Rubjerg Knude lighthouse and the importance of a solid basis for language learning

Dress & Jacket: H&M, flipflops: Teva, Sunglasses: Cerjo (all previous seasons)

Last summer we spent our holidays in Denmark. On the above photo you can see one of the most famous sights of Jutland, Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse. It’s a well known tourist attraction and absolutely worth visiting. The lighthouse was specifically built on the highest part of the coastline to warn ships at sea. Normally you always make sure that your fundaments are such that they can support your building for a very long time. In the case of this lighthouse, location was more important than a fundament on solid rock. Understandable, but the shifting sands and the erosion caused by wind and sea pretty soon had a decaying building as a result. What you see on the photo is the remaining part of the lighthouse. The rest is buried. If you like what you see, go and visit this place in the near future, since they expect the lighthouse to fall into the sea in 10-15 years time.

The erosion of the coastline. It shows well why the lighthouse is falling apart: no solid basis.

In daily life I prefer a solid fundament, also in the field of language learning. And you know what? Building a rich vocabulary, the fundament for languages, can be a lot of fun too.

Vocabulary is the solid basis

The goal of learning a (foreign) language is that you want to communicate in that language. In order to achieve that, you simply need words. Like David Wilkins already pointed out:“While without grammar little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed.“

The following story gives us a funny and to-the-point example. An ESL teacher wanted to buy some flour in a supermarket in Japan. He knew the perfect sentence structure, “Sumimasen, ____ -wa doko desu ka?” (Excuse me, where is the ____?). But there was one tiny problem: he didn’t know the word for “flour”. Fortunately, he spotted one of his Japanese students in the store and asked for the word. However, his student replied “hana” (flower), not “komugi” (flour). After being sent to the floral section, he realised how vital vocabulary can be for simple communication. The one word “flour” would have led him to the product. Instead, he ended up with some beautiful flowers that he did like, but not really needed.

Vocabulary is the key aspect of language learning, unlocking all types of language skills.            

Of course, in the end, your communication will improve when your grammar improves, but your vocabulary forms the basis on which you build your language! It allows you to develop important skills such as listening, reading and writing.

And of course the following is true as well: the more words you know, the more you will learn.

Last but not least I’d like to point out that learning vocabulary is a great confidence booster. Everyone can do it as soon as you have discovered the method that works for you.

Building vocabulary with pleasure

Now we know how important building vocabulary is, you will probably want to know how to do it. If you are a fellow foreign language teacher, I’d advice you to use a lot of games (I prefer games that make sure every single student participates actively), stories and songs. Please make sure that you train and test vocabulary in context, preferably in different contexts. Repetition is important as well and you can do this by offering different games and activities.

If you are a student of a foreign language, I’d advice you to read, read and read. That will allow you to learn vocabulary in context, which is the best way of learning. If you like films, start watching them in the language you’re learning with subtitles in that same language. Listening to songs is another fun way of training vocabulary.

Do it the way you love!

And if you have the possibility to spend time in a country where they speak the language you’re learning, even better. I did so in France and England and those were fantastic times with lots of new experiences and steep learning curves! In all cases, make sure you learn vocabulary in context and do it the way you love.

If you’d love to start or continue learning a foreign language, click on this link: You’ll have a total of 10 inspirational TED Talks about language learning to chose from. Enjoy and get going!

I would love to read your positive tips and experiences regarding learning and teaching vocabulary.



Photo with the locks is of a bridge in New Haven in Copenhagen. Photo with the heart in the sand is of the migrating Dune or Raabjerg Mile, Denmark.



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