Use Color Coding Techniques to Learn Vocabulary More Effectively

Color-coded words in various languages.


Expanding your vocabulary is an important but difficult aspect of learning a new language. One way to make it easier is through the use of color coding. This article gives you a brief explanation of why color coding is effective, and shows you how to implement it in your learning.


Why use color coding

In general, color-coded material is a more effective study aid than black-and-white material, because it helps learners process new information. Specifically, in the case of learning a foreign language, studies found that color coding new vocabulary words helps people learn those words better. While there are several possible theories which can be used to explain the cognitive mechanisms behind this improvement, the overall agreement is that color coding aids memorization, a fact which language learners can take advantage of.


How to use color coding techniques effectively

One of the main reasons why color coding techniques are so useful is that they are easy to implement in a similar way regardless of which vocabulary-learning strategy you use. There are two main things you need to consider:

  1. How to categorize the words. Essentially, according to which criteria you color the different words. Common options are grammatical gender (e.g. masculine/feminine) or part of speech (e.g. noun/verb). In languages with tonality (such as Mandarin Chinese), you can also color syllables according to their tone.
  2. Which coloring scheme to use. This is subjective, so use whichever coloring scheme makes sense for you. If possible, use colors that you would intuitively associate with the categories in some way. For example, if you color code words based on their grammatical gender, you might want to color feminine words in pink, and masculine words in blue.


Examples for color coding

Keep in mind that this is just a small sample of the various ways in which you can implement color coding.


Color coded words in French, based on grammatical gender (blue for masculine, pink for feminine).

L’enseignant fâché cuisinait dans la vieille camionnette.

The angry teacher cooked in the old van.


Color coded words in Spanish, based on part of speech (green for nouns, orange for adjectives, blue for verbs, and light blue for adverbs.

La madre rubia finalmente consiguió sus naves.

The blonde mother finally got her ships.


Color coded characters in Mandarin Chinese, based on tonality.

媽     1st tone = red

麻     2nd tone = orange

馬     3rd tone = green

罵     4th tone = blue

吗     neutral tone = black


Summary and Conclusions

  • Color-coding new vocabulary words makes it easier to learn them, by aiding the memorization process.
  • You can color words according to categories such as grammatical gender (e.g. masculine/feminine) or part of speech (e.g. noun/verb).
  • In some languages, you can also color other linguistic particles. For example, in Mandarin you could color syllables according to their tone.
  • Use intuitive color schemes where possible, meaning that you associate the colors with the categories that they signify.