Foreign language learners in school usually buy a (school) book with vocabulary appendix and spend a great deal learning this vocabulary. But as soon as one is out of school, one must acquire new vocabulary self-reliantly. Here are some ideas how to come across new vocabulary in an interesting way. It is important that one is captivated by the issue from where one wants to learn new things, because otherwise people often tend to not have a large amount of discipline.
Reading books in the foreign language you are learning will not only help you to gain vocabulary but will also let you achieve a more natural feeling for the language. You pick up grammar structures, phrasal verbs, time rules and so on. Moreover, reading a really good book keeps you motivated.
For starters I would recommend reading an already familiar book. My first longer volume I read in English was Harry Potter which I had read in German already. Knowing the story helps you to understand the words even better.
If you have chosen a book it is important to reflect on the organization of your new vocabulary. Naturally, you must mark the unfamiliar vocabulary and write it down in some way. I recommend writing index cards: you write the new word on one side and the same word in your mother tongue or a synonym in the foreign language or both on the other side. There are other learning methods of course. Just choose the one you like best.
Listen to Music!
If you are a music addict like me, this is the perfect way for you to learn some new vocabulary (unless you only listen to instrumental music.¹). Go and find the lyrics to your favorite songs. If you are lucky, they are printed in the booklet you get with the CD. If they are not, do not worry – Google has them all. ;) Look up unknown words and try to translate the lyrics. This is fun, because after it you will be able to understand the lyrics better. Translating lets you connect your language knowledge of two languages.
If you do not read a lot and do not want to translate any lyrics, watching a nice film probably is the thing for you. Go for any film you like and set the language to the foreign language you want to learn. For English this is very easy, but there often are other languages in the language setting menu, as well.
If you are not so trained in the foreign language yet, I recommend watching it with subtitles. It is best to choose the subtitles in the same language as you are watching the film, because that way you will not get confused to much with languages (so English subtitles for an English film, for example). If this option is not available try it with subtitles in your own language.
When you are a bit further in your studies, try to watch the film without any subtitles. You will see that after a certain time you will become accustomed to the foreign language.
Watching films is not the best way to produce a list of new vocabulary, because you would have to transcribe the whole story, but it helps you with language feeling, refines your listening skills and trains your ability to follow dialogues (even in unfamiliar accents of the language).
If you are not such a film maniac, but enjoy watching videos, feel free to watch videos by native speakers on YouTube² or other video communities. Besides watching films in order to train your listening skills you can also listen to some nice radio programmes or to podcasts about an interesting topic. There are tons of free podcasts out there waiting for eager learners of a foreign language!
If you just have a little bit of spare time, then a little game is the right thing for you. How about finding out at least 20 different sorts of vegetables, fruit, animals, body parts et cetera? You can keep your new achievements in a notebook or on index cards. This is an easy way to ‘collect’ new vocabulary.
Learning with Visual Vocabulary
Some dictionaries come with a visual vocabulary part. Visual vocabulary means that you have a great amount of pictures which are self-explanatory and are shown together with the correspondent lexeme. You can find such visual vocabularies with Google, too. This is an extraordinarily easy way to learn new vocabulary, especially for beginners. There is not much text to read and one can memorize the words together with an image.
I just mentioned some ideas of gaining new vocabulary. Feel free to develop your own methods. As long as they keep you motivated and you observe that you are really learning new things they are fine.
¹ I love instrumental music myself very much and it goes without saying that it is perfectly fine to listen to instrumental music only. It is just not so suitable for the purpose which is discussed in this post.