Top 3 Tips for Learning New Words

Going from Beginner to Conversational Fluency in a foreign language can seem a daunting and impossible challenge. Yet this feat is achieved by millions of learners each year, so how do they do it and what’s stopping you from doing the same?

Ask yourself three questions: Are you committed? Do you have a course that’s proved to work? How will remember new language? While you probably (hopefully) answered yes to the first two, the third question is usually the cause of failure.

Over more than twenty years I have taught hundreds of children and adults conversational fluency in a foreign language and they have all agreed that these are The Top 3 Tricks to learn new words.


New words become very easy to learn when you have a visual hook for your memory bank.

Take the Spanish word for rice, arroz. The word arroz, looks similar to the word arrow. Now, imagine an arrow being fire into a big bag or rice and the rice spilling to the floor. Make that mental image in your mind now. I guarantee that tomorrow you will still remember that arroz means rice.

Another example. Take the French word for to find, trouver. The word trouver looks similar to the trove. Now, imagine you FIND an amazing treasure TROVE. Make the mental image of finding an amazing treasure trove. Tomorrow you will still remember that trouver means to find.


As strange as it sounds, some words are best forgotten! When you come across a new word that just won’t stick and there is no visual hook, spend 10 seconds trying to forget the word.

Take the word for to do in Spanish, hacer. As there is not an obvious visual hook, learners find it difficult to remember, so this is what I tell my students to do. “Look carefully at what you want to learn, hacer = to do. In a moment we are going to focus our mind on forgetting that hacer = to do. Are you ready to forget that hacer = to do? Ok, close your eyes, I’m going to count to ten and during that time you must not think about hacer and to do at all. One two …..ten.”

Did you forget the word? No, of course not, you can remember it better than ever and will never forget it!

Number 1 – A Process

My students always name this as their number 1 trick. The traditional method of ploughing though lists of vocabulary almost always ends in failure, and tears! To guarantee success, all learning needs to be broken down into manageable blocks. Here goes:

First, you need some index cards, or you can cut up pieces of paper. My students like to have a special tin where they keep these cards. Begin with just 5 new words. Write the English on one side and the translation on the other.

Gather them in a pack with the foreign words facing up. Spend a minute looking though them.

Now, turn the cards the other way, English face up.

Try to remember the translation and check the back to see if you were right. If you were right, place the card on the table.

If you were wrong or could not remember, place the card to the back of the pack – you will soon have another chance.

Continue this process. Eventually the card or cards you could not remember will come around again. This time you will probably remember the translation and be able to place the card on the table. If not put it to the back again.

Eventually, you will have all the cards on the table. Well done! You’ve finished! The next day, add one or more new cards to the pack and repeat the process. Once you have answered a card correctly for a week, put it in a different tin, to be revised once a month.

This always works because it is a process – you know that once all the cards are on the table, you have finished.

I hope you will gain as much success from these 3 tricks as my students have. Start with this video to learn Spanish with a program that’s proven to work.