Remember how you learned words as a child?
A fun and effortless mixture of identifying objects in real life and connecting words with pictures on cards and in books?
It’s time for a walk down vocabulary’s memory lane.
A visual dictionary is one of the best things that you can have in your learner’s toolkit. It helps you to learn vocabulary by image association, pick up niche technical vocabulary and increase your word bank. It’s also enthralling to flick through and an absolute must for anyone traveling to a French-speaking part of the world.
The technical vocabulary you’ll learn from a visual dictionary will truly help you to become a part of the francophone world. By increasing the amount of French nouns you know, you’re connecting by knowing the names of everything around you, essential for conversation so you can convey your point successfully.
That’s why it’s important to choose the right visual dictionary for you.
- A standard dictionary that you could use on the go.
- If you’re learning more than one language, a 5 language dictionary might be right for you.
- If you’re learning with children, a child-friendly dictionary is the ticket.
- For those who love using technology to help them learn, a visual dictionary app.
Once you’ve gotten familiar with your visual dictionary, it’s time to use these activities to help you shake it up and maximize your learning.
7 Awesome Ways to Learn French with Pictures Using a Visual Dictionary
1. Learn like a pre-schooler: Label pictures in a coloring book
Coloring books are a fantastic way to relieve stress…and help you to learn French! By spending time coloring, you develop associations in the visual center of your brain and this then helps you to remember the words. The idea with this is to label every detail on your coloring page so that you have a bank of words from your visual dictionary on each page. The act of coloring everything in will help you to remember the words.
This is also great because it’s something fun that you can do while you’re unwinding, it doesn’t have to be part of your study time. You could even color during your commute if your ride isn’t too bumpy.
Tips for coloring book vocabulary practice:
- Choose a book that isn’t abstract, make sure there are plenty of things you can label and that these are words you want to learn. Try a nature-based book or maybe one with people in it so you can label their features.
- Track down some adult coloring books! These have more complex illustrations, more details and thus more opportunities for vocabulary learning. The book I’ve linked you to is Paris-themed!
- Use post-its for labeling if you don’t want to ruin your artwork.
- Use bright colors to help with memory association.
2. Learn with reference pictures: Label everything you see
Another great way to use your visual dictionary is to identify the things you see.
This helps you to form associations daily and is also great because you’ll be learning words that are useful to you. You could start by labeling things in your house and then do this mentally (or physically if you’d like) with things you see whilst out.
You could use post-its to help you form a physical link. If you know someone who is also learning French or is fluent, you could test each other on everything you see in a room.
3. Learn with picture games: Play with a friend
Visual dictionaries among friends lend themselves to playing games. You just have to try this more social approach.
It’s a wonderful way to add a competitive edge to your vocabulary acquisition. It’s also a great way to make sure that you get your vocabulary practice into your schedule along with a chance to practice pronunciation as well. To help you get started, here are some ideas:
- Describe the items on the page of a visual dictionary without saying what they are, then everybody has to race to find that page. The first to find that page wins.
- Test each other on random vocabulary. For example, you might ask “What is a seashell in French?” Keep a tally of your scores.
- Use as much vocabulary on one page of your visual dictionary to write a story as you can. Whoever uses the most vocabulary wins.
4. Get curious: Learn with pictures then bring your vocabulary to life
Real-life context is the best way to learn vocabulary. You can make the most of this by planning activities to help you learn specific vocabulary.
This is a great activity to do with a friend so that you can both test each other on vocabulary as you go along.
You could take pictures and label everything afterwards, making your own visual dictionary. Some ideas to get you planning your next day out:
- Learn vocabulary related to the ocean and aquatic life then visit an aquarium for the day. A fantastic idea would be to visit the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco
- Learn vocabulary for animals of the world and then spend the day at a zoo. You could try the Zoo de La Fleche, rated as one of France’s finest zoos.
- Learn vocabulary related to nature and spend a day at a park, admiring all of the different plants and animals and acknowledging their names in French.
- Learn the vocabulary related to color and art and discuss paintings in a museum en français (in French)
5. Learn with party game pictures
Organizing a study group with a regular get-together could be the perfect way to help you memorize vocabulary.
By agreeing on a set of vocabulary you’re going to learn each time and then hosting party games surrounding the vocabulary, you’re using social pressure to help reinforce your vocabulary whilst also making it fun. Make into an evening with these suggestions:
- Snap (where one player has the English and the other has the French)
- Word searches
By organizing learning set vocabulary for each party, you’ll slowly work your way through to the point where you know most of the vocabulary in your visual dictionary. This will really help you to get to an advanced level of fluency in French as you’ll understand without having to translate much of what you read and hear.
6. Create your own pictures: Learning with flashcards, doodles and mind-maps
Mind-mapping is a way of organizing information around a central concept that is more natural than creating a list. It’s great for visual learners, as the links between information are clear to see and you can keep things interesting by using different colors. For example, if I was doing a mind-map of family vocabulary:
- The central bubble would be la famille (the family).
- One branch would have les parents (the parents) written along it.
- At the end of this branch would be la mère (the mother) and le père (the father).
- As I learn more vocabulary and colloquialism, I might add maman (Mom) and papa (Dad) to the end of these branches.
- I would also add branches for all other parts of the family and might draw a famous family member (maybe a cartoon family) by each branch to help me remember the vocabulary.
For associating words with one another, a mind-map is very useful. You could select a section that you want to familiarize yourself with and draw out a mind-map with annotated drawings. This will help you to form a deep connection with the vocabulary. This can be a great way of studying for one of the activities suggested above.
Flashcards are brilliant for learning a stack of words and ensuring that they go into your long-term memory because you can keep testing yourself until you know the vocabulary and then keep testing yourself at regular intervals. This is great for words that are really important.
If you don’t have a flashcard app, FluentU has an extra feature that allows you to create multimedia flashcards.
7. Lunch-break learning with pictures: Online resources to boost your learning
The amount you use your visual dictionary will depend entirely on you.
Some people are at an advanced level and want to join in more with nuanced vocabulary, some are beginners and want to increase their word bank fast. Others at a casual intermediate stage just want to have fun with vocabulary and think visual dictionaries are a great way to do that.
Whatever your skill level or motivation, here are some great resources you can use during your lunch break, even if you don’t want to invest in a visual dictionary yet:
- A site with activities to help you learn vocabulary
- A free visual dictionary site
- A site to test your vocabulary and grammar
You now have a visual dictionary as an extra tool in your toolbox, so go and make use of it!
And one more thing...
If you like learning French on your own time and from the comfort of your smart device, then I'd be remiss to not tell you about FluentU.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native French videos with reach. With interactive captions, you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with learn mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning, and play the mini-games found in our dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
All throughout, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a totally personalized experience. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.