While the importance of grammar, for example, is being fiercely debated in the language learning communities, with some arguing that it is not necessary to waste your time on if your only purpose is to freely communicate with native speakers. The argument goes that while grammar does help you express yourself correctly, it very seldom stands in the way of having a more-or-less flowing conversation.
There is no such debate with knowing vocabulary. Words are simply the building blocks of language, whether spoken or written down. So, it is truly and utterly necessary that you devote some time into acquiring new vocabulary in your target language.
To make that easier, here are four more tips on how to get better at memorising new words.
Engaging with the Material
Being involved with the new words you’re studying also means that they start to elicit reactions and emotions. Emotions come in especially handy if you can form a bond with the material you are learning. So, try to reflect on the essence of new words you’re learning to see what type of reactions they produce. Does the word seem pleasant or negative, does it remind you of any other phrases you’ve recently learned, or do you have associations with the word when it’s translated into your own language?
Through having corresponding emotions to the material you’re learning, you are a lot more likely to remember vocabulary you learned from reading a thrilling novel than a washing machine manual. But what can you do if the words you need to learn are found more often in manuals than books? In this case, you would need to trick your brain into associating the vocabulary with words or phrases you already know and use mnemonics to get better at remembering.
In both of these cases, you’re helping your brain bridge the gap between new material and things you’re already familiar and comfortable with. When learning vocabulary, again, really focus on what you’re doing – how do these words link into what you already know. Do they sound particularly memorable in any way? Does the written image of them remind you of something?
If all else fails, just use mnemonic with some of the most important vocabulary. Essentially, a mnemonic is an umbrella term to cover a system of different tricks to help you remember new information better. There is a variety of techniques available, so you can simply choose what works best for you.
You might want to give the keyword method a try – whereby you link a foreign word with one in your native language and visualise them together. For example, to remember that the word (die) Hose in German means trousers, you can link that to the word hose in English and visualise someone spraying trousers with water from a hose. This technique will work best with only a few limited words that you’re trying to remember, however, since if used over eagerly, the visualisations might start to meld together.
This might be the most important part of getting better at memorising new words. If you’ve ever tried studying for an exam the night before, you are familiar with your brain’s limitations in acquiring new info. So, it doesn’t help if you spend 3 hours a day trying to learn vocabulary – sooner rather than later your brain will simply stop being able to handle new incoming material.
Instead, spread your vocabulary learning out over several small episodes – incorporating it into your daily schedule. And, more importantly, every now and again, go over the words you’ve learned previously and refresh your memory. Anki is a very popular spaced repetition software that can help you with this. Spaced repetition is a proven way to help you learn more words in the long run, even if you do have to go over some of the ones you already know several times.
Look at the World Around You
Engaging with the world around you also helps to ensure you’re learning necessary vocabulary which will be easier to memorise. To do that, simply start an inner monologue in your head about what you are seeing around you.
Describe people on the street and retell what you had for breakfast. Think about your future plans and reminisce about last weekend. This way, it will be very easy for you to notice what parts of your vocabulary are missing and you can fill them in with the help of a quick look into the dictionary.
Conclusion – Creating Associations, Mnemonics, and Repetition Help to Learn New Vocabulary Better
Learning vocabulary is an aspect of language learning you simply cannot get around. And while it might not be the most pleasant task, there are definitely ways of making it easier for yourself. Don’t push yourself too hard, but instead focus on having several short time learning bursts throughout the day and make that a part of your schedule.
Additionally, start with material that you enjoy and find relevant to your interests, and use associations and mnemonics to remember necessary but boring vocabulary. And don’t forget to double back and go over what you’ve recently learned to help the information sink in.
If you need more ideas on how to succeed at learning vocabulary, take a look at these five other tips.