As Told by Polyglots: Building Vocabulary

Nov 5, 2015 4:31:27 PM / by Melanie Moore

This is the second post in our Polyglot Workshops series. If you haven’t seen the first post about goal-setting, check out As Told by Polyglots: Setting Your Language-Learning Goals. The second session was led by all of the polyglots, where they discussed learning vocabulary in a multitude of ways.

In early October, Mango Languages sponsored and took part in the Polyglot Workshops in Brooklyn, New York, along with Fluent City and three expert-level polyglots: Alex Rawlings, Richard Simcott, and Olly Richards. These language-learning experts were the hosts of the workshop and shared their insider knowledge about their experiences learning multiple languages.


The method of learning vocabulary doesn’t matter as much as how you use each method.

We were given an exercise where we had to memorize a list of ten words and then were quizzed on them afterward. It was incredible to see the methods and techniques that others used to complete the task.

In order to successfully build vocabulary, they discussed some key concepts/methods that you can use to get started:

  • Narrow down which words are important
  • It’s not about the method — it’s about how you use it
  • The communicative need is what makes it stick
  • Create your own context
  • Your goals determine the vocab you’ll learn (check out our previous post on goal-setting for more info).

When learning a language, many of the attendees agreed that context is key. So, how do you learn vocabulary from context?

        Orchestrate the conversation.

Richard often attends sessions with tutors in his target languages and he controls the flow, in order to get the most out of them and learn what he needs to know for the context in which he will use the language.

        Find content that interests you.

Olly Richards described how he is really into Jazz music, so he would look up interviews and such about the Japanese Jazz scene. These would not only interest him, but would make it easier to listen to, due to his interest in the subject itself.

        Use your learning style to your advantage.

Alex Rawlings described himself as a kinesthetic or tactile learner. He would often go to the supermarket and identify the names of certain food items in his target language. This helped him to solidify these words in his mind, which helped him to better remember them.

Following the goal-setting topic, they explained that one’s goals determine the vocab they’ll learn. Another method that has proved helpful is to learn like a child. As a kid, you don’t learn individual vocabulary, but rather, set phrases in your mother tongue.

This subject led to a tangential topic about teaching children to learn languages. The polyglots suggested such tactics as making language learning a challenge or a game for your child. Some of the other attendees described that as a child, the moment the need for communicating in one of their languages was there, they could speak it. That’s one of the great things about workshops — due to the variety of attendees, the discussions and Q&A will always be different.

Fun fact: Richard is raising his daughter to be fluent in five languages!

The main idea from this session: It’s not about the method you use to learn vocabulary — it’s about how you use it.

So, start building your vocabulary today! In your next target-language conversation, use three words you’ve recently learned, and let us know when you complete this polyglot challenge in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. Mango Languages gives you over 70 languages to choose from, so start fulfilling your polyglot dreams by choosing one (or 21!) and conquering the world. Find out if you can get access to Mango Languages free of charge through a public library near you!

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Topics: Language Learning and Culture

Melanie Moore

Written by Melanie Moore

Melanie speaks German, Lithuanian, and Japanese and has dabbled in several others. She is an aspiring polyglot and enjoys sharing her passions for language learning and music with anyone she meets.

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