As language students, we are driven to increase our vocabulary in order to express ourselves with more precision. When we first start learning another language, we are frustrated because of our inability to communicate all of our thoughts and ideas.
Many students will study a list of vocabulary words and forget most of them after a few days or a few weeks. Why does this happen? The most common reason is that students studied too many words, too fast, and without sufficient context to anchor the word to their long-term memory. Indeed, it is important to implement tips to memorize English. One of the most important factors for successful long term memorization of a vocabulary word is how many times you “encounter” that word.
Generally, the more you encounter a word, the more likely you will remember that word in the future and it will become part of your long-term memory. Students who write out a vocabulary words multiple times in a row may do a good job at memorizing the word in the short term, but not the long term, because this is not a true and natural encounter of the word. In other words, the students are mindlessly repeating the word instead of genuinely retrieving that word from their memory. Students can encounter a given word in two ways:
- Using the word: You can encounter a new word by using it out loud or writing it in a sentence. In order to use the word, you will have to think about what the word is, and draw that word from your memory. The first time, it might take you a long time to remember the word. However, each time you draw that word from your memory and use it, the better you will remember it. Eventually, using that word will become natural and you will not have to think about it at all.
- Noticing the word being used: You can encounter a new word being used when you hear it or see it in a sentence. This will give you an opportunity to see how and when that word is used. This is why it is important to do plenty of reading and listening exercises, especially when you are just learning new words. The more you hear and see a new word being used, the more you will understand what the word means and how to use it.
One technique that I recommend to all of my students is to carry around a small pocket notebook to write down new words. This technique worked great for me when I studied Spanish and Arabic. The idea is to always carry this notebook with you wherever you go. It is small enough to fit in your pocket so you have no excuse not to have it on you all of the time! When you want to know what the word is for something you can immediately ask and write it down. When you are talking to somebody and you want to use that new word you just heard, you can take a quick peek at your notebook and use the word. That right there is an encounter! You have now used the word once in the course of a conversation and the context of the conversation will help you remember that word long term.
The idea is that every time you want to use a new word, you will be able to because you will have your notebook there to help. After a few times, you will no longer need to use the notebook. The key is to always carry the notebook and write down all of the new words that you want to learn as you encounter them. By having the notebook to refer to later, you will not deprive yourself of the opportunity to use the word later in a conversation.
What do you think of this technique? Do you have any other methods that you use to memorize new vocabulary?
Blake Mills is an English language instructor and teaches an Online TOEFL Course through his website TOEFL Scholar. Join him on Facebook or Twitter and feel free to ask him and language learning question.