Do you need a “good” memory to learn languages?

how to learn vocabulary

Many people think that if they’re not good at learning languages and haven’t succeeded after many years, it is because they don’t have a good memory to remember every word.

But actually, I believe this has not so much to do with memory but rather with the way we encounter these words and how frequently we encounter them.

Are there any special memory techniques?

When I learn new words, I don’t just see the word once and then remember it forever. My memory doesn’t work like that, it’s not anything special. What I do is I make sure that I see this word many times as often as possible in various contexts in a natural way. I read and listen to texts, and the words just repeat themselves on and on until my brain gets it and remembers this word long term. 

You need just 2,000 words

The good news is that in most of the texts that you encounter in your everyday life, 85% of the words used are based on the 2,000 most frequently used words in that language. It means if you learn those 2,000 words then you can understand 85% of a text.

If you just keep reading everyday texts in magazines, newspapers, books, blogs, etc., you will definitely see these frequently used words on and on again. Right?

“If you learn 2,000 most frequently used words, you can understand 85% of a text. ”

Good advice

I believe this is really the best way to learn a language.
When you see a word in several sentences in different contexts, your brain puts it all together and understands how to use that word and can stores it into long-term memory.

So, if you also think that you don’t have a good memory for learning vocabulary, don’t worry too much about it. Instead, try to think of ways how to encounter these words more often in a systematic way, and you’ll see that in the long term, you’ll be able to understand these words and remember them much better.

Lýdia Machová

Language mentor
I have learned 7 languages by myself, and I usually add a new one every two years. As a language mentor I've helped thousands of people to learn languages by themselves, in ways different from traditional classroom methods, and with much better and faster results. I'm a TED and TEDx speaker and a former organizer of the Polyglot Gathering, one of the biggest world events for polyglots.
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