As we covered in the first part, the brain seems to lose some of its natural ability to make new memories as it gets older. While this is simply a part of life, it can also be somewhat annoying if you’re trying to learn a new language. That’s why you should consider adjusting your language learning practices somewhat as you age. Slowing down and making an extra effort to concentrate on new vocabulary are only a couple of strategies you can try out. It’s important to modify the process according to your needs and strengths, instead of looking for a “one size fits all solution”.
Once you’ve figured out a system that seems to do the trick, take a look at these tips for keeping your brain in good health and generally improving your memory.
Maintaining your brain health
The secret to picking up new vocabulary is actually rather simple. It comes down to practice and keeping your brain healthy, ready to record new information. Practice you only get with time but there are steps you can start taking today to ensure your brain remains in great working order.
Much of the advice about maintaining your brain health can also apply to the rest of your body. Staying physically active is a key part of that. Not only will you improve your circulation in general but the increased blood flow will also keep your brain fit. In a study conducted in 2001, exercise appeared to have a beneficial effect on the attention-paying-capabilities of senior citizens. While more research needs to be done, the old adage “healthy body, healthy mind” certainly seems grounded in reality.
Stress is another well-known factor that impairs memory. This is especially clear to anyone who has ever tried to cram for an exam the night before. While slightly different, chronic stress can be similarly detrimental to brain performance, especially when it comes to creating new memories. Luckily, this is another area where exercise can help. Since physical activity acts as a counter-balance to stress, it’s just one more reason to keep active even in your later years.
The list of substances that have been given the title of “brainfood” seems to be evergrowing. And while their effects can sometimes be exaggerated, there is a mountain of evidence that a certain diet will keep your brain happy and healthy for longer. A balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables is a good place to start, while omega-3 fatty acids are also known to help keep your cognitive capabilities in good order. Naturally, you can give the other “superfoods” a go, although you should avoid overdoing it with any one substance.
Get plenty of sleep
Few things have as bad of an effect on your cognitive abilities and memory as little sleep. Not only does lack of sleep lead to sluggishness and loss of (even more) concentration, getting enough hours at night is also vital to forming new memories – for example, all those vocabulary words you’ve been learning. So, be sure to have a good sleep schedule at night or, at least, try taking afternoon naps.
Learning a few memory tricks
You’ve certainly read about the whizzkids who can memorise the order of a whole deck of cards, 100-digit numbers, or the entire French dictionary. While those feats seem impossible for the layperson, they all come down to using the right strategies for building your memory. You won’t need to take it as far as these remarkable individuals, but you can still use the same techniques to get better at memorising vocabulary.
Use your mind’s eye
Visualisation is a great way to not only remember where you left your car keys but also for learning new vocabulary. To commit new words to memory, try to create associations in your mind and visualise them as vivid pictures. The more remarkable these mental pictures are, the better they stick around in your head. This technique comes in especially handy for learning long words, which you can break down into chunks and visualise that way. Take, for example, the German word Schadenfreude – it sounds a bit like “shady friend”, so you can imagine a suspicious looking person trying to make friends with you, or simply an acquaintance sitting in the shade.
These visualisations don’t need to make sense for anyone else but yourself, so simply let your imagination run wild and see what sticks.
Acronyms and rhymes
Another excellent mnemonic device is creating word games out of the new vocabulary you’re struggling with. For people suffering from Alzheimer’s, this strategy also comes in handy when trying to remember people’s names or number plates. You, however, can make it work for you as you memorise new words.
Just look at the words you’re trying to commit to memory and think of vocabulary you already have that rhymes with them. Alternatively, create acronyms using their first letters or, better yet, make up entire stories. For example, let’s say you’re trying to learn days of the week in French: lundi (Monday), mardi (Tuesday), mercredi (Wednesday), jeudi (Thursday), vendredi (Friday), samedi (Saturday), and dimanche (Sunday). You can think of rhymes for these words. You can make them into an acronym: LMMJVSD (this doesn’t actually have a good ring to it) or you can come up with a sentence or two that helps you remember: Luna Made Me Jelly, Vera Sat Diddling (her thumbs). Again, the sentence doesn’t need to make much sense, simply be memorable to you.
Make sense of the words
Another way of remembering new vocabulary is to look at its origin. Although, this system might be better suited for the true language buffs out there, since it requires an active interest in etymology. Using this technique includes looking at the origin of the words and, through such research, becoming more familiar with them and thus remembering them better. For our French days, you can remember that lundi comes from luna, the French word for moon. Once you remember that interesting fact, you’ll also find the whole word more memorable.
Conclusion – Try different strategies to figure out what works for you
The list of mnemonic devices people use to learn vocabulary words goes on and on. You can try the keyword method to create associations with words you already know, or the memory palace system, which involves visualising an entire place. The important thing is to sample different techniques and make them work for you.
Combine mnemonics with generally taking good care of your body and mind, and you’ll have no problem learning vocabulary even as you get older. Just give yourself plenty of time and adjust your learning strategies to meet your new needs. You can read more about the latter in the first part of this blog post.