Everyone learning a foreign language faces the challenge of learning and retaining new words but learning long lists of words is one of the most boring exercises teachers ever ask students to do. So maybe it’s good news to hear that it's also one of the least effective ways to expand vocabulary.
After all the hard work put into memorising spellings and new words, they actually go out of our heads days, hours or even minutes after we have learnt them.
There are other problems too. Memorising lists is a good way of memorising lists but not a good way of memorising the individual things in a list. Many students have found that it's easy to remember words when they are tested in the same order in which they were learnt but it's much harder to do it when the words come randomly.
Spelling is also a problem. Words are often learned by copying them out on a piece of paper over and over again. When doing this, it is very easy to make a mistake and then repeat it again and again.
So, if learning new vocabulary from lists is not a good way of expanding vocabulary, then what is? The answer is, of course, reading.
There have been a number of research studies done where readers have been given short books to read and then been tested on vocabulary contained in them. At first, when readers are tested around three days after completing the book against people who have been given vocabulary lists, the list learners did much better than the readers. However, six weeks later, the list learners had forgotten many of the words whereas the readers hadn't.
So reading expands vocabulary faster and more permanently than learning lists of new words! It's a fact!
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