How to Memorize French Vocabulary

How to memorize French vocabulary is probably one of the most important questions that French learners ask themselves when they start their French-learning journey. No matter how you personally like to learn vocabulary there’s no denying how important it is. There’s literally nothing you can say, read, write or listen to that doesn’t contain French vocabulary.

One problem however that French learners face when learning vocabulary is that it’s not as simple as just finding a word and learning it’s translation. Words can and often do have more than one definition and even then the definitions don’t necessarily match up with words you know in your own language. Sometimes there are concepts that can only be understood by those who are familiar with the culture of a given country.

This doesn’t mean you necessarily have to spend time in a given country to understand all of these concepts, but you definitely do need exposure to the language.

Let’s take a look at some easy techniques you can adopt that can help you make this difficult task a bit easier.


Memorize Vocabulary by Learning Words in Context

Most people go about learning vocabulary through long lists of one or two words translations that they associate with each word. They sometimes write their translations on flash cards and study them that way. There is typically nothing wrong with this IF your goal is to simply memorize something and not truly learn it. If you are learning concepts that just need to be memorized such as the periodic table of elements or perhaps important dates of events then this is a perfectly fine approach to take.

However, as we’ve discussed previously a lot of vocabulary can’t just be nailed down to one or two words in your native language. Words can have complex meanings that don’t often have any exact translation to any word that you are familiar with. Sure, there are definitely exceptions to this such as days of the week, numbers, and even names so you can probably get away with simply memorizing these types of words (especially in a language like French).

For others however you’ll just end up getting yourself in trouble if you do this. This is why vocabulary needs to be learned in context when it means something to the surrounding words in the sentence. Whenever you come across a new word that you aren’t familiar with look it up in your French dictionary and write down the sentence or phrase that it gives you.

Even if you feel like the word corresponds exactly with a word that you know in your own language (such as chat, télévision, ordinateur) get in the habit of learning it through full and complete sentences so that you don’t get too used to making comparisons between French and your own language.

When children learn their mother tongue they don’t learn vocabulary by comparing it to something they already know, they simply learn the true meaning through the context they experience from just living in a country where the language is spoken.

Both Assimil and Lingq rely heavily on learning vocabulary in context I highly recommend either of these if you are interested in this approach.


Memorize Vocabulary By Studying Right Before Bed

This may seem obvious, but then again if it were then everyone would do it when they tried to memorize things. Studying before bed is easily one of the best and most effective ways to memorize anything out there, not just French vocabulary.

This is especially true if you don’t have that much time during the day to study and would like to get the most out of what you can do.

If you choose to study during the day, as opposed to at night, you leave yourself open to forgetting what you’ve studied throughout the day. At night when you sleep your brain has to decide what information it took in during the day is worth keeping and what information it should disregard.

The unfortunate part about learning French is that for most of us what we study gets thrown to the side because our brains don’t deem it important enough for us to retain.

This is inevitable to some degree as it often takes a certain degree of reinforcement before our your brain will deem something important enough to keep (wouldn’t it be nice if we could all remember something the first time we saw it?).

Because of this why not give your brain the best possible chance to remember something by having it be the last thing it takes in before you fall asleep?

As with anything, this isn’t always possible to do by everyone, so if you for whatever reason aren’t able to spend time memorizing your vocabulary before bed then don’t sweat it.

However, if you can (even if it isn’t all the time) then you absolutely should. It’s also a good way to get into the habit of studying regularly because going to sleep at the end of the day is something that you can count on doing routinely.


Regularly Review Your Vocabulary On a Daily Basis

Tie this in with the previous one because they go hand-in-hand. If you for whatever reason aren’t able to study at night try to at least study on a daily basis (no matter the hour or time of day).

Just like we said previously, in order for your brain to really memorize something and move it into your long-term memory you need to encounter it several times (people will debate on what the magic number of times is, but all you really need to know is the more times the better).

To be perfectly honest doing this alone will yield better results for your vocabulary than most (if not all) other memorization hacks. If you couple this with studying right before bed and you’ll find yourself memorizing things in no time.


Memorize Vocabulary By Saying Words out Loud

If you’ve read the article “How to Improve Your French Speaking Abilities” you’ll know that one of the best ways to improve your French speaking abilities is to read books and other forms of content out loud. Well this is true and it’s also a good way to memorize your French vocabulary.

Reading Out Loud is One of The Best Ways to Help Memorize New Vocabulary

When you just study vocabulary by reading it you’re really only making one connection with the word or phrase you’re studying. When you say it out loud you are making an additional connection with the word.

As we’ve already discussed, your brain remembers things best when you make as many connections to what you’re trying to learn as possible. So why not create an additional connection where possible?


Memorize Vocabulary By Writing Out Each Word

Similar to the previous point writing things out creates an additional connection to your vocabulary. You of course can both write AND speak your vocabulary out loud, but some times you just aren’t in a situation where you are able to speak.

When this applies just write your vocabulary as it still creates that extra connection.

This may go without saying, but it also helps you to learn how to spell your vocabulary as in a language like French words are often spelled differently than how they are pronounced (meaning the language isn’t very phonetic).

Only Focus on a Number of Certain Vocabulary at Once

Because there are so many words out there to learn it can certainly be tempting to try to learn as many as possible as quickly as possible.

Just as you may suspect however, trying learn too much vocabulary at once can make it difficult to memorize anything because by the time you come back to review some of the words you may have already forgotten them. Take your time and don’t try to tackle too many words at the same time.

Take a set group of vocabulary that you are trying to learn (let’s say 10 words) and really focus on them until you feel that you have them down pat. You can of course put them aside, move onto new ones and then come back to them at a later time, but don’t try to cram too many into your brain at once single time.



For many, learning vocabulary can be on of the most difficult and most boring parts of learning French. There simply is no way around it no matter what method or methods you decide to use.

What methods have you used with success to help you better memorize your French vocabulary? Do you agree with what’s listed here? Comment below and tell us why or why not.