How do I turn my Passive vocabulary to Active?

Is writing a good way to active passive vocabulary?
How else can I active my passive vocabulary?


Yes, definitely, writing is a good way to turn your passive vocabulary into active vocabulary. Writing stimulates passive vocabulary and can take many different forms.

Perhaps you’re writing text messages to a friend and you want to convey the idea of something being very, very big. Your friend may use the word gigantic and you feel relief because that’s exactly the word you wanted. Writing messages gives you some time to check vocabulary too.


Speaking, speaking, speaking!
Speaking allows you to become aware of your passive vocabulary in the sense that it has an immediate impact. As conversation involves a flow between people, the flow is interrupted if you can’t immediately think of the word you wish to use. Of course, the other person can try to help you, and the conversation can continue - perhaps even taking a different direction.

I remember when I had a conversation in German, I couldn’t remember the word “klein” - I knew it well as I had read Der kleine Prinz (Le Petit Prince), yet in conversation when I wanted to refer to something as small, I was at a loss. After the conversation ended, I had the chance to rack my brain and the word came to me. I didn’t have to look it up - it just surfaced 10 minutes after the conversation had ended.

In a conversation, there’s immediate impact, you’re searching for a word, your counterpart says it, you recognise it as the word you wanted to use, the conversation continues to flow.

Reading, writing, listening and speaking are all helpful in building vocabulary. Reading and listening are more passive forms of interacting with the language, whilst writing and speaking - more active forms - will allow you to see your passive gaps.


This has been bugging me immensely. Immersion alone has very little effect on my speech. What helps is writing and speaking.
Here’s a fresh take on it from a guy learning French (and later Spanish): This One Exercise Made Me Fluent In French (In 30 Days!) - YouTube
But Jesus is that hard to actually practice! It’s so tempting to slide back to a comfortable passive immersion!


Find someone who is patient. Start a conversation. Make liberal use of “how do you say” . Rinse repeat.
You will remember very clearly the words you couldn’t get out and you will remember the other person telling you.


Ok, writing and speaking are the way as other people already said.

Write like you talk as a second language learner so your mind will be in sync when you talk.

You can read aloud any text to train your mouth muscles and speak faster step by step.

BUT I would like to add to develop the ability to not get stuck and quickly move from one way of saying one thing to another.

You don’t need a lot of words in your “active” vocabulary but you need to be smart in using the words you know to communicate quickly and fluently. Learn the ability to avoid problems, complicated verb structures and sentences. Make pauses when you talk to shorten your sentences and give your mind the time to anticipate the next one or avoid grammar mistakes (if you want to).

Learn to articulate very well so you can be easily understandable.

If for any reason you need to use a specific vocabulary, for example in a specific field, I would probably use an SRS to gather a couple of hundreds words and drill them.

Hope it helps.


Thank you for sharing this interesting video, his approach is both simple and smart.
One might even be able to generalize it: try to perform a task you desire to master, evaluate your effort, debug, make improvements, then re-try. Rinse and repeat. Having a good direct feedback mechanism is very powerful.
I should really try to do something like this…

Further, I believe this kind of self-directed practice is especially valuable to those who might feel uncomfortable putting themselves out there, to just speak to people, and make mistakes. This is in contrast to some of those internet polyglots who seem to have no problem in doing this. I somehow admire these extroverts, but on the other hand I struggle to take their advice, since their personalities seem so different from my own. Writing and talking to oneself seem good ways to lower the threshold to language activation.


The following are mostly ideas I’ve thought of to use for myself, so I don’t know how effective each is in its own right…

  1. write
  2. talk to someone.
  3. talk to yourself
  4. Make a video of you talking about anything that comes to mind.
  5. translation from native language to target. Take a piece of writing and try to translate it or summarize it as best you can into the target language. Probably a better writing exercise, but you could also read an article or chapter and try to vocally summarize it as best you can using your target language.

These are things (well except for #4) that I’m trying to make an effort to spend more time on. Mostly #1 and #3. I talk to myself all the time…so why not try to do it in my target language! Try to find ways of saying the everyday things that come to mind.

Same with writing…write about things you know in your daily life…a daily journal, something that happened to you, a vacation, etc. Maybe write a book review, or write about an article you read.

Try to do it in whatever you can come up with. Then if there are “blanks” or things where you didn’t say it quite like you want to say it, use deepl or something and see what pops up from that. Then submit it to Lingq’s writing exchange for someone to take a look.

Also, your “language” is going to be limited. You’re not going to be able to say things like you do in your native language. Keep it simple to start. Simple one or two clause sentences. Then work from there.

Also…keep reading. Quite frankly, a lot of vocabulary that you have only read or listened to, you will be able to use actively. I sometimes surprise myself in “talking to myself” exercises that I can say quite a bit more than before…and I have done hardly any speaking at all. The stuff sinks in. Now, coming out…it’s in sputters and it is certainly far less words than I can recognize passively, but practicing these things will make the words come out quicker eventually. You just have to do it.


I’ve been doing some conversation with partners on iTalki with exactly the experience you relate – unable to find a word that I know very well until immediately after the conversation. That’s when I realize all my grammar mistakes, too.

But I’ve only been doing that on a weekly basis. It seems obvious that it would be much more beneficial to do it every day, and even multiple times a day, impractical as that might be. I sometimes talk to myself and should do so more, and I’ve been intending to start a daily journal.


OK so when it comes to writing ,should I first try to write a few sentences the best that I can then go to DeepL and see how to correctly write that sentence then rewrite the sentence correctly . is this a good way to do it?

I just posted a picture. I tried to write the sentence without any help then I looked it up is this an effective method?


Actually, yesterday I’ve discovered for myself a very short and precise activity for this. Now it’s my pet-approach that I love and protect from other malicious polyglots :smiley:

Steps are:

  1. Open a monolingual dictionary with some simple word of the first 1000 frequency list or any random word, it doesn’t matter (I open LDOCE). But don’t look at the defenition! Don’t!
  2. Try to explain the meaning of the word in your own words. Keep it simple, like you’re explaining it to a kid.
  3. If it goes hard, don’t waste too much time and
  4. Look, how it’s explained in the dictionary. Read it aloud.
  5. Pick up the next word. Now, if you’re having a hard time trying to find a way to describe it, try to apply the structures or even words from the definition of the previous word, if you see it fit in this case. If not, go see the definition.
  6. Read it aloud.
  7. Got to step 5

A lot of benefits. Like it’s short, it enforces you to use synonyms and has some kind of feedback and aha! moment, when you’re finally seeing the native explanation.
None a flaw.
Applicable to the practice with tutors.

For writing I open a dictionary, write something in my target language and then check translation in a language I know well. If meaning is correct, I reverse translate and check out translator’s variant.
Then I reverse translate it a few more times until the translation doesn’t change - by that I get the base version of the sentence.

  1. continue getting input
  2. speak (teacher/tutor/language exchange)
  3. write
  4. practice interpreting (pick easy videos if necessary, write down words and phrases you had trouble with and check them later with google or a teacher)
  5. translate (see #4, easy parallel texts help you get instant feedback)

I like the picture, it looks very romantic/nostalgic. You even have the note 4/10. :smiley:

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Another idea…
Take a word that’s been giving you some trouble. Maybe you’ve seen it a bunch of times…or maybe it’s a word that is a very useful word to have, but it looks like it’s going to be one of those tricky ones.

OK…you had to look it up of course. Now try to use this word in some sentences that you create. Either speaking to yourself (out loud). Or write them down. Or, do you’re typical “journal” exercise, or talking to yourself, or whatever it may be and try to incorporate that word into your story. Even if you have to make up a “fact” about the story…or if you’re doing some fictional kind of a writing or speaking you can certainly make up something.

I just thought of this as I was reading the word “Ausreden” for probably the 10th time and saw it meant excuses. Definitely a word I would need to know at some time. So maybe I might try to use it in some sentences I create, however badly. =)


Another idea - You probably have some typical things you say in your native language. Your own pet phrases or words you like to use. Learn the equivalent in the target language, and start using them, in your writing or speaking. Stick to these until they sink in…then maybe expand to similar word and phrases as you grow comfortable. You’re active language is always going to be less than what you can read and understand. There’s no need to try to make active the many words that may mean the same thing. Learn one word/phrase to use actively, and use it. Or if there something that needs varying degrees of strength…i.e. something is simply “good” vs. something is “extraordinary/fantastic” etc. Learn something from each category of emphasis and stick to that for awhile until it becomes comfortable, then maybe branch out if you are doing some writing, otherwise, just stick to your subset of the language.


This is epic.

I’ve accumulated a bunch of sentences throughout these last couple of days. Should I be trying to memorize these sentences or just review them every once and a while?

That’s a good idea!

Then I reverse translate it a few more times until the translation doesn’t change - by that I get the base version of the sentence.

What a genius! Thank you. It would never have come to my mind, I was clicking on the words separately to get options only for the part of a sentence right next to a clicked word.