Vocabulary – Forming a Communicative Task

OK – so you want to learn some new vocabulary. You’re sitting at your desk saying “OK- bring it on.” What do you learn next? What do you learn first? What’s useful? What’s relevant? What will help you in the future? What words should you focus on?

In order to maximize retention and usefulness, the vocabulary that you learn should be centered on some kind of communicative task. What do you want to do with the language? What do you want to be able to accomplish with these words or phrases?

You do not want to just make a huge list of words and commit them to memory. Textbooks and outdated guides are notorious for illustrating with ridiculous examples and memorizing useless vocabulary. You need to stray away from that and make sure that the vocabulary that you learn is contextualized and useful.

Here are some examples of communicative tasks:

  • I want to introduce myself.
  • I want to order a simple meal.
  • I want to talk about what my hobbies are.
  • I want to talk about my family.
  • I want to ask questions about someone else’s family.
  • I want to express my opinion on the state of the environment.
  • I want to talk about the political problems in my town.

All of these topics lend themselves to a related, contextualized, and distinct set of vocabulary. Additionally, you may have noticed that they increased in difficulty and complexity going down the list. The words you learn will be meaningful to you and the world and they will serve a communicative purpose. All of these are crucial in ensuring good retention, solid practicality, and serving you in the world.

Let’s start with the simple example: talking about family.

So you want to be able to talk about yourself and your family. What are some things you say to talk about your family? Open up your mind and think practically and creatively. What vocabulary phrases and words do you need to accomplish this? Here are some things that come to mind for me:

  • In my family…
  • there is / there are
  • I have
  • a, an, some (indefinite articles)
  • I have a mom
  • I have a dad
  • Do you have brothers?
  • Do you have sisters?
  • brother
  • sister
  • grandma
  • grandpa
  • her name is
  • his name is
  • he’s ___ years old
  • she’s ____ years old
  • I’m ____ years old
  • dog
  • cat

Start simple and easy – then branch out once you have those words underneath your belt. Decide what is most important to you and focus on those.

I recommend making a new flash card set in Quizlet and centering that set on that communicative task. Label it “Finnish – Talking about Family”

Lastly, your communicative task will open the door up for studying grammar as well. You may notice that in these phrases there is the verb “to have” (super useful) and “indefinite articles” (a, an, some). This is your opportunity to get your head around the grammar surrounding this topic and apply it in other circumstances.

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