Quicktip #7: Use pictures to find new vocabulary!

Are you looking for new simple vocabulary to learn but have a hard time finding ideas? Don’t think too far! Even a simple picture or photograph is a great way to find new vocabulary that is simple (ie: an object, not a concept) and that you might not know. And that goes for any learner of any language, regardless of their level of proficiency. Of course the more advanced you are, the more words you’ll already know, therefore you’ll probably be learning less than a beginner but there might still be things to learn! You’ll be surprised by the number of things you thought you knew the names of at first glance and yet you realize you can’t say them.

So here’s my advice in order to find new vocabulary easily with a picture…

tokyo in the rain at night

The Principle

It’s pretty straightforward really. Take a picture you like, I usually take backgrounds of chill music videos such as lo-fi compilations and such, but any picture will do. I recommend choosing an image with many elements so that there is simply more to learn. So then, you take your picture and you basically try and call out as many objects / elements as you can on the picture. In your target language of course! And when you realize there’s a word you don’t know, look it up and add it to Anki (or any flashcard system) and bam! New word unlocked!

And even if the image seems simple you can always find words that relate to it. If you spend some time on the picture and get creative you’ll always find new things to say. But if you choose an image with many elements, then it’s all laid out for you.

Let’s get a few words from the image above as an example, you got: car, lights, headlights, wheel, seat, steering wheel, engine, door, roof, window, glass, handle, green, yellow, mirror, rear-view mirror, wipers, gear stick (these are all just words that came to me through the car, but I can keep it going), signboard, to walk, dude, man, white, shirt, wall, restaurant, food, sidewalk, traffic signs, menu, parking, rain, water, damp, night, black, sky, cloud, AC, ventilation, air shaft, grid, bricks, paint, smiley face, reflection, umbrella, waterproof, fireproof, fire extinguisher… and so on. And these were just random words that came to me while looking at the picture, and among those words, there were some that I did not know in Japanese, so I learned new words!

Make it fun!

If you’re at a level where you know so much words and simply calling out objects on a picture doesn’t help you learn new words, or if you simply find that boring; I would suggest making it more fun by creating stories with what you see on the image, in your target language of course. This creates a gymnastic in your brain where you don’t simply try and see if you know the words, but you use and practice the language in its entirety in a given situation and simply fill in the blanks with words you realize you don’t know. You can choose to write your story on paper, say it out loud, or simply think in the language. Get creative! Whatever works for you!

Looking up words in context

Now I do realize that when you are looking up how to say a certain thing, it is sometimes complicated to find the exact word you need to learn because it might differ depending on the context. It does not happen often with simple objects which is why images are a good tool to find vocabulary pretty easily without too much trouble. But words still sometimes vary with context, which is why I recommend looking around and making sure you know the context in which a certain word you find is used. This way you’ll know whether you learned the right word for what you wanted to express, or not. This is a tricky aspect of language learning and might require a entire post and method of its own. It is a whole lot easier the other way around, when you come across a word you don’t know and want to know what it means. Because then you already have a context. Whereas here, you need to find a context. Anyhoo.


So to sum up, just take a picture and figure out how to say what’s on the picture. If you don’t know how to say something that’s on the image, look it up and there you go, you learned a new word. Then make stories with these newly learned words and the picture. Get creative and make it fun, and you’ll learn the language in no time!

Do you often do this kind of exercise with images? Do you have other interesting resources to find new vocabulary easily? ‘Cause I’m a definite taker haha!

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