How many times have you read a book and then a few weeks later forgotten the most important points?

If you are anything like me, you have probably studied vocabulary diligently only to forget it a few weeks later.  Psychologists post that memories slowly disappear during the time that they are not being accessed.

Not studying or using your target language consistently is the easiest way to forget key vocab.  Amazingly, this has even led to some people forgetting their own native first language

In this article, I am going to teach you five simple habits to help you remember vocab. Fact of the matter is you need to use your target language if you are to remember it.  

Use a couple of these simple to follow behaviors and start building up your vocabulary in no time!

5 Simple Habits to Help You Remember Vocab

habits to help you remember vocab

5 Simple Habits to Help You Remember Vocab That Anyone Can Do

Use a Flashcard App with Space Repetition Software

This is without a doubt my #1 tip for habits to help you remember vocab.

Using flashcards is probably the oldest trick in the book for learning vocabulary.  However, it is a commonly used technique because it’s a very good one.

Using spaced repetition software with flashcards is like driving a sports car instead of a Toyota Camry.  It will double your results and increase your efficiency.

Nowadays, all the top flashcard apps incorporate spaced repetition software.

This software allows you to repeat the phrases and vocab that you are struggling with more frequently while decreasing the frequency of the words that you already know.

So, in case you understand five vocabulary words well and you don’t understand three, naturally, the app will show you the three difficult words much more frequently than the five that you do already know.  This makes your learning twice as efficient as you aren’t seeing the same words you already know over and over again.

You only see what you need to know.

Naturally, when you are about to forget the words a month later, sure enough there they are just in time.

It really puts the 80/20 efficiency into flashcard learning.

How can you accomplish this? Mosalingua has got you covered.  Their language apps feature Spaced Repetition Software to help you see the right flashcards at the right time.

Learn with Mnemonics

Have you ever watched a movie and then later forgotten what happened?  If so, chances are the story wasn’t that memorable.  

Most of the time, we do remember the gist of the movies we watch as the stories are so enthralling, dramatic, and oftentimes outright outlandish.  Most good movies don’t look like our day to day lives.  

Frequently, the protagonist overcomes unbelievable odds to win whatever struggle they are facing until the end.

How does this relate to learning vocabulary you might ask?

When you put a wild or bizarre story behind your vocabulary word, chances are you are less likely to forget it.  So, next time you create a phrase to go on your flashcard, why not create one with a ridiculously awesome significance to it.

Here is an excellent example that Benny Lewis uses in this superb language learning article: if you are trying to learn the word “Caber” in Spanish, rather than just putting “To Fit” (definition of Caber) on the flashcard, you can add an outlandish phrase to accompany it.

Benny uses the example, “It is barely possible to fit a BEAR in a CAB” with an accompanying picture.

Now that is a memorable photo if you ask me.  Chances are if you see the flashcard for “Caber”, you won’t easily forget it.

So how can you use mnemonics to help you with your habits to remember vocab?

Create flashcards with memorable descriptions and sentences.  If you are trying to remember the English word “Eat” you could use the phrase, “I’m so hungry I could EAT a cow” with a picture of someone eating a cow.

I love watching movies. When I was learning Spanish each week, I would take photo clips from my favorite Spanish movies and put them, along with an accompanying sentence, describing the photo on my flashcards.  That way, I learned new vocabulary with an image that was sure to stick with me later.

Spend some time to create the flashcards and get your creative juices flowing.

Write Out a Story with the Vocabulary That You Learned

habits to help you remember vocab

Human beings love stories.  When was the last time you found yourself engulfed in a movie or unable to put down a good book?

Chances are it is because the story was so compelling that you couldn’t turn away.  

We learn extremely well with stories.  

So why not create a story that is so compelling that you won’t forget it.  Just like in the previous habit, it’s worth it to take a little extra time to ensure you NEVER forget a vocabulary word and aid in developing habits to help you remember vocab. 

How can you accomplish this task?

Take the time to write a fun or bizarre short story with the vocabulary that you are learning for the week.  Hey, I am not asking you to write a novel or anything.

All I am asking for is a couple of well-written paragraphs.

Here’s an example if you are an English learner trying to remember the word “dog.”

“One time I had a monster dog named Mikey.  Mikey was a big dog that liked to eat vegetables.  One time Mikey was found in our garden eating all our carrots.  I think Mikey is the best dog in the world because whenever I need someone to eat the vegetables on my plate, Mikey is ready to eat them.”

Notice how simple and strange this story is.  Also, notice how it incorporated our vocabulary word “dog” many times to reinforce the learning of it.  Trust me, when you write something down like this (as opposed to hearing it) you are much more likely to remember it.

I know what you might be thinking: this is going to take forever.

Yes and no.  Will it take a little bit of time at first? Sure, but it will be worth it to take the time to keep from forgetting it weeks later.

If you put in the time to write a fun excerpt now you will surely think of that word association next time and are much less likely to forget it down the road.

Use the Vocabulary Right Away and Use It Often

Ever wonder why you have spent hours and hours studying vocabulary that you can never seem to remember?

If I had to guess the reason you are forgetting key vocab it is because you aren’t using it.  This is a common mistake made by just about everyone.

After all, it is easy to read a blog post like this one or listen to a Ted talk and feel all encouraged like you made progress.  But our brains consume so much information that if we do not use it right away we are much more likely to forget what was being processed.

That is why Dale Carnegie recommends that when you are meeting someone new for the first time you repeat that person’s name during the conversation.

For instance, in case you are meeting Bob. “Hi Bob, good to meet you.”  Then, a minute later, “Interesting point Bob, I completely agree…”  Notice how you keep resaying Bob’s name in the conversation (without being obnoxious)?

So how does this apply to language learning?

Once you have your key vocab words for the week, use them ASAP.

Write them down and use them in your weekly Skype conversations with a Native tutor.

If possible, try and use the words the day you learn them.  

For instance, if your teacher teaches you a few new vocabulary words, make sure you give examples using that vocabulary that day. Don’t just hear it, speak it!


Record Yourself Speaking the Vocab Words

habits to help you remember vocab

Who doesn’t have a smartphone these days?

It has never been easier to take a 1-minute video of yourself saying something to a friend.  It’s no wonder photo and video sharing apps like Snapchat and Instagram have popped up in recent years and become wildly successful.

Just like some of the other methods outlined above, why not create a video of yourself speaking a quick 30 second or 1-minute video talking on a particular word in your target language.

I make a fool of myself every week on our Spanish language Podcast, Españolistos.  But that’s ok, I keep going all the same.

We learn by doing.

Do you have a language learning buddy that also uses Snapchat (or any other video sharing app)?

Why not send them some short videos of yourself speaking with the new vocabulary that you just learned.  If you are feeling bold, you can publish it to the world for everyone to see.  

Sure, it’s intimidating and you might make a fool of yourself, but at least you will walk away with a new vocabulary word in your toolkit.

Get started and get doing, you might find it fun to create a 1-minute video of yourself and posting it to the world each day.  I can promise, you will be sure to remember it better the next time.

If you are shy like me, you can just create a regular selfie video and watch it later.

Chances are you will be impressed with your progress in speaking when you go back and watch the video a couple of months later.  

Don’t make not having a language exchange partner or tutor an excuse for not speaking.

Get started and record a video of yourself today. Push yourself to use new words and difficult vocabulary. While you are talking try to imagine yourself as a Harvard professor trying to teach on molecular biology. Ok, maybe not that, that could be too difficult.

Use the most complex and deep words that you know and you are sure to up your vocabulary game in no time.

Conclusion on 5 Simple Habits to Help You Remember Vocab

Which of the 5 habits are you going to start with today? (notice how I said today)

Choose the one that you think you are going to learn the most from and get started.  Ultimately, you are probably going to stick with what you enjoy most.  But the point is, you need to get started.

As the serial entrepreneur Richard Branson once said, “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”

It is time to start doing.  Start using the vocabulary and you are sure to make immediate progress.

I tried to lay out some different methods for getting the vocab to stick, whether that be writing it down, speaking it, or through visual methods.  How do you learn best? Figure that question out and you are sure to make great progress.  

Personally, I am a visual and an experiential learner, so I absorb information best when I am seeing pictures with the vocabulary words and immediately speaking it in conversation.

The next time you are reading an article in your target language and you don’t understand it.  Look it up and begin using it right away.

The only way you are going to be able to learn the language is if you use it.  

Let us know in the comments on habits to help you remember vocab or what you are going to do today to learn vocab.


BIO: Nate Alger taught himself to speak fluent Spanish through self-study in about a year’s time.  He runs a Spanish language blog with his wife, Spanishland School where they teach Spanish students how to level up their fluency. Each Monday he makes a fool of himself on their Españolistos Podcast.