What to learn at the intermediate level — learning vocabulary.
Part 40 of the Poligo Guide to Learning a Language.
SECTION 4: This section explains how to divide the language into smaller parts and how to learn each part.
Remember, there are three major parts to the intermediate level:
In the last part, we talked about natural language: pragmatics and idiom. This time, let's talk about learning lots and lots of words. This is the point where the "70% rule", and learning vocab in large groups, really helps (we talked about it in Part 27: How much do I need to learn?). Don't be afraid of trying to learn lots of words at once; don't worry about forgetting half or more of the ones you try to learn; just drown yourself in words. If you do, you will remember them. You will learn more words, faster.
It is very important to try and associate words you are learning with things that make them memorable (we talked about this in the section on memory). This includes putting them into interesting examples; looking for examples in interesting real situations; learning cognates (groups of words) together; and learning many example sentences for a single word if you need to, until you remember it.
It also helps at this level to know that some words have many uses. These words that have many meanings are called "polysemous words". Here is an example in English:
1. right now, this moment e.g. "There's no time like the present";
2. a gift e.g. "She gave me a birthday present";
3. to show or display e.g "He presented his research";
4. to be physically somewhere e.g. "He was present at the meeting"; etc.
These words can be very difficult to remember. It is also tough to understand them when you hear or read them. Do not think of them as the same word. It is better to think of them as several words, one for each major meaning, and to learn each separately. If you don't do this, it can feel like you are failing when you have to learn "the same" word again and again. It is more precise to realise that these are various words that have various meanings in various situations — they just look the same (same spelling, same characters, etc). You are really learning many words, to be used in many ways.
Let's look at another example from English:
1. to fire [a shot] e.g. "shoot a gun";
2. to throw at a target or with a certain aim e.g. "shoot a basketball" ;
3. to take photos or film e.g. "shoot a flim"
4. to germinate (of plants) e.g. "the seeds began to shoot";
5. a sprout (of a plant) e.g. "bean shoots"; and so on.
Learning some of these various meanings together will give you a better understanding of the basic meaning of the word (something like "moving quickly in a certain direction"). But there is a limit to this kind of learning. It will not help you with more idiomatic ways of using the word (such as "Shoot!" which means "Dammit!"). However, if you learn each meaning as a separate word, you will have a better idea of your progress and how much you need to do to learn all the ways of using these polysemous words.
However, it is important to know your limits, i.e. the limits of your interest. Do not try to do more than you can. In English there are many words where there are many, many different ways to use them, for example:
When you find that a word is this polysemous, do NOT to try and learn all of its meanings and uses in one hit. It will be too much. Instead, learn enough of the main senses together so that you have a good sense of the basic meaning(s) of the word. Try to find the root of the word. Then you will know they word itself. From then you can pick up each extra meaning and use it as a different word step by step.
At this level, you can let luck choose the words you learn. Just make a note of new words that come up in reading, in conversation, in watching TV, or whatever. But don't stop there: work on the words using the memory system we already talked about: create or find other examples of the same word, cognates, other senses in which it is used, and so on. You must make an effort to make the word yours. You must command it. You must know it. Make a meaningful network of connections around the word like the networks in the mind of a native speaker. Make the word more memorable. When the word has stuck and you can remember it without effort, you can stop, even where there may be a lot more to learn about the word (if it is very common and used in very many ways, for example).
Sometimes, of course, life throws new words at you faster than you can master all of them in this way. In that case, you have two choices:
Don't defeat yourself by trying to do too much.
So, in order to build your vocabulary fast, you should follow this simple recipe:
If you are not learning lots of words at the intermediate level, you are not doing one of these three things. If you are not encountering new words, read and listen more. If you are not remembering the new words you find, sit down and learn them. If you sit down and find that you have no new words to learn, you have skipped number one or number two.
Do not try and choose which words to learn. Learn them all:
You should just learn the words that come your way, no matter what, and enjoy them.
Work on your vocab with Poligo: