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A Complete Approach to Learning Vocabulary

[All information copyrighted to EnglishAdam.com]

The I.F.M.O. Approach

My personal approach, and advice to students, is this model:

  • 1st INPUT: Experiencing the Language in an Enjoyable Way.
  • 2nd FILTER: Choosing what parts of the language you want to 'learn' next.
  • 3rd MEMORIZATION: Fix this language as Active or Passive Knowledge.
  • 4th OUTPUT: Use the Language in a Meaningful Way.

FIRST: Input


What is INPUT? Input is ANYTHING of the language. From textbooks to t.v., from apps to advertising, from music to magazines. It is all 'arriving into your brain' - but how should we think about it?

For me, if you imagine language learning is like a funnel, then at the top - ready to go down into the funnel and into your brain is all the INPUT that you are experiencing. But be careful that there SHOULDN'T just be a big block of language being forced into you. A big elephant of a mess trying to stampede your brain! There is no way your Brain can structure that much disorder.

a funnel: looks like an inverted triangle and a tube, that we use to transfer one liquid from a bottle to another bottle for example.

Yes, there has to be a lot of input BUT the input should be understandable. And IDEALLY the student should be active in choosing what input there is. It is no use just observing the language passively, and hoping things just stick!

to stick :(here) to stay, remain, as if 'glued'

Ideally, a student should be thinking, be interested, be motivated to interact with this input language in some way. It is so important for students to ENJOY this phase, and that is why I always say to change your activities if you get bored and to choose topics and styles of input that you like.

For now here is a list of important factors that the IDEAL input might include.

  • It should be comprehensible to some degree.
  • Enjoyable.
  • Relevant to you and your language objectives.
  • Language to model yourself on. Language that you would like to produce.
  • High quantity
  • It could be about Language Learning! Why not understand the dragon you are fighting better!
  • Keep the input varied, different types, different creators/ authors/ sources.
  • As well as Listening and Reading, Input can include interactive content like games, quizzes etc, or more serious things like Grammar/Vocab exercises!
  • Input could also be those boring reference books and rules - if that's your cup of tea.
  • Choose input that can be naturally recycled through your available output (so in class, in emails etc - if you feel you can reuse it in the immediate future you will naturally remember it much easier).
  • your cup of tea :(here) something you like

Basically INPUT is anything and everything. But what happens between INPUT and MEMORIZATION is vital!

INPUT is a major activity in learning a language. It should be fun and interesting, the language aspect should be a side issue, even 'learning' could be secondary here.

What's just as important is to enjoy the activity.

The thinking is that since learning a language is indeed a long process then the only way to keep learning a language for a long time is to enjoy it. Otherwise you are simply battling against the language every day. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Get value from it at every step.

Making it your enemy will only mean it stays your enemy.


SECOND: Filter


The second phase is possibly the most difficult, the most taxing. But once you have a firm idea about the direction you are taking your English towards, then it also becomes the easiest.

to be taxing :(here) to be difficult, to consume energy/resources

The second phase is FILTERING.

While you are enjoying all this wonderful INPUT in English, the back of your mind is wondering...

"What should I be doing with all of this lovely English? I should be learning it!".

FILTERING is the step between INPUT and MEMORIZATION.

While INPUT 'should' be fun and interesting, MEMORIZATION is a little painful, a little boring, a little long.

Memorization is the necessary step in fixing some information in your memory so that you can retrieve it easily. And it is not realistic to try and memorize all of English in one go. You should try and memorize what you need for your next goal(s).

This is where FILTERING steps in.

FILTERING is the conscious choice to take some of the INPUT and put it into your MEMORIZATION process.

So, what do you need to memorize next?


  • Take advice from teachers and other leaners and speakers about what they think you might need.
  • Think about what problems you feel, experience or have.
  • Think about the gap between your English now, and the next level you would like, possibly even your future and final levels of English.
  • Think about what is motivating you now.
  • What things are of interest to you now.

But remember that MEMORIZATION is big drain of energy so don't try and learn everything at once!

One positive side effect of thinking about the FILTERING process is that it will really help you to also decide what type of activities to definitely include in your INPUT phase.

If you want to improve your pronunciation, your Business English, phrasal verbs, whatever... where will you find the information and examples that you will want to COPY, IMITATE and MEMORIZE?

A final thought on FILTERING is the simple idea (which is valid for all parts of your English learning) and that is - you can change your mind, change your focus in the future: what you focus on this month can change next month, don't feel it is a single long boring slog. You can always change things to make learning more varied and more stimulating!

a slog :(here) a never-ending job, requiring lots of energy and leaves you tired/ exhausted.

Maybe you will be all about idioms this week, then 3 months doing listening practice, then 2 weeks with some grammar issue, etc etc, it's fine to change interests, what is important is to keep studying and the trick is to KEEP YOURSELF INTERESTED AND MOTIVATED!


[Sourced: EnglishAdam.com]

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