After taking five months of intensive German classes, I have learned thousands of words. Or perhaps I should say that I have “learned” those words.
One of the problems with learning a language quickly is that it takes a while for things to settle into your head. For me, the grammar is the easy part. I have studied linguistics, and syntax is my favorite linguistics subject. But vocabulary is completely different—some of the time, it just refuses to stick. Over and over, I hear a word and think to myself, “Oh, I have learned that one! I should know it!”
While telling me about his experience learning Swedish, a friend recommended the website Memrise. It’s essentially a flashcard website, but it has a good system of repetition: You learn the word with user-submitted “mems,” or tricks for remembering the definition. Then you practice the word using multiple choice and typing out the word. After you go through a set of about 15-25 words, it sets a timer and asks you to come back later to go through the words again. Once you have reinforced that vocabulary, it will occasionally test you on what you have learned. (It uses a cute little analogy of planting seeds, harvesting your plants, and watering them.)
Of course, a flashcard system is only as good as its flashcards! Thankfully, there are a lot of different options for German, including topics like the top 5,000 German words and advanced German vocabulary for the DSH test (one of the language tests required for entry into a German university). And you can create your own courses, either for personal use or to share with other users. Maybe when I have some time I’ll start creating flashcards for myself with the various lists I have gathered in my classes.
For now, I’m working my way through the top 1,000 German words and a set of German verbs. A lot of them are words I already know, but it doesn’t hurt to do a little review—and I’m still learning quite a bit. Then I’ll move on to the bigger, more advanced vocabulary lists. This is exactly the kind of extra learning I need, to solidify these words in my brain. And I picked up another set on Farsi vocabulary!