and try and absorb as much as I can as I doze off into sleep.
  • Watch movies with subtitles: This is a great learning tool on many levels. Watch a foreign movie in your target language with English subtitles and then vice versa watch an English movie with your target language subtitles. Being able to recognize the words you have studied and seeing them acted out and within a context is a great reinforcement in your language studies. Vivid and emotional imagery is a huge memory aid to help you recall expressions when you find yourself in similar situations as the movie you watched.
  • Review. If you study ten or twenty words in the morning, review them in the evening before you go to bed. You can also use a great flashcard program such as Anki. Anki is a program which makes remembering things easy. It helps you keep track of anything you want to remember and you can also embed sounds and images. Anki keeps track of the words you have learned and intelligently tests you on them based on how well you know them. It’s a free open source program you can download here onto your PC or smart phone.
  • Use mnemonics: Mnemonics’ is derived from the Greek Goddess of memory Mnemosyne. Broadly speaking mnemonics are a group of memory techniques that can facilitate the quick and easy assimilation of new information. Mnemonics make use of your vivid imagination and all your physical senses to break down a new word into a memorable image that has the embedded meaning of your new vocabulary word. For example, the Korean word for spoon “sue-ka-ra”, and to me this reminds me of a Spanish cereal called “Zuckarita’s” (frosted flakes) whose pronunciation is almost the same. So when I was learning the word for spoon I would quickly in my mind’s eye bring up the image of a tiger eating cereal with a huge spoon and would then quickly make the connection to the Korean word of “sue-ka-ra”. It takes a little practice but in time you can make some very creative connections very quickly, and once it’s a part of your long term memory it wont be needed.
  • Start singing: I listen to Korean Pop songs with subtitles and then memorize the song. I then download the song to my I-pod and listen while I’m commuting or doing the dishes. Sing along while trying to recall the meaning of the words. Having a nice rhythm to sing along to is a good way to learn to new words and expressions.
  • Take Brain Supplements (nootropics):  I have found Piracetam, Sulbutiamine, Choline, Picamilon, and Huperzine A to be great memory boosters and just for overall healthy brain maintenance. As always please do your own research and consult your physician before you start a new dietary regimen. I usually use and for my supplement needs. If you go to please use my discount code:  PUZ602 to receive $5 dollars off on your first purchase. Iherb has the best prices around and is great about shipping internationally. I get my packages in a about a week to Korea.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” Nelson Mandela

Learning a new language can seem like a very daunting task, don’t get discouraged. Make a plan and stick to it. Remember no one can teach you a foreign language, you need to have the internal motivation to learn it yourself. Switch your mindset from a “hope” to a “need” mentality and you will prove to yourself that a new language is within anyone’s reach. Once you get going you will find it to be a very rewarding and even fun activity that will enrich your life in more ways than you can imagine. I hope my short little article helps you on your language journey.

Thank for for reading my post. If you have any language learning tips, please leave them in the comments below.


4 Responses to The Key To Fluency In a Second Language: Building a Large Vocabulary

  1. Hey Ivan! Great post. I also love the photo with this post. Didn’t notice you there at first. 🙂

    I think you’ve provided some great insight and tips into what it takes to learn another language. Where I have failed before is in diligence (putting in the time and sticking with it) and making sure I don’t overdo it (which often leads to abandonment.) You get out of it what you put into it. I’ve been using some great online resources to start learning Indonesian again.

    Another great tip is to just start speaking the language. The more you speak it the more you start to understand it. Just like learning our first language as kids. Hear it and start speaking it.

    What are the languages you currently speak?

    • Thanks so much for sharing matt :)…good luck on your journey…don’t give up…I’m sure your wife will love you for it :)…

  2. Re: I have found Piracetam, Sulbutiamine, Choline, Picamilon, and Huperzine A to be great memory boosters and just for overall healthy brain maintenance. Does this come in a formula you recommend or do we have to buy each one separately?
    Thank you

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