Tricks to memorize new vocabulary in a foreign language

Tricks to memorize new vocabulary in a foreign language

Dear English learners, did you know that English has the largest vocabulary out of any language: it is close to 600,000 words. It is so much vocabulary, right? The good news is that you do not need to remember all those words but you might want to learn the most useful and interesting for you in your every day life and in this article I am going to give you some tricks on how to remember the vocabulary you wish to learn.

Learning new terms in a foreign language is a major challenge and quickly acquiring many words is the dream of anyone learning a foreign language. No matter how good your grammar is, if you don’t know any words that you can use it with, you (literally) won’t get very far with your language skills: Vocabulary opens up doors to new worlds and makes learning fun and satisfying. But expanding the range of words you know is like a diet: You have to put in some effort and there’s neither a magic trick nor one-approach-fits-all way to do it. Everyone has to find what works for them; but being patient, setting realistic goals, and rewarding yourself if you reach them are a good strategy.

Why is it so hard to memorize new words? Memorizing new words seems a difficult task for many reasons. In general, our brain tends to select the information it receives by discarding what it considers unnecessary. Imagine remembering every single detail that comes into your mind: you would remember thousands of words effortlessly, but you would also pay a terrible price: your brain would be constantly fighting against permanent, unwanted and annoying interference or unnecessary information. Fortunately, our mind works at its own pace and "self-regulates" when it has to organize information. So, forgetting information is actually a good thing. The purpose is to help the mind remember information that we consider important.

How can we improve our ability to memorize new words? The process of acquiring new information can generally be divided into 3 categories: decoding, archiving and retrieval. When the brain receives new information, it encodes it and then stores it. The archived information can then be retrieved in the future. If we cannot remember something (the so-called "cognitive gap"), something did not work during one of these phases.

There are different types of memory including short-term memory, long-term memory and psychic memory. The latter receives information through the stimulation of the senses such as sight, touch, smell. Short-term memory, also called operational memory, stores small amounts of information for short periods of time. We use it to do calculations in our minds, remember a password, a code or a phone number. If we want to store a word, we put it in our long-term memory. How can we do this efficiently? Memory is like a muscle; it atrophies if we don't use it. Every ability or faculty we neglect tends to weaken and eventually disappear. So, it must be constantly stimulated. The best way is continuous repetition. If you want your memory to work well, practice it a little every day.

Here are some tricks to remember new words in the foreign language you are studying.

First of all, visualize the word you’d like to remember. Anytime you come across a new word, you need to make a picture of this word in your head. A good idea is to think of other words that sound like this word and imagine funny situations in your mind. Let’s take the word “bald” as an example. Bald means to have no hair. To remember this word, you can think of a word that sounds like “bald”, which is “ball”. Now, in your mind, imagine the ball with a face with no hair on top. Because bald and ball sounds alike, if you imagine this picture, you will probably smile, and it will help you to remember it in the future.

Focus on useful words. If you want to expand your vocabulary because you want to work at a marketing firm abroad, you probably don’t have to read Shakespeare’s novels or focus on words that pertain to the Middle Ages. The more practical and popular the words are for your career, hobbies and real-life conversations, the easier they are to learn – and you will be able to use them more often. Moreover, your ability to improve the memory of certain words increases when words relate to your interests. If, for example, you are a football fan, you will remember words related to the sport more easily than to a physical activity you are not interested in.

A popular way to memorize vocabulary is the use of mnemonics, which are memory techniques (or mental shortcuts) that help you remember more complex concepts or words. You can create associations between words or come up with an acronym, for example when you need to go to the STORE to buy Spaghetti, Tomatoes, Olives, Rice, Eggs. The problem is, of course, that you still have to memorize the acronym, song, or association, but with a little bit of practice, you’ll get good at coming up with creative and useful connections. And: The longer you think about acronyms or associations, the better will you remember the words that come with it.

A good idea to learn more words faster is to learn from real-life situations and put words in context: Instead of writing lists of random words, try to put them in sentences. That way, you know how the word is used in real life. Plus, if you come up with funny sentences, it will be easier to memorize. Depending on how you learn, you can also make drawings or find images that will complement the sentences and put the words into their natural habitat. Speaking of context: movies, TV shows, books, podcasts or songs are not only a great source for the most common words, they can also help you memorize the vocabulary because they always come associated with a scene, a person, or a (real-life) event. So, try to read books or watch movies in the original language (with subtitles) and figure out what the words mean. If you see or hear a phrase or sentence that you don’t understand, write it down, look it up and start memorizing it.

Everyone learns differently, so find the tools that work for you. if you don’t already know what works for you, try as many different ways – or a combination thereof – as possible: Flashcards, apps, lists, games, or post-its, are great ways to memorize vocabulary. The same goes for finding the right time: Some people want to set apart a specific time, others learn more spontaneously. No matter which approach you choose, be sure to get into some sort of rhythm – practice makes perfect, after all.

Just like you have to find the right tools that work for you, it’s also important to make the learning experience as interactive as possible: Don’t just read the words from lists – hear them pronounced, say them out loud yourself and write or type them. The more you make your encounter with the words an experience for all senses, the better. Why not eat ice cream while learning what the different flavours are called?

Last trick but not least is to repeat over and over again. Remember to not just repeat current words, but also the “old” words that you think you’ve memorized already. You don’t have to look at the stored words as often as the new vocabulary, but the more you use the words, the better you’ll remember and recall them.

Do you find it difficult to remember new words? If you and your language exchange pals share some secrets to memorizing vocabulary, let us know in the comment section below!

Written by: Martina Sassi, Staff Writer Language Exchange