Immersive Vocabulary Approach

Ironically as this might sound coming from a language learner, I was never a big fan of vocabulary acquisition. That is, until recently.
Reviewing new words with flashcards always felt like a waste of material, digital reviews are my personal productivity-killer and learning from a sorted word list will lead to me remembering the order in which the words will appear, but not their corresponding meanings. I just hadn't found a suitable method yet. More importantly (although not that relevant here), I felt like I was still stuck in this particular learning stage where you'd first think of a sentence in your native language and only then translate it into your target language. With Japanese and German, two languages with completely different syntaxes, this wild syntactical back and forth had become a significant problem. Throw in a general lack of vocabulary and you're up for many frustrating situations when talking to native speakers.
So while I was happily immersing myself in all kinds of Japanese media it finally and inevitably dawned on me that a) immersion is awesome, and b) I will never be able to progress if I keep ignoring vocabulary acquisition and keep using German as some kind of construction support pillar.

That is why I decided to try a Japanese only approach and ban translations from my new vocabulary book. And it worked wonders for me. This is how I usually proceed nowadays:

1. Vocabulary book: Note down unknown words.

Even though I don't like studying from ordered lists, I do use a normal vocabulary book to collect all the words I want to learn in one place, note down their meaning(s) and then colour them according to their part of speech. This will help me remember some words without having to take them a step further.

Japanese English translation
相変わらず(あいか〜) same as always
事前に (じぜん) in advance

2. Monolingual notebook: Transfer words, add a definition and example sentences.

Yet there will always be those words that you keep forgetting no matter how often you come across them during your reviews. Or maybe you have a list of words that you find particularly important and don't want to ever forget.

I take one word at a time and copy it into a monolingual notebook. I will then use a monolingual dictionary to look it up and copy its definition as well. In case there is more than one, I will pick the one that I think fits best. The right column of an entry will be for example sentences or phrases in which the word is used. As you can see below there are three columns in total.

Word Definition Example sentence
今までと変わったようすが見られないさま。以前と同じように。 相変わらず元気です。
ことの起こる前。事を行う前。 オフィスアワーには事前の予約が必要だ。

3. Review time: Not that monolingual yet.

While I do use my monolingual notebook for reviews, read through the definitions and come up with example sentences on my own, I will refer to my normal vocabulary book every now and then. I can't "think" completely in Japanese yet, so my main struggle isn't the translation from Japanese into German, but the other way around. This might sound contradictory to what I said before, but it helps me double-check whether or not I can remember the meaning of a word. After using this method for almost a month now, my "success rate" with words that have an additional entry in my monolingual notebook is significantly higher than for those that haven't. And the list of definitions has given me some great ideas on how to paraphrase a word if I can't remember it immediately.

Is this the ultimate method for vocabulary acquisition?
Absolutely not. There are a bunch of different learning types out there and what might work for me might be absolutely ineffective or a waste of time for somebody else. I'd suggest trying out various approaches and methods until you have found one that you enjoy and that will keep you motivated in the long run.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this method requires a certain proficiency in your target language. Writing down a definition is of little use when your current level is too low to understand what is being described and you end up with more words that you have to look up.

16th March 2019


It's a me!

Hej! My name is Sandra, I am a language enthusiast from Germany and this is where I document my language learning journey.

I will share my study goals with you, talk about the ups and downs in language learning, try out cool challenges and show you study methods that I found particularly helpful. Making myself accountable here will hopefully give me some extra motivational boosts!

All main articles will eventually be translated into the four languages I am most comfortable with: German, English, Spanish and Japanese. Older posts can be found under "Archive" and are sorted in order of date.

You won't find a comment section under my posts, so if you feel like chatting a bit, or talking about language-y things feel free to message me on social media or write me an email!

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Enjoy your stay and happy studying!