Advice For Intermediate Students Of A Foreign Language

Tips, Tricks and Resources to Learn A Foreign Language Faster

First of all, the fact that you are reading this post probably means that your are learning a foreign language, or are at least about to. Let me congratulate you, learning (and eventually speaking) another language requires stamina and discipline, but the rewards are well worth it.

I’m not referring here to a specific language, but any language that you might be learning, and the advise I will give here applies to all of them.

There are two main blocks in a language – vocabulary and grammar. Put in another way, you are building a house, and the grammar you are dealing with is like the metal and concrete structure, and the vocabulary are the bricks you put into that structure. This post is concerned with the bricks, the words you have to learn.

As the title suggests, you have already built a strong fundament, you have a basic understanding of the language, and you are eager to talk – but you feel that you don’t know enough words.

Let me help you by telling you about my personal experience. The second foreign language I learned was English (and I seem to have done well LOL). I was exactly in that position, feeling like chatting away with my friends, but always groping for words. Until I started reading English books…….

Now, I obviously didn’t start with Shakespeare, but I got hold of some cheap novel about Adolf Hitler (of all people…). Somehow, in this novel, they deep-froze his head and surgicaly put in on another, younger body back in the eighties – total crap, obviously, but can you imagine how I felt when I finished the book? Absolutely on top of the world, because it was my FIRST English book, and I understood the story.

Remember, at that time I was on an intermediate level, and I didn’t understand half the words – BUT IT DIDN’T MATTER, I got the story, I understood the plot, and I had fun.

And, something very important, I didn’t TRY to understand every word. I didn’t read the book with a dictionary at my side, looking up a word every 5 minutes – that would have taken the fun out of it, and it is important that you have fun. Again, I understood the story line.

But here is what happens if you do the same. You might come across a word you don’t understand at this point, in a specific context. You continue reading, and a couple of pages later you find the same word BUT IN A DIFFERENT CONTEXT. You are beginning to get the idea, and, after a couple of pages, you find it again, yet again in a different context. See what I’m getting at?

Applying this technique you will learn new vocabulary without being aware of it. It’s kind of contextual learning, very akin to total immersion. And, as in total immersion, do not translate into your mother language unless it’s absolutely necessary. More than anything, it would slow down your efforts.

So, go and grab yourself some cheap paperback and have some fun.


  1. I took the opposite tack--read something I really wanted to read, that was 'too hard' (considered rough going even by native speakers). Really slow, but so worth it, and I had to be honest with the dictionary. (A. I. Herzen's 'Who is to blame?' in the original Russian.)

    Stories are much easier to read than technical texts. The desire to find out what happens next keeps you going! (Even if it's the fate of Hitler's freeze-dried head...)

    Great post.

  2. Georg thanks! I started Italian recently. It's an easy language compared to Greek, but I'll go get a paperback to speed thing up!!