• Stefano Chiaromonte

4 Powerful Ways to Memorize Words in a Foreign Language | Italian Edition

Learning vocabulary is not easy, but can be easier. Discover with me 4 killing tips to learn vocabulary in the fastest and most efficient way in Italian (and pretty much any other language!).





You feel like you’re memorizing a lot of words but eventually forget them after a few days? Or maybe you feel like you’re learning a lot of words but don’t know how to use them. Or worse, you’re talking to someone, you want to use a word you studied but, suddenly, you forget.


You are not alone. That happened to me when I was studying English because no one told me how to memorize vocabulary the right way. But guess what, it’s not happening now that I am studying Portuguese! That’s why I wanna help you learn and memorize vocabulary the right way. Let’s start with the first tip!



1. Practice every day


This might sound like a piece of obvious advice, but practicing every single day is one of the most important things to do to memorize vocabulary.


Look, our brains are not thought to remember everything, and they are not able to memorize things you’ve read one week ago. Unless you are a genius or have some kind of superpower I, and most people, don’t have. Our brains remember things based on repetition. We tend to remember things we’ve been exposed to multiple times.


Think about a movie. How much do you remember about the movie you watched last night? Do you want my honest answer? None. I don’t even remember the name of the main character. Now, how much do you remember of Home Alone? Here we go.


The more you are exposed to the words you’re trying to learn, the more you practice, the better!


And by the way, when I say "practice every day", I don’t mean spending hours every day trying to memorize words. A few minutes a day will do, as long as your brain is exposed to the words you need to learn!


P.S. Home Alone in Italian was translated as "Mamma, ho perso l’aereo" (Mom, I missed the flight). LOL.



2. Spaced repetition apps


I love spaced repetition apps. No doubt! Spaced repetition apps are the best way to memorize vocabulary quickly and they are very effective.


They are based on “spaced repetition”. I am not going to tell you in detail what “spaced repetition” is, but I will try to sum it up for you.


First of all, I will need to explain to you what the forgetting curve is. Our brains forget, and the forgetting process can be visualized with what is called a "forgetting curve".


The first time we come in contact with a word (or eventually any information) our brain processes it and over time, that information just gets lost until we totally forget it.


However, there’s a way to make sure that information doesn’t get lost, or eventually doesn’t get lost that easily.


Do you want to take your Italian to the next level? Check out my Online Italian course for beginners "Be Italiano" and start learning today to become a real Italiano, like me!

This trick is called active calls. After we’ve been exposed to that information, we need to constantly remind our brain that information exists by actively calling it, ergo by repeating it.


Let’s say that you learn the expression “essere in ritardo” (= to be late) today. You will probably start forgetting this expression in three days. However, if you remind your brain that “essere in ritardo” means “to be late” in two days, you will probably forget that expression 1 week after the first repetition.


Then you repeat it again in 5 days. Now you will forget it in a month!




You can learn more about spaced repetition here.


This is just an example, but the more you repeat words and expressions the longer they will be retained in your memory until you fully master them.


This problem is less relevant in younger people and, as you age, forgetting becomes easier because our brains become less flexible. And by the way, when I say “age”, I don’t mean you need to be 50 or older to struggle with word memorization.


Learning English when I was 15 years old was much easier than learning Norwegian at 19 and Portuguese at 23.


Trust me, spaced repetition will incredibly help you in memorizing words, and all of my students who used or are using spaced repetition apps improved their vocabulary (and their language skills in general) much faster than those who didn’t!


Let’s talk about the tools now! There are many spaced repetition apps you can use.


The one I like the most is Quizlet (https://quizlet.com). Quizlet is a flashcards app you can use on your computer or download on your phone. They do offer paid plans, however, their free plan will do the job.


You can search for pre-made sets of flashcards or create your own. I love this feature because it allows me to make flashcard sets specifically for my students’ needs.


Plus, I use Quizlet with my online Italian course for beginners as I created a set of words for every unit.


My students enrolled in the course love this feature as they are able to learn more vocabulary in the shortest amount of time or learn the words of a specific unit before they actually go over that unit. You can check out my online course here.


Quizlet can work for literally anything that has to do with learning, but there are other apps specific for language learning.


I am sure you’ve heard Duolingo (https://www.duolingo.com) or Memrise (https://www.memrise.com). They are great apps and are fantastic to learn new languages. One downside is that you can’t really choose what to learn but have to follow their order of things, which I don’t love but it’s fine.


P.S. These apps are great to memorize new words but they are not enough to learn a language. You also need to learn grammar, practice conversation, reading, and writing to really start speaking a language fluently.


If you memorize a bunch of words or expressions but don’t have the grammar knowledge to put them together, you’ll never speak like an Italian. Maybe you will be able to communicate, but not speak. And they are two different things.



3. Learn a set of words at a time


Please, do not attempt to learn 1000 words in a week. And don’t learn a bunch of random words all at once, especially when you are a beginner.


You kind of want to follow a logical order in your vocabulary learning process, and make sure you master one group of words before moving on to the next one!


This is the order of word sets that I usually recommend my beginner students to learn:


  • Greetings (You can check out useful greetings here)

  • Basic questions (Come stai? How are you? Come va? How is going? Di dove sei? Where are you from?)

  • Replies to basic questions (Bene! I am good! Grazie! Thank you! Sono italiano! I am from Italy!)

  • Question words (Cosa, come, dove, quando, perché?)

  • Numeri (yes, they are very important)

  • Days of the week and months of the year


This is a very short list, but it’s something you could start with if you are an absolute beginner!



4. Write words down and make sentences


Let’s do something more old-fashioned here. Technology has revolutionized the way we learn, but writing new words on a piece of paper will remain my favorite thing to do.


The wise Romans used to say:


"Verba volant, scripta manent"


This beautiful phrase means: "spoken words fly away, written ones remain". Writing your words down can tremendously help you memorize them.


Why do I like writing words in my notebook and making sentences? Simple.


  1. I am a visual learner and writing my words down with a bunch of different colors makes me remember my words more effectively.

  2. Knowing that X word means Y word in my language is not enough to use the word correctly during conversations. You actually want to understand how that word is used. Sometimes, translating is not enough.

  3. It helps me make associations. If I know that “Sono in ritardo” means "I am late" but I am always super on time I could write a sentence such as “Non sono mai in ritardo” (I am never late). That way that expression relates more to me and I am able to contextualize it with my life and with my personal experiences.


What do you think? Do you like these tips on learning new words? I actually love them and believe they are very effective. Let me know what you think and what you're planning to do to learn more vocabulary!


Do you want to take your Italian to the next level? Check out my Online Italian course for beginners "Be Italiano" and start learning today to become a real Italiano, like me!

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