Creative Approach to Learning Everyday Words in a Foreign Language: Try Labeling

How to Enrich Your Vocabulary About Everyday Life

Try Labeling

If you want to develop your vocabulary about daily living, then you need to make your living environment a living dictionary. Whether it is home, office or other type of environment, the fastest way to create a dictionary out of your three-dimensional living and work spaces is to label everything that you think you may have need to name.

Of course, you have to know where to draw the line. Unless you’re a carpenter, it is unlikely that you’ll need to talk about hinges, but you’ll certainly need to know the word for door. Having items in your environment labeled with their names in the language you are studying will create an ever-present lexicon in a space relevant and meaningful to you. It will smoothly transfer to any new but similar environment, such as from your bedroom to a hotel room.

One of the more practical considerations for labeling items is selecting the material for the labels and the means of affixing them to the objects in question. In most cases, double-sided adhesive tape will do quite well, on strips of cardstock of a thickness or type such as are used to label tabs on three-ringed binder dividers. Don’t bother typing or using a label maker. Your goal is to have as many legible labels for all the familiar items you think you may need to know.

Add Contextual Words

In addition to the names of objects, listing one or two verbs along with the nouns can help you exponentially. For instance, labeling on book as el libro and adding the verbs leer and escribir will help you create the sort of contextualization that will enable you to retain the vocabulary item el libro, by forming original sentences about it.

One category that is sometimes difficult to label, and can be cumbersome, is clothing. The best remedy for this is to find a magazine ad with the sorts of clothes you wear, taping small labels to it and try posting it on your closet door. Bathroom items also can be dealt with in the same way.

Thus, room-by-room, whether with labels on representative objects or on a photo affixed to a door or wall in the room, you will soon create a walk-through dictionary of your own. For the dining room, set an extra place at the table, with all the utensils labeled. For foods, photos from recipe books are perfect. The spice rack is also a perfect place to learn culinary vocabulary: simply use small adhesive labels to add the spice’s or herb’s name in the language you are studying.

These are just a few of the ways that you can avoid boredom and energize your language study by taking the initiative. Don’t wait for the language to come to you in class, or anywhere for that matter. To succeed, you have to be an active learner by incorporating your second language into your daily life.


  • The author’s more than 20 years experience teaching and translating Spanish.