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Vocabulary development methods

Have you encountered any opinions that mastering a thousand of the most frequently used words in a foreign language allows you to understand most of the content? Let’s consider together which approach to the development of vocabulary is the most effective.

norwegian vocabulary development

Before you spend your time searching for a list of the most commonly used words in Norwegian, let yourself think about whether you really need it.

Learning words is not easy. You shouldn’t expect that after your first contact with a new word or phrase you will use it in speech. This can happen sometimes, but you usually need at least a few “meetings”.
The knowledge of your vocabulary can be divided into active and passive. Active acquaintance is the most expected one, because it concerns words that you can use freely in speech or writing. Passive acquaintance is about understanding from the context.

As learning progresses, words known passively reach the active ones. This does not mean, however, that you should master all Norwegian vocabulary in an active way. Even in English you would find words that you do not use or even understand.

You don’t need to know all the words in order to communicate effectively. It is important that you know the words you currently need.

As time goes by, expectations grow and more dilemmas appear. Sometimes it is not known whether to add a given word to the notes or to find it of little use at this stage of learning. There is no good or bad approach to this topic.

There are people who immediately set the bar high – they want to master the language at an advanced level. They often break the barrier of speaking for longer, because they want to talk at a high level. It happens that they have problems with motivation. Fortunately, when they start speaking, it becomes surprising for the people around them and even for themselves.

Others start speaking from the very beginning, even if they know very few words. In the eyes of the surroundings they develop gradually. They draw a lot from their interlocutors. They set themselves small goals: today I master the vocabulary allowing me to do shopping, settle a matter in a bank tomorrow, and so on.

Both approaches are good because they achieve personal goals. A valuable skill is a sense of what words you will need in the near future. As you can see, for everyone this resource of words is completely different and can change many times.

What to pay attention to when learning words?
  1. The words you will use.

If you have recently started learning a language, almost all the words you encounter in textbooks are commonly used. Try to master as many words as possible in small steps.

  1. Specialist words may be important for your industry or interest.

There are words, even difficult ones, that you need to know. This is particularly true in narrow areas. Sometimes it is easier to learn industry jargon than commonly used words. This is not only because of practice, but also because the word is important to you.

1000 most popular words?

You may wonder if mastering a thousand of the most popular words is a lot. Since they allow you to understand 70% of the content, it seems to be much. However, there is a difference between understanding what was said in the text and the meaning that the author wanted to convey.

Can you master words such as til, med, for by learning its English equivalent? I don’t think so. You have to get to know such words in many contexts.

Trying to master any list of the most popular words is therefore a challenge that does not give any guarantee of understanding from the context, let alone expressing one’s thoughts.

That’s why I think that the best way to develop vocabulary is to read books or listen. It allows you to consolidate the range of words you’ve met before, increases the range with new words or their new meanings.

It is difficult to learn a dozen or so equivalents of a given word written in a dictionary. It is much easier to feel its meaning range by understanding it in context.

Time to choose the method

It’s not difficult to set a goal: every day I master one page of words from the dictionary. But it is difficult to achieve this goal. After all, every word requires multiple repetitions. And learning itself should be interesting. This method is definitely not effective.

Fortunately, there are many other methods. So you can choose the methods that will be perfect for you. The most effective methods are those that take into account multiple repetition and the use of words in different situations.


Learning words from the list is the most popular method. Some keep notes or notebooks with words, others write them down on cards. The list is perfect for short-term learning (e.g. for exams).

The downside is that you attach great importance to the order of words. It will be easy to reconstruct them when someone wants to check the knowledge from the last lesson. Worse when you want to use a word in everyday life.

Remember to create your own list and not to use a those prepared by someone. You can print a large list of irregular verbs that someone will prepare for you. Just answer frankly: Will you learn the whole thing by heart?

A set of words that is not chosen by you will not motivate you to assimilate them. This method was introduced in schools and the effect was that immediately after the test, most of the words were forgotten.

How to learn nouns from the list? You can write down words on three colours of cards corresponding to the types: en, ei, et or put on 3 notebooks – each in a different colour. You will know that if the word was for example in a green notebook, it means that it is of a masculine kind.

Regardless of whether you use the method of 3 notebooks, write down nouns together with the article. Additionally, if a word has an irregular plural number, add it next to it.

Shorter list

If you want to master the list of A4 pages, divide it into smaller parts. Create a few smaller lists of 10 words each. Learn the first one well and then proceed to the next one.

Scrolling through one list takes just 3 minutes, you can do it during a coffee break, on the tram or before bedtime. Repeating it many times, you will quickly master the material and remember it for longer.


This is an even more effective method of mastering vocabulary than short lists. No wonder it has recently become fashionable.

A flashcard is a small piece of paper or cardboard on which you write a new word in Norwegian on one side and its translation on the other. The words you learn are taken out of the set. It is worth coming back to them after some time.

You can always carry them with you and repeat them in the subway or bus.

Waiting for a plane does not have to be a waste of time either. Plan to master a set on the way back and repeat it on the way back. You can also use an application for your phone or computer.

Thought maps

This is a method for creative people who like to diversify their learning. It is a form of a note in which, apart from words, you use symbols, colours, drawings.

The thought map is based on your associations. In learning vocabulary it can be helpful in mastering words from a specific issue.

Initially it may seem difficult to do, but after a few brave attempts you can develop your own style of information transfer. The map may not be understood by others, but there is nothing wrong with it. You don’t have to have artistic skills either. It is important that it is clear and legible for you.

The creators of this method emphasize its high effectiveness in the process of remembering. I think it is really effective for repetition. One look and you remember everything. Its opponents often think that the time spent on preparing a map can be spent on assimilating more material using traditional methods. I leave the choice to you.


For many, this is a very effective method. They teach it in so-called schools of memory. It is based on the analysis of the word we want to learn, and then creating a story based on associations.

If you are in the mood to invent absurd stories, you will probably have fun at the same time.

In my opinion, it’s worth creating stories that don’t go beyond the Norwegian language. If possible, try to think only in Norwegian. After all, you can build simple and short sentences.

Suppose you want to learn the words et kinn (cheek) and et skinn (skin). It’s easy to imagine that you have skin on your cheeks: På kinn har du skinn. If you want to remember the word en gjest (guest), make a personal statement with it: Min søster har mange gjester. (My sister has many guests).

Do you sometimes mistake the word et kort (card) and et kart (map)? Imagine a short card: et kort kort. Remember that “the card” is spelled the same as “short”.


By listening, you have contact with a living language. You learn not only to use words in context, but also their sound – often in different dialects.

For those who already understand Norwegian, watching movies or listening to the radio will be very helpful. In the case of films or series, you can first watch them with Norwegian subtitles, but only if you completely understand nothing.

Then turn off the subtitles. Focus only on listening. You should also have a file with subtitles in Norwegian to check the dictionary for words you didn’t understand while watching.

Always choose the material you are interested in.

Listening to the radio for an hour a day can be very effective if you focus on it. Don’t be under any illusion that by listening “by the way” you will gain a lot.

You can find out more about active listening in this article: How to learn Norwegian pronunciation?


As I mentioned above, the best way to develop vocabulary is to read. I realize that this is a difficult thing for those who are starting out. But I’m sure that the sooner you start reading, the sooner you will see progress in understanding the language.

I suggest starting with short articles in the Norwegian press. You shouldn’t translate every word you don’t understand, only what you think is absolutely necessary. If you understand the context, it is enough.

The next step is to read books – I think this is the most enjoyable stage. Of course it will take you a lot of time and effort to read the first one. Even more than a lot. But with every next one it will be much easier. It really brings amazing results.

To sum up
You should decide for yourself which words are important to you in order to include them in your learning. Do not use a list prepared by someone.

Learn permanently what is basic, necessary or interesting.

Develop your understanding of language by reading and listening. This will help you get to know a lot of words and consolidate those you already know.

Any method can be good if you are satisfied with its effect. Try, test and experiment yourself.

Remember that every time you check the meaning in the dictionary, this is a valuable lesson. Don’t postpone it.




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