Learning Strategies for learning a new language – Vocabulary memorization

vocabulary1Words formulate a clause, phrase and sentence. It is the smallest component of a sentence. When we learn a new language, most of the times we get overwhelmed with the vocabulary words that should be memorized. Learning new vocabulary in a second language is a continuing process rather than a single event (Chamot, 2005). Especially memorizing vocabulary in the target language is important in a setting where “The Grammar-Translation Method” is used (Larsen-Freeman and Anderson, 2011).

I teach two sections of EAST 220 First Level Korean course in McGill University on Thursdays. In this class, we have bi-weekly vocabulary exams. While half of the students in class managed to get over 80% of the words, many students had a lot of difficulty in memorizing. Students have told me that they make vocabulary flash cards, stick post-it notes on the walls all around the house, write down the words multiple times and use online tools to memorize the words. These are examples of learning strategies that students have come up by themselves.

Good language learners tend to have their own learning strategies that facilitate the learning process. However, less successful language learners can be taught new strategies, thus helping them become better language learners (Grenfell and Harris, 1999). In the above situation, a task like vocabulary learning requires matching the new word to the definition. In this case, memorization strategy that has been successful for them in the learner’s past experience can be applied. According to an empirical study by Fan (2003), when students perceived that a strategy was useful they used it more often than strategies they did not perceive useful. Once a learning strategy becomes familiar through repeated use, it may be used with automaticity (Chamot, 2005, p. 112).

However, while a particular learning strategy can help a learner in a certain context it may not apply well in other learning goals. In addition, a certain learning strategy might not work to all students. Therefore, it is important for the teacher to introduce several options of learning strategies that the students can choose from. The students would try out the provided strategies and use what works for them the most. Throughout this process, the student can modify the learning strategies and customize based on their learning style or the type of study.


Chamot, A. (2005). Language learning strategy instruction. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 25, pp.112-130.

Fan, M. Y. (2003). Frequency of use, perceived usefulness, actual usefulness of second language vocabulary strategies: A study of Hong Kong learners. Modern Language Journal, 87(2), 222-241.

Grenfell, M., & Harris, V. (1999). Modern languages and learning strategies: In theory and practice. London. Routledge.

Larsen-Freeman, D. & Anderson, M. (2011). Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching, 3e. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.


2 thoughts on “Learning Strategies for learning a new language – Vocabulary memorization

    • jenniferparkblog says:

      Using audio files were effective. I would record my voice reading the vocabularies out loud and upload on mycourses. I have received comments from students that it was helpful because they can listen to the file anywhere (bus, metro or while walking) and can practice dictation.
      Since Korean language is based on the Korean alphabet (different from Chinese), it is important to read and pronounce it correctly. If the learner can pronounce correctly it means that it’s highly likely they would spell it right.


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