B2 | How to learn Vocab quickly & Why Flashcards are a waste of time
In little bits and pieces
I strongly advise against using any vocabulary training app on its own. Although vocabulary apps use technology to help you learn words faster, they do so in a very mechanical, isolated way. When your brain learns words this way, it struggles to recall the exact word in real-life situations, leaving you frozen in a real conversation as you search for the right word. Therefore, many German learners waste a lot of time with vocabulary apps. In Step 01 of the Learning Cycle, I always introduce vocabulary in a natural context by embedding the vocabulary within a text.
Please ONLY WORK WITH MY COURSE (<<< click there) and the free language learning app, Memrise. Do not work with any other course as you'd be wasting your time and work against this courses structure! Do not (!) purchase the pro version of Memrise. It doesn't add any value to the free version.
While most vocabulary courses on Memrise present words in isolation, I have created a course that presents vocabulary in chunks which provide you with context. During this course you will read the same words that you find in my memrise course in the context of short articles about Germany and the German culture. You should use Memrise "in the background", which means, constantly 10mins here, 10mins there. Do not try to finish e.g. chapter one on memrise before reading it in this course. That would possibly take far too long. Just live with the fact that you will always be a bit behind with the vocab on memrise. It still makes a very efficient vocabulary review.
It is advisable though that on weekends you do a Memrise sprint at least once. That means you are allowed to work on your Memrise course for up to 2 hours (with breaks of course). That will help you not to fall too far behind.
Please, don't work longer than 60mins per day on your vocabulary.
Less is more.One can become easily addicted to learning vocabulary with an app, but this only spins wheels. You can fill gaps throughout your day with Memrise, for instance while you are on the bus or waiting for water to boil or even while brushing your teeth or having sex. Memrise time does not (!) count as learning time. It is solely filling gaps that otherwise you'd have done unproductive things.
1x or 2x per week you can increase the time you spend on your vocab training to 2 hours per day. Do not work longer than 20-30mins at a time on your Memrise as it will wear you out in the long run.
Do not use paper flashcards.
Flashcards have an inefficient learning structure because, unlike software, there is no smart repetition. Also it takes a lot of time to write words by hand, without any significant benefit over our ready-made course in Memrise. If you want to understand why using flashcards is the equivalent of using a donkey to travel from Australia to Germany make sure to watch the 2nd video at the bottom of this page.
Do not memorize random words
The more relevant a word is, the better we learn it. smarterGerman’s approach of organizing learning as part of a Learning Cycle makes the vocabulary you study 100% relevant because you will use all of these words throughout this course.
How to Work with Memrise
Create an account on Memrise and then try to figure out the following points to become familiar with all its lovely features:
1 | How do you ignore a word that you already know by heart (desktop version only)?
2 | How do you download a course (mobile only, premium version only)?
3 | How do you change the amount of vocabulary that is being learned or reviewed? (check the settings in your profile on the desktop version)
4 | How do you create your own mem ❸ (desktop only)? <-- optional
5 | How do you enter the German umlauts (ä / ö / ü), and the ß?
As you proceed with this course you might want to create your own course on Memrise. You can easily do so. Make sure to check out the video below which will show you how to create your own vocabulary course quickly for your very own vocabulary. The Premium version of Memrise adds a few more functions (offline courses, audio exercises, goal tracking) which might well be worth the money but are not crucial to your success with smarterGerman.
❸ mems are word associations. I explain this technique in detail in my German grammar course but Memrise also guides you through the mem-creation process.
Use an Online Dictionary
As the material in this course is well crafted you won’t really need a dictionary in the beginning. Of course, as soon as you progress with your German, you will come across words in the outside world and want to look them up. Here are a couple of dictionaries that I use regularly:
They are also available for most smartphones and at times even enable you to download the dictionary for offline use. They all provide you with quite proper pronunciation.
Context & Chunks
Does this complaint seem familiar to you?
"I understand every word of that sentence, but can’t put them together so that they make sense."
This is a typical experience for those who learn isolated vocabulary. The best way to learn new words is to learn them in the context of a text, which is why I combine this step with the next one called Reading.
→ Chunks that are 2–4 words long will not only help you memorize words better, but also retrieve them faster in conversation. There is no benefit in knowing thousands of words when one can’t retrieve them when needed. Here is one example to illustrate the power of context:
the German word Bank (f*) ❶ is a so-called homograph. It could mean either bench or bank (i.e. the institution dealing with money) or even river bank or reef. While you might eventually have to learn several meanings of Bank you don’t have to do so at once. If you read the two sentences:
Er geht in den Park und setzt sich auf eine Bank.
He goes into the park and sits himself onto a bench. ❷
Hans arbeitet bei einer Bank.
Hans works at a bank
You would very easily be able to figure out which meaning of Bank you are dealing with, even if you didn’t have any translation at hand: the words » Park« and »setzt sich« would provide sufficient context to figure out that Bank in this context means bench. You would also have associated the new word with a little background story. Suitable chunks might be:
sich auf eine Bank setzen
bei einer Bank arbeiten
Heidi setzt sich auf eine Bank.
Peter arbeitet bei einer Bank.
It might seem that you have to learn more words than with the classical wordlist approach, but the additional information actually helps you recall it much more easily and quickly when needed. Here's an example of a chunky vocabulary list:
Why Flashcards are a colossal waste of time
Share your Thoughts
Also try to explain in your own words what you have learned in this lesson.