If you want to learn a new language you have to continuously learn vocabulary. This can be overwhelming at first, but the truth is that learning vocabulary can be easier at the “beginner” level because these learners acquire many words and the results are immediately visible. Later, at the “intermediate” and “upper intermediate” levels learners can plateau, or stop seeing results. Whether you are a beginning, intermediate, or advanced level learner the following will tell you what you need to know about learning vocabulary in a new language: levels, 7 tips, and 3 tools.


How do you measure vocabulary level?

There is extensive research in the field of vocabulary acquisition; a good place to start would be with the work of Paul Nation. There are different methods to calculate how many words represent each level. I will be incredibly simplistic to make it practical. Imagine there are 6 levels of learning a language.

A1 300 words

A2 600 words

B1 1200 words

B2 2500 words

C1 5000 words


6 tips to learn vocabulary

Make learning multi-modal. I have seen many students “studying” by moving their finger over list of words. Multi-modal means being exposed to the words not only in reading, but also hearing the sound, seeing an image to reinforce the word, seeing the word again in a movie, practicing with flashcards, and practice using the word in context.

  • For example in the Everyday English course learners see the vocabulary words in the text book
  • Video/audio recordings of lectures reviewing words
  • presentations with picture examples
  • dictation audios
  • examples from movies that show the context
  • writing their own examples
  • digital flashcards and games
  • various speaking activities in class

Make it practical. Children learn language fast because they learn by living. They learn the word hot as their mom pulls them from a boing pot of water; they learn the word chair by sitting a chair. Adults, however, sit in a chair and look at a book of vocabulary words. This can be a good reference, but learners have to use the language in an authentic context for the words to stick. There is no single method, but be careful of thematic vocabulary lists that are traditionally used.

Words are not isolated. Words exist in groups. Learning English, this could include: 

  • Phrasal verbs – to come around, to hop off, to pull through
  • Collocations – depends on, at night, at last
  • Idioms – on one’s toes 

Attitude, interest, motivation. I have seen over the years that people have pre-conceived notions about learning a new language and about the people in the “other” culture that speak it. Our attitude entering can make or break the learner. Have a curious mind, do not expect to be perfect right away, take risks, and enjoy the learning process. A positive attitude combined with sustained interest and motivation is key.

Spaced retrieval and repetition. It is not possible to see a new word one time and then be able to use it in fluent speech. Some estimate that we need to be exposed to a new word up to 10 times before actually learning it. You need a combination of activities that let you encounter the word multiple times. Combine this with #1 to be multi-modal and you will have the best results.

Gamification. One way to think about this would be to make a challenge. Try to learn 5 words per day and give yourself points on the calendar for each day you learn words. Apps like Quizlet allow you to play games to practice recall, matching, and even dictations. Make it fun, keep track of your progress, and write down how many days you complete. This will help you MAKE IT A ROUTINE. 

In conclusion, vocabulary is an essential part of learning a language no matter what level you are. Vocabulary learning is highly personal, so you have to take control and make strong routines. With great study techniques, a great mindset, and consistency you will make significant progress every month of study.

What are your favorite strategies to learn words? Do you have a goal? Write down a vocabulary goal below and start learning new words now!  Are you a student or a teacher?