How to memorize French vocabulary (no matter your age)

Do you struggle to memorize new French vocabulary? Maybe some of these frustrations sound familiar…

“I can’t seem to remember the new French words I learn.”

“I learned a lot of French in high school, but it didn’t really stick. That’s a lot of hard work that just disappeared!”

“I can study vocabulary tables for hours, but I always end up forgetting the new words.”

“I can’t remember what I learn, maybe because I’m gettin older and my memory just isn’t what it used to be. It’s endless – and so frustrating!”

You’re probably wondering how you can really memorize French vocabulary, and have fun with it.

When learning French, you find quickly that there’s a lot of vocabulary to learn. And it’s hard. You feel like you don’t know how to learn effectively, and you blame yourself.

It doesn’t have to be that hard. I promise. You deserve better! And I’m going to show you the better way 😉

Today, let’s see how you can memorize French vocabulary with ease, with a five-step process for retaining new French words (no matter your age).

Welcome to Comme une Française. I’m Géraldine, your French teacher.
Today, like every Tuesday, I’ll help you get better at speaking and understanding everyday French.

C’est parti !

1. How to memorize French vocabulary: Five examples to start with
2. How to memorize French vocabulary: Smart repetition
3. How to memorize French vocabulary: The testing effect
4. How to memorize French vocabulary: Applying repetition and testing in your own learning
5. How to memorize French vocabulary: Add variety!

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1) How to memorize French vocabulary: Five examples to start with

Let’s take five examples of interesting French vocabulary, on different topics:

Faire les courses = buying groceries
Une bande-annonce de film = a movie trailer
Un mariage = a marriage AND a wedding
Des couverts = cutlery
Un trompe-l’œil = a painting that’s made to trick the viewer into thinking it’s real – like painted windows and people on old city buildings, for example. The name literally means “tricks the eye.”

How can you make sure you remember this new French vocabulary?

The answer is:
– smart repetition.
– the testing effect.

2) How to memorize French vocabulary: Smart repetition

Smart repetition is spaced repetition. It’s the opposite of cramming: trying to learn a whole lot of vocabulary all at once, the week (or the night) before an exam.

With smart repetition:

  1. You don’t spend too long reading new vocabulary for the first time
  2. You let the vocabulary sit in the back of your mind for a few days
  3. Then you review it
  4. Rinse and repeat a few weeks later, then a few months later

That’s how you implement effective studying that lasts long-term!

For a first attempt at smart repetition, let’s recall 3 words from the top of the lesson:
Faire les courses = buying groceries
Une bande-annonce de film = a movie trailer
Un mariage = a marriage AND a wedding

You see, it’s much easier already now that you’ve seen these words twice!

(Of course, I just told you what these words mean… but I hope you’ll remember these until tomorrow at least!)

Now when reviewing that vocabulary, you can read it over and over, doing all the learning work again if you want. Or you can use the testing effect instead.

3) How to memorize French vocabulary: the testing effect

The testing effect comes to us from the world of psychology. It basically tells us that, when learning something, you’ll get much better results if you test yourself on it, rather than if you just read it over and over.

Even if you get the test wrong. Even if there’s no feedback on the test!

The point is, it sends a signal to your brain: “This is important. You’ll need to use it. Remember this.” Otherwise, your brain is very happy to forget everything about French vocabulary!

So let’s start right now:
→ what are Des couverts?
→ what’s un trompe-l’œil ?

Don’t look at the answers above 😉

4) How to memorize French vocabulary: Applying repetition and testing in your own learning

There are two main ways to apply both smart repetition and the testing effect when learning French:

a) Immersion with French people: Every once in a while (= spaced repetition), you’ll need to remember a word (= testing) you’ve learned months ago, to use in your current conversation. It works very well! But it’s not available to everyone.

b) Flash cards: I personally use flash cards to learn music theory! You can also make them online, with Quizlet for example.

Make your own deck of interesting flashcards. You can add pronunciation tips. You can add sentence structure. You can even mix them up with other topics you’d like to learn, for variety!

Then, every day, test yourself on ten flashcards, at random. This will space out your learning, and you’ll remember a lot more effectively!

5) How to memorize French vocabulary: Add variety to your testing!

There are other ways to test yourself than the flashcard format. Flash cards are very effective, but different kinds of tests will add variety to your learning, such as:

  • Quizzes
  • Writing about French culture
  • Singing songs
  • Asking a friend to test you
  • Explaining the vocabulary to your dog
  • Doing crosswords
  • Playing games
  • Filling in the blanks of pre-written conversations…

And many more!

If you want to increase your motivation to learn long-term, it is also very helpful to get support from a community of people who’ll learn alongside you.

And that’s what I used to create the 30-Day French Challenge!

It’s a fun new program (that my students actually voted on!) where we’ll cover 100 important French terms about French culture, art, romance, friendship, small talk, and more — all in 30 days!

You’ll get a new challenge everyday, right in your inbox. And the best thing is: we’ll do these learning activities together in a special online, forum-life community group. So you can share these challenges with your friends and family, and also with nice students from all over the world!

You can join right now, until Friday, June 26th, and we’ll start on July 1st.
Click here to become part of this adventure with me!

I’ll see you over there!

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And now:

→ If you enjoyed this lesson (and/or learned something new) – why not share this lesson with a francophile friend? You can talk about it afterwards! You’ll learn much more if you have social support from your friends 🙂

Double your Frenchness! Get my 10-day “Everyday French Crash Course” and learn more spoken French for free. Students love it! Start now and you’ll get Lesson 01 right in your inbox, straight away.

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Allez, salut 🙂


Join the conversation!

  • Bonjour, Madame Géraldine et merci beaucoup ! Thank you very much for another excellent lesson. I will be trying all of your suggestions and hope that I will be able to remember my french vocabulary easier and for longer. Merci ! 💐

  • Merci Géraldine pour la promenade dans le parc j’aimerais être là avec vous
    Bonne journée

  • I love the background! What a wonderful idea and lovely addition to your fine lesson! Truly wish that I could be there. Looking forward to the 30-day French Challenge! Merci pour tout!

  • Love the walks it looks gorgeous there. I did a piece on Grenoble with my tutor – looks a great place to live.

  • I loved the idea of the walk. It’s like learning french with a friend. Also lovely to see somewhere new.
    C’est une merveilleuse idée. Merci

  • It is wonderful to be in the park on a beautiful day, or even when the weather is not sunny and warm. Okay, any time!

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