What’s the best way, IYHO, to learn vocabulary?

This was my response to someone writing me this question.
Since you are on moretprs, you know about CI. What other method or way of learning vocabulary are you aware of and how do those methods fit with CI? How did you learn your English vocabulary? What seems to work for your students and other people? What reading have you done on this?
You see, I am not sure this is a matter of opinion. What if my opinion was that you should lick bubble-gum wrappers to make them sticky, stick them on the wall, and then write vocabulary words on them – would you question that? What would you ask yourself? Is Pat crazy? How would that work? What is the learning theory behind it? and so forth.
CI says you read at i+1, so I am reading tales in Urdu that are glossed so that hard or unusual words do not slow me down. That doesn’t mean I learn those words but I am learning the other words that I’ve read before and I read them in context and can understand the passage. That is i+1.
For languages I know fairly well, I learn words usually from context but sometimes I just have to look them up or read a translation – I do this for French, Russian, & Spanish. For languages I don’t know well, like Norwegian, Greek, and Dutch, I read textbooks on the languages and read the reading passages over and over until I don’t have to look up words anymore. Here’s an example in English:
After the sun set, several soldiers burst into the room and demanded to know where my father was.
With that sentence, I would probably know the words except for burst and demanded, for example. But both could be figured out from the context: soldiers looking for someone often burst into a room and they often do not ask politely where someone is but roughly, i.e. they demand.
Now, to be honest, I often look up words like burst and demand for two reasons: it satisfies my love of making lists and it gives me an anchor that tells me I have seen this word before and if I don’t know it, I need to read the passage again. My Urdu collection has many short pieces in the form of newspaper articles where the new vocabulary load is very light, so in many ways it’s review. That sort of review locks in meaning. I would not say that is my opinion but rather it is my experience, both in my own learning and in my students’ learning.
And finally, do you fully understand the difference between learning a word and acquiring a word. I used learn because you used learn. But anyone can learn vocabulary by memorizing a list; acquiring it you have to understand it when you see/hear it without having to think about it.
I share these messages of ours with my friend, Brian and this one I am putting on my blog. I hope people see it and respond to it with their experiences and any theoretical basis they have.
Pat Barrett

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