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Sometimes new words just refuse to be memorized! We write them down, we use flashcards, and yet we STILL have to ask our friends or co-workers again, "What does that word mean?"
How can we memorize new (or difficult to remember) words quickly and painlessly*?
Here are some quick ways to really get those stubborn* words into our long-term memories!:
1. Throw away your vocabulary list!
Really? No, don't really throw your vocabulary list in the garbage. You will need the list as a starting point to begin working with the words. But stop thinking that looking over and reviewing a list is the effective way to memorize new words.
Here's what you should do instead with all those random words on your vocabulary list:
2. Create CONTEXT for your words
You have to create CONTEXT for the words on your list if you really want to remember them.
Many words that I know in foreign languages STILL bring up memories of the first time I heard them or the first time I REALLY understood their meaning. For example, I remember walking in the rain and holding an umbrella while repeating the word kasa in Japanese over and over. I remember the sound of the rain falling on my umbrella, my jeans feeling wet, and the calm feeling that comes with walking through the rain.
Maybe you don't have rain to go walk around in, but you can create a story in your mind.
This takes less than 30 seconds! Imagine yourself in the situation where you will use the word, saying the word. Where are you? Who are you with? How do you feel? Sit with the word and make up a story.
Also make sure to....
3. Memorize a phrase with the word in it
Maybe you are thinking, "What?! Now you want me to memorize MORE words?!"
If you memorize a whole sentence (even a short phrase will do), you are creating a context (see point #2) and story that go along with your word. You will be more likely to remember the word this way.
Let's take the word 'tussle'. It has a weird spelling and let's say it isn't related to any other words we already know. You can:
A. Just look the word up in the dictionary, write in on your vocabulary list (which you need to THROW away - see point #1) and DONE. But you probably won't remember the word this way.
B. You can make up a sentence with the word in it:
The two sisters got into a huge tussle over who could wear the pink shirt.
(Imagine hair-pulling, screaming, shoes being thrown, etc..)
...you can use an even shorter phrase:
A huge tussle
(Easy words, easy to remember!...but still remember to imagine shoes being thrown and hair-pulling!
B. is the better choice because you will be more likely to remember the word in context and within an interesting story.
4. Repeat the word. Repeat the word. Repeat the word.
Read over the new word 10 times.
Say the word 10 times.
Write the word down 5 times.
Say the word out loud 5 times.
Look at yourself in a mirror while saying the word.
Say the word in a loud voice, a quiet voice, a funny voice, etc.
Better yet, do all these repetition exercises with the WHOLE sentence that you made up with your words in it:
...the sisters got into a huge tussle...THE SISTERS GOT INTO A HUGE TUSSLE...the sisters got into a huge tussle...
5. Use the word in real life
Remembering to practice using new words and phrases was one of the study tips that Nao, an English student, gave us in this recent interview with Speak English Live.
Try using your new word in your real, daily life: Use the new word with your friends. Try it out in different sentences. Use it in an email to a friend or co-worker. Post on a blog (THIS ONE!! ;) ...) and use the word.
Find a way to practice in real life and use your new or difficult word.
Here's a descriptive chart to help you remember these steps. Save it onto your computer or device if you would like! If you want to re-post it, just credit my website:
REMEMBER, ultimately, ALL words are found on the "test of real life"' so keep reading and interacting with people in English all the time to increase your vocabulary.
And don't feel bad if you can't remember a big, long list of words. Even native English speakers can't remember certain words sometimes.
Isn't that what friends are for? Go ahead and ask..."Hey, what's that word again?"
painlessly - easily, without much trouble
stubborn - not willing to work with others, only doing things their way, refusing to cooperate
Which of these quick memorization tips would you like to try? Do you have any other tips to add? Answer in the comments below!
Learn to speak real, conversational American English with Sabrina, an American English teacher.
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