Very often, social media platforms, such as Facebook, is perceived as nothing but a waste of time. But you can actually learn new words and phrases in your target language on these sites. For example, there are memes from multiple languages that often show up on your Facebook feed. This article shows why this lighthearted way of increasing your vocabulary can be an effective one.


We all have been there, it's been a hard day, and studying your target language after you come home from work or school is the last thing on your mind. But you can still stick to your commitment of learning your foreign language every day. How? Think Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and think ‘memes’.


Let's face it, if you are addicted to Facebook (like me), you will be scrolling down your Facebook feed at some point during your day anyways. Especially when you make it an excuse of being incapable of doing other more important things after a long day’s work or school or other errands. So, why not inject some language practice into your social media habits to make it work for you; and make you feel good about your time wastage procrastination skills!


That being said, I am not writing to encourage that memes are the “end all be all” of studying your target language. But this article is meant to give you an additional option for studying your language on those special days when you don’t particularly feel like studying.


So, ‘memes’ it is! First, just a quick definition of what exactly is a meme. This is from Google:



  • An image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.



In this article, I will look at a number of memes that contain text with or without pictures.


I am pretty sure you have already come across memes in your own language too. Thanks to the Internet and globalisation, memes have become (more or less) a universal phenomenon and is displayed in many different languages. So, you will be able to find them in your target language for you to study while surfing the Internet.


So why is it a good idea to use memes to extend your vocabulary? Here are eight reasons why memes will benefit your language learning:



1. The vocabulary is used in context


A meme is not an extract where you wouldn’t be able to understand it without reading the entire text. A meme is a well rounded piece of text so that words and phrases included into it are used in context. Context is king especially when you are learning new words and phrases, because only in their correct contexts can you fully understand the word’s meaning and see how they are used.


Let’s take the word ‘cliffhanger’ in the meme below as an example. Assuming you don’t know this word, you can still figure out its meaning based on the context: an episode, a guy watching TV, the episode ends, the guy says “I need answers”. So, you can derive how the word ‘cliffhanger’ is used in this context: ‘The episode ends with a cliffhanger.’



2. Meme’s contain some of the most trend-setting vocabulary


Language is not some precious gem hidden away in a treasury of books with some wise scholars guarding it. It's a living and breathing “organism” that is constantly evolving. Technology has displaced our lives into a “fast forward” mode, and this is reflected in the rapid changes of language as well.


While textbooks take time to get published, with the Internet you have the latest trends in language whereby you can easily adopt to ‘speak the lingo’. Be warned though, speaking the lingo doesn’t exactly mean it is the “proper” way of speech. Internet language has it’s own quirks, but at least you will be knee-deep in how the language is utilized in trendy terminologies.


Memes are ideal communicators of the most current vocabulary in use. As a learner of German, I came across some words I couldn't have found in textbooks, for example ‘geliked’ and ‘entliked’ (past tense from ‘like’ and ‘entlike’); i.e., ‘to like’ and ‘to unlike’ in social media context. I believe that most German native speakers already know these words even if they were not yet published in dictionaries.



3. Memes are posted in different languages


Since we are talking about the Internet, surfing the net is where information is mutually shared around world. No wonder the same memes pop up in different languages. This is a definite bonus for language learners, as very often halfway through reading a meme in your target language, you would already know what it's about. Thus, the already known content compensates for the unknown form it is written in your target language. So the foreign doesn't seem so foreign anymore. Memes with multiple language editions can help you remember the words and phrases better for your target language.





4. It is relevant and familiar content


Memes often tap into something familiar like a typical situation or opinion. They can also touch upon the latest news and current affairs. So the broader the context the meme is, the greater the attraction (and broader) of the audience it reaches. Therefore, learning words used in memes is not like trying to remember some out of the blue medical terminology when you have nothing to do with medical science.


As in the case with the same memes posted in different languages, you have the same situations, beliefs, and current news referred to but in different languages. So, the relevant and familiar content compensates for the unknown form it is presented through different memes. And again, the foreign doesn't seem too foreign anymore, hence you remember the used words and phrases better.



5. It is fun!


Memes are a lot of fun! The humour element of memes is based on the situation it describes, or the choice of words -- or both. If the text is accompanied by a picture, it usually adds to the humorous effect or is directly involved in creating it altogether in conjunction with the text. Humour is a great catalyst and reason to help you better remember new words or phrases. And you can find funny memes aplenty on the net!



6. Memes are shareable


Since memes are funny, you feel the urge to share them to spread the joy, and to have a giggle with your friends. And I mean share with friends who speak the native language in which the meme is written in as well as with those who don't.


When you share memes with your friends who speak, or are learning, the same foreign language as you, there are linguistic benefits involved for both parties. This is because next time, your friends are sure to reciprocate and send you funny memes that they come across.


When you share with your friends who don't speak the language, there are benefits as well. You share a meme and casually translate it for those who do not understand the meme. This creates an environment of engagement and mutual learning. As well, at least for my case, the next thing you know you get nicknamed ‘professor’. Not bad, huh?



7. No search required


With memes you can be lazy. Normally you search high and low in order to get the content you desire when studying your target language. Considering how big and ‘noisy’ the Internet can get, this not an easy task. With memes, you don't need to search. Most of the time they find you instead. Facebook (and possibly Instagram, Twitter) has algorithms to filter the desired content for you. Follow the sources that share memes on Facebook and others, and make sure you hit ‘like’ when they pop up in your news feed so that it can track your desired content.



8. Comments are included


Comments are a bonus that you get exposed to with memes. With comments, you can sometimes read almost an entire conversation between native speakers and how they react to a certain meme. If a topic is controversial, then grab some popcorn, and watch as the “drama” unfolds between two differing opinions. Sometimes, if you are keen enough, you can even accumulate certain words or phrases that can be handy for future situations. Of course, I mean words that are used to make an educated argument (and counter-arguments) between two people -- and not profanity which can be see aplenty in the comments. Once you are confident enough, you can also chime in your two cents too!


So, these are the reasons why memes are useful for increasing the level of your target language vocabulary. And while with memes it can help you remember vocabulary faster, you will not necessarily be able to remember it instantly. This is where spaced repetition software which can create tests in your target vocabulary comes in handy.


I have been using VocBlocks as it allows you to attach images, i.e. memes, to the words you learn. Thus you have the context (and the relevant picture if there is one) at hand. If you find it as an effective and fun way to grow your vocabulary, you can create your own sets either on this website or on others that you found on your own. Also, I have provided a list below of Facebook pages you can follow that post memes. Happy learning!



Suggested Facebook meme pages











Hero image by Ben White (CC0 1.0)