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"I can't learn languages"

 … is a complaint (excuse!) I have heard so many times over the years! And it is true: studying for languages is a tricky business and is unlike anything else we do across the school curriculum. 

So much of it stems from being able to reproduce vocabulary and structures, skills which are not necessarily fascinating to hone. Making language learning interesting is therefore an integral part of doing well in this field.


Vocabulary learning is probably the biggest challenge language students will ever face, but once you get past this obstacle then you are well on your way to both fluency and exam success.

The most effective way of learning vocabulary is to keep track of all the new words you encounter. However, getting these words to actually stick in your head is the hard part. When I was at university, I used to write down all of my new vocabulary in a little notepad and then transfer it onto a free internet program called Memrise, which turned learning new words into a competitive game. Memrise allows you to create vocabulary lists (as well as utilise existing ones) and then tests you on words, giving you the option to create mems (visual aids with text) to help you remember them. 

On top of this, you can share vocabulary lists with your friends and the site records how many points you have all scored: I found that some people got very competitive about how far up the leader board they were.

It might sound a bit clichéd, but ten minutes of Memrise a day can make a world of difference to your reading, listening, speaking and writing skills. But where can you find this new vocab in the first place? (If you want to see other good apps for learning languages, make sure to check out our article on the “Top 17 apps a student shouldn’t live without”). 

Mix it up!

Teachers will often direct you towards internet based news like "El Pais" and "Le Monde". These websites are obviously brilliant sources of both information and vocabulary, but if you find them a sight for sore eyes, then try mixing it up. If you study French then try listening to some French rap. If rap doesn't whet your appetite then try the (slightly smoother) Edith Piaf. Spanish students who are not tempted by Enrique Iglesias' brand of suave pop should try some Latin American Reggaeton or Mexico based Calle 13's infectious tunes. If you don't fancy listening to just one artist then tune into some foreign language radio: there are hundreds of stations which you can listen to for free on the internet.

In no time at all, you will find yourself singing song lyrics without even trying. Films are also a good way to study whilst enjoying yourself. Many foreign language films are readily available and the process of listening and following the subtitles will both help to tune your ear and to recognise new vocabulary and structures.

Finally, language learning does not have to be an isolated experience. The whole beauty of languages is the possibility of speaking and relating to more people. Make studying a social event: if you study French, host a French cultural night. Invite friends, cook French food, watch French films and speak to each other in French. Being able to speak languages is socially beneficial; incorporate a social aspect into your study and it will guarantee that you have more fun learning and will memorise information more easily too!