LTL DISCUSSION: new vocabulary, use it or lose it

Strategies for Using New Vocabulary

Actually speaking to actual people:

This is the scary part, for me at least. It is a lot easier if you are living in a region where your new language is used in everyday transactions – you have to use it then, but in regions where the language you are learning is not widely spoken it gets a lot more difficult.

If you want to learn Japanese and you live in Bolivia, you will have to get a little more creative in your efforts to find opportunities to use Japanese. One of the main motivators for language learning is relationships and marriage, but other more accessible areas that bind people of the same language in foreign lands are food and religion.

There actually is a small population of Bolivian-Japanese

Meeting new people and practising your language skills is a great thing to do, but being a language leech is not so good. A language leech is someone who speaks to you in order to learn your language, not really because they want to be friends or anything. There is a fine line between looking for opportunities to practise your new language and taking advantage of other people or their institutions in order to absorb their language.

Look for opportunities to practise speaking, but don’t be a leech.

Some language learners do not start conversations in their new language for fear of making mistakes. This is normal, but WRONG. If you are the fearless type I envy you, but remember, conversation is about speaking and listening. Practising a language with people who can already speak it well is an opportunity to try out your new words or phrases; this is a good way to find out if you are saying things correctly. If the other person gets what you’re saying and responds appropriately, you’re doing it right. If the other person brings you something that’s not ‘chilled’ rather than not ‘meat’ then you’re doing it wrong (‘dinging’ / ‘daging’ – a mistake I kept making in Bahasa Indonesia). But really you’re doing it right; because you are trying out new language, and when it doesn’t work you revise your knowledge try something else. Good job! The reality can often be different, and people become frustrated and embarrassed when their attempts to use the new language are unsuccessful.

Learners who are afraid of making embarrassing mistakes need to learn how to see mistakes as learning opportunities Likewise, learners who are not afraid of mistakes need to learn how to be more than a star performer and to start listening and learning as well.

Real world interaction doesn’t always have to directly involve actual other people. Other ways to use your new language is by reading real information in the new language. So you have to go further than dictionary definitions, text books and ‘How to Learn Spanish’ web sites and try to read things that actual speakers of that language actually read. When I was an undergraduate student I owned four or five French grammar books. My written French sucked, not because I didn’t buy enough French grammar books, but because I didn’t read enough French magazines, books or newspapers (there were no web sites in those days).

Top tips for using your new vocabulary

Find a friend to practise with

Even better if your friend is able to speak the language well, you will be able to talk about the things around you.

Maybe look online for a Skype group

This is especially helpful if you are not living in the region where the language is spoken.

Read stories.

If your vocabulary learning is focused on the most common words of the language you will come across them ALL THE TIME when you read easy stories.


Or whatever other social media you use. Social media is a great place to read captions and leave comments on your friends’ posts in your new language. Texting and other type-based language is full of difficult slang and abbreviations which can make it difficult, but on the up side, people are very forgiving of typos and creative spellings on social media.


Keep a log of the times you used new words in face-to-face conversations, understanding others (people or signs) or in online communication.

Eat out

If you are learning Thai and you like Thai food, then you are probably in luck. Sometimes restaurants serving Thai, or Russian, or Turkish (etc.) food are owned by people from those areas. You might get lucky and make some new friends when you eat out in a foreign language. Practice looking for words you know on the menu, and then using them when you order in the target language. If you’re learning Welsh, this strategy is probably not for you.

See my post on strategies for using word cards HERE

Read more about learning vocabulary HERE

Read about memorising vocabulary HERE

Read about my own experience learning vocabulary HERE


4 thoughts on “LTL DISCUSSION: new vocabulary, use it or lose it

  1. This is very, very good and I will use some of these tips. Thank you.

    It is amazing how many Japanese people there are in South America. Most of them are in Brazil, where last I knew – rather a long time ago – there were more Japanese in that country than in any other outside Japan. When I visited there as a foolish youth, there were villages in the south that were devoted to various nationalities and if you wanted to be fluent in Japanese, Italian and German as well as Portuguese you could yo-yo between them…cool.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Look for a teacher who runs an English-only classroom. As a teacher, make it stick. The first few weeks are awkward but once you have stopped and said “let’s figure out how to say this in English” a few (hundred!) times, English starts to feel like the normal language for working and conversing.

    Liked by 1 person

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