Spaced Repetition: How to learn vocabulary in a long-lasting and effective way

When learning a foreign language, learning vocabulary is just as important as learning grammar rules. Especially at the beginning, as a beginner in your target language, you should concentrate on expanding your vocabulary. Only then will you be able to communicate and understand your foreign language in texts and spoken language. But how do you learn new vocabulary effectively and frustration-free? Aimlessly memorising new words can quickly become boring or frustrating. To make learning new vocabulary effective and to incorporate the new words into your language use in the long term, you should take a closer look at the Spaced Repetition method.

This is how Spaced Repetition works for learning vocabulary

Spaced Repetition is a method for learning vocabulary of a foreign language, which aims to incorporate new vocabulary into everyday language use quickly, effectively and, above all, sustainably through targeted repetition of the vocabulary within a given time interval.

This learning method takes place over a longer period of time (for example, 1 month). You are free to choose the length of time, but it is divided into fixed learning phases. Within each phase you repeat the new vocabulary. The special thing about the Spaced Repetition learning method is that the period between each phase in which you do not repeat the vocabulary becomes longer. In this way, you build up your vocabulary in the long term. The following phases can be used as a basic building block for learning with Spaced Repetition.

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Phase 1: Learn new vocabulary

In the first phase, you see the new vocabulary for the first time. You get to know the words you don't know yet. The aim of the first phase is to understand the meaning of the new words. You familiarise yourself with your new vocabulary, form sentences with it and build links between the new words and the vocabulary you already know. This will make it easier for you to recall the new vocabulary in the following phases.

Phase 2: The first repetition

In the first phase, you have already got to know your new vocabulary and can understand it fairly accurately. The second phase begins after only one day. You will repeat the vocabulary you learned the day before for the first time. You will quickly notice that you can already repeat some of the vocabulary rather easily, but that you still have problems with some of it. On this day, as on the first day, continue to learn the translation and meaning of the words.

Phase 3: The second repetition

The time span between the first and the second phase is about three days. You will notice that despite the somewhat longer period between the learning phases, you can already repeat the vocabulary better than was the case in the second repetition. In the third phase, you should continue not only to learn the words by heart, but also to link them in sentences. In this way, you will be able to use the vocabulary in your active vocabulary in the long term.

Phase 4: The third repetition

This time you leave more time between repetition two and three. Let about a week pass between phase 3 and phase 4. Because of the previous phases, you will already be relatively confident in repeating the vocabulary. Therefore, you can be a little more active in learning vocabulary in this phase. You can start by incorporating the previously unknown words into sentences you have made up. This will help you not only to recognise the new vocabulary, but also to actively integrate it into your language use.

Phase 5: Final phase

The fifth and final phase of Spaced Repetition begins after one month. You have therefore paused for about two weeks between phase 4 and phase 5, during which you have not repeated the new vocabulary. The last phase can be seen as a test. If you still know the meaning of the words after two weeks without repeating them, you can be sure that you have successfully added them to your long-term vocabulary. If you still have problems with some of the words, you should continue to practise them and incorporate them into a new learning phase. For example, you could include the words you still have problems with after phase 5 in the third phase of a new cycle of Spaced Repetition. In this way, you are guaranteed to be able to incorporate problematic words into your vocabulary in the long term.

Spaced Repetition allows you to run several learning phases in parallel to each other. This way you can learn a great number of new words in a very short period of time. You can structure the Spaced Repetition learning method very flexibly. Create your own individual learning plan and set the intervals between the phases as well as the number of new words you integrate as you wish.

Apps to learn vocabulary with Spaced Repetition

Learning vocabulary with flashcards is a particularly effective approach to memorising a lot of vocabulary quickly. However, many people find the preparation of flashcards too strenuous and run the risk of losing motivation to learn. In this case, digital learning aids in the form of apps are the perfect alternative to avoid the tedious copying of long vocabulary lists on flashcards. In the following, we will show you some apps with which you can easily use the Spaced Repetition learning method:


The Quizlet app is a free tool for learning foreign languages using flashcards. With ready-made flashcards, you can start learning vocabulary in a relaxed way with Spaced Repetition. The flashcards created by the Quizlet community are sorted by topic.

Check out Quizlet »


Anki is perfectly designed for Spaced Repetition. You can use this app to learn flashcards quickly and in the long term, without having to write your own vocabulary on flashcards. Anki can be used immediately and also free of charge to quickly and easily build up your vocabulary in your target language.

More about Anki »


Just like Anki, Memrise allows you to use the Spaced Repetition method to build up your vocabulary in your target language. Together with the Memrise community, you can either find flashcards created by other users or create your own flashcards and share them with the Memrise community.

Discover Memrise »

Questions about the Spaced Repetition method answered

Implementing a new learning method opens up a number of questions. To help you make the most of Spaced Repetition in your learning, we've put together some of the most frequently asked questions about learning with Spaced Repetition.

To get the most out of your vocabulary training with Spaced Repetition, you should not choose time intervals that are too short or too long. In addition, the length of your time intervals between each repetition should increase. For effective and sustainable learning, you should start with a time interval of 1 day, 3 days, 1 week and two weeks. However, since everyone learns at different speeds, you should find the optimal time intervals for you in the long term. So be open to experimentation when learning vocabulary with Spaced Repetition.

This question also depends on the individual speed of your memorisation. If you are an advanced learner, you can easily add 100 new words to Spaced Repetition within one learning interval and sustainably learn vocabulary within a month. If you're a beginner, you might want to start with fewer words. If you feel underchallenged, you can gradually add more words to your Spaced Repetition sessions.

With Spaced Repetition, unlike normal vocabulary learning, you will learn vocabulary in a sustainable way. The vocabulary you learn with Spaced Repetition will not only fill your passive vocabulary, but also build your active vocabulary. The active vocabulary is what you need when you actually use your target language. Another advantage of Spaced Repetition is that you can learn a lot of vocabulary in a very short time. You can always integrate new vocabulary with Spaced Repetition and go through the learning phases with it.

Verdict: Lasting and efficient vocabulary learning with Spaced Repetition

Spaced Repetition is known for building up the vocabulary of a foreign language quickly and sustainably. In addition, you will be able to increase your learning speed with the help of this learning method and thus efficiently learn your new vocabulary. Due to the learning breaks, you will not overload yourself while learning. This will help you not to lose your motivation to learn.

However, so that you can not only recognise your new vocabulary, you should make sure that you can also integrate it into sentences. After all, you don't just want to be able to passively recognise your new vocabulary when you read or listen to it, but you also want to be able to actively use it when you write and speak. Do you have the urge to use the vocabulary you have learned through Spaced Repetition in conversations with native speakers? Then a language trip to the country of your target language is just right for you!