I have been learning French for around 2.5 years. I am currently around the B1 level and have attained this by practising reading, writing and speaking and basically immersion. But one of the biggest contributors so far has been ‘Spaced Repetition’ vocabulary acquisition.

I use an android app (Memrise) and do about an hour a day of study with it. I learn 5 – 10 words a day and then spend the rest of the time reviewing. So far, I have learnt 1,600 ‘core’ words and have a 1,500 long grammar chart covering all the tenses for common regular and irregular verbs.

Now, before anyone says learning this way does not really ‘teach’ you the words, not in my case. I can pull upon any word (that I know) quite quickly when speaking or writing, remember I have reviews most of these tens of thousands of times.

Finally, the question! Is there a more fun way to acquire vocabulary? For me personally, the method I am using is certainly working. But to get to a C1 level, I will have to learn approximately another 8,000 – 9,000 words this way and although effective it is not so fun. And language learning is supposed to be fun, right?

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    Could you please provide a reference of why you think that one needs to learn such a large vocabulary. Here the vocabulary size for French C1 level is listed at ~3,200. – Vitaly Nov 22 '17 at 14:18
  • @Vitaly sure: universeofmemory.com/how-many-words-you-should-know – Cloud Nov 23 '17 at 9:00
  • @Vitaly Language Level Number of Base Words Needed A1 500 A2 1000 B1 2000 B2 4000 C1 8000 C2 16000 – Cloud Nov 23 '17 at 9:00

Fun is very subjective, so I am not sure if my approach will work for you. However, what helped me was:

  • writing a blog;
  • participation in online discussions;
  • doing research or studying something (formal education and self-learning);
  • reading;
  • watching films.

Of course, all of these should be done in your target language.

All of these activities greatly contributed to the expansion of my vocabulary without compromising my motivation and introducing unnecessary grind. Blogging was important for developing active language skills. Online discussions were a bit tough in the beginning due to inevitable slang and improper grammar (on both sides), but they introduced me to a more or less real language not taught in textbooks.

Watching films was useful for getting used to pronunciation, but less so as a vocabulary building activity. However, I am not an audio learner, and it might be very different for you. I found that a combination of audio with subtitles (both in a target language) worked the best for me since I could match writing to sound.

  • Very useful answer, thanks. I will wait a day or so to see if we get any further, if not, I will just mark yours as the answer :) – Cloud Nov 23 '17 at 9:46

As Olga pointed out, it all depends on what you experience as "fun". One way of expanding your vocabulary is extensive reading, which is also known as reading for pleasure. This requires texts where you understand roughly 95% of the words, you so can infer the meanings of the other words from the context. This way, you can expand your vocabulary just by reading. Ideally, you should do this on a daily basis.

For example, when I started learning German, I soon started to read German chess books. Since I liked playing chess, much of the terminology was easy to learn.

Since finding texts at the right level can be difficult, you can get some guidance from the level indications on graded readers. This site already has a few questions about graded readers, including French, and more will be added later.

  • Thanks, today is the first time I heard of graded reading, but it looks like a great solution. I will investigate further. – Cloud Nov 23 '17 at 14:36
  • @Cloud - and here is link to graded readers for French – Peter M. Jan 11 '18 at 23:28

Another variety in the same line as the other answers ("fun is important") is reading novels or novellas, or short stories in the target language. Clearly this presupposes a somewhat advanced level of knowledge. I did and do the following when learning: get a novel, maybe one that is popular in the country where the target language is spoken, and first read it in your native language, then read the original.

Short stories are a good start, also possibly news articles in the two languages in question. Pick genres or topics that you are interested in anyway to keep the motivation up. (With some proficiency I find texts meant for language learning dull, artificial and inadequate. If so, aim at a next level of literacy.)

Obviously that may even complicate things e.g. if plot or the writing style itself proves difficult. However the effort may still pay off, especially if the novel itself is perceived as subjectively good, or even life-changing. I had highly motivating experiences reading Javier Marías' novels named after Shakespearean quotations (Corazón tan blanco, Negra espalda del tiempo, etc). Because I knew the plot, and had already sort of fallen in love with the introspective and thoughtful inner dialogues the Spanish original was so much more rewarding personally, as in "another first time". Find something that suits your taste. Re-read a chapter. Take your time.

Today I still make progress this way, and while for Spanish (and some mediocre level of Italian) it did work well, transferring this method to improving my Chinese takes more effort. Here, activities on the side like entering new words into AnkiDroid on the fly take their time, but I consistently retain new vocabulary and do spaced repetition for these. Given the ginormous amounts of flashcard stacks at AnkiWeb I also find that my self-generated sets of flashcards mean more to me, as opposed to sometimes rather "empty" predefined sets containing words you don't want to repeat, or which simply appear less meaningful. For me this reinforces motivation by avoiding to repetition of totally uninteresting vocabulary.

The above is talking texts and literature, which allow an exposure without real-time constraints. Next level is rather interactive, so to speak. In conversation with native speakers I often passively engage in talk and discussion, and from time to time notice words I haven't learned yet, and sometimes even remember to write words into AnkiDroid after the conversation ended. Immersion surely helps with becoming sensitive to topic areas you'd like to in your target language engage in discussion about on the same level as you would in your native language. Practice helps fill in those gaps.

  • Great answer, thanks! Just a side-question - what Shakespeare do you recommend as a 1st read? – Cloud Dec 7 '17 at 11:17
  • Very sorry, I never grew to like Shakespeare when learning English, so won't suggest reading As you like it, or Much Ado about nothing. However I did experience that motivational boost rehearsing for a role in Taming of the Shrew. So any recommendation would be not to read, but to find an amateur theatre ensemble to join. ;-) – raddaqii Dec 14 '17 at 21:22

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