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When reading texts in L2, (sometimes) it can be easy to infer the meaning of a word based on its usage in the text. This can work similarly when listening or conversing. (Of course, to ensure there is no misunderstanding, looking the word up in a dictionary as well is good practice.)

My question is: How does the vocabulary learned through reading/listening/conversation (immersion, more or less) stack up against vocabulary learned through study (flashcards, vocab lists, etc.) in terms of retention and proficiency?

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Like you said, the context can help you to learn a new word. That same context, in my opinion, is better than a flashcard or a vocab list. Words are better learned when in context, so learning phrases is more powerful that trying to retain a single word. The brain thinks in pictures, not words. So, by using contexts, your brain can build a stronger picture because he can create like a short story. Instead, single words just give you a vague and blurry picture. We also don't speak by words, but by phrases. So learning useful phrases gives you the possibility to use them in conversations, without trying to build them on the spot with words that you barely retain from flashcards. This gives you some sort of fluency when speaking. Of course, everyone has its own method, but by far this is one of the best ways for our brain to learn vocab.

  • Citing sources or explicit personal experience would improve the answer. – Tommi Brander Jun 5 at 8:24
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In common I agree with Alaric_polyglot, but want to add that immersing in a language field would actually bring you brighter impressions and pictures (different situation, micro-stresses, new people you meet, ..), which are core for context-binded learning of new words.

  • Citing sources or explicit personal experience would improve the answer. – Tommi Brander Jun 5 at 8:24

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