Increase your retention of all those new words!

There are four basic techniques that you can use in order to increase your vocabulary retention. This is a key to making progress in your new language.

Technique 1 – DISCOVER SIGNIFICANCE
When you come across a new word or phrase, you could imagine it as a challenge, a mystery waiting to be solved. So before running to the dictionary to check the meaning in your mother tongue
– Try to discover its meaning from the context – e.g. Overhead Projector. The words Over and Head suggest something to you. If you discover the meaning of the verb to project, you can work out the meaning of the whole term.
– Try to deduce its meaning from the structure of the word – it may contain familiar elements – e.g. Take the word transnationali. If you find out the meaning of the parts national and trans, they could give you some idea what the word could mean.
– Check to find the etymology of the word – knowing how the word came into usage can be very helpful for remembering it

A word of warning here – as soon as you have a theory as to what that word might mean, check from the dictionary or a teacher to make sure you get the right meaning.

Technique 2 – MAKE ASSOCIATIONS.

Relate new information to material already learned. When you come across a new word while reading, listening or work activities don’t rush straight for the dictionary. If you look up a word from the dictionary and even understand it correctly the information goes to the short-term memory area in your brain. This area is what the name says, short term. If you try to recall that word after a few days, there is a high probability that you cannot remember it. The aim is to connect this new word or phrase to your long-term memory. This is best achieved through tiny hooks called associations. There is no limit to what kind of memory associations the human mind could make.

If you have problems remembering the word, split it up into three parts, eg lie-u-tenant, and visualize a picture. Make a simple association – if you have created a strong and unique association special for you, there is a very good chance that you will never forget this new word or phrase.

Technique 3 – MAKE WORD LISTS

Millions of people have used this technique successfully to increase vocabulary retention and learn new words and phrases. Compile lists of new words as follows:

1. Divide a page into two columns and write the foreign language on one side with a corresponding word in your mother tongue on the other column.
2. Start a new sheet for each topic area e.g. One sheet for vocabulary related to sports, another for economy etc.
3. Use color (highlight pens): e.g. All verbs in red, nouns in blue, adjectives in green etc., so that when you think of the word later you will remember its colour and this will help you use it correctly.

Don’t write down every new word you come across. Do you really need to know that particular word, or only to understand it at this moment? Limit yourself to 10 new words per text, which you can then list with a view to learning. This way they will be really useful for you.

Technique 4 – WORD LIST ACTIVITY

Take the list you made earlier, cover up one column and work your way down testing yourself, first from the foreign language to the definition or the equivalent in your mother tongue and then reverse the process. You can have fun by working with a friend to test each other.

Take words from your list and write 3 different sentences in the target language using each word to illustrate its meaning. Make them humorous or even outright silly if possible. Then read them aloud. You’ll remember words better when you’ve used them in context.

Remember, this is a very important rule. If you have a memory association for that particular word, the better are your chances for remembering it through that memory.

As you start using any one of the techniques described above, you will start noticing improvement in your vocabulary retention in a matter of weeks. I learnt a very challenging language (Finnish) and a very delightful language (Italian) in a few months using the above methods. Good Luck!

by Rana Sinha

Rana Sinha was born in India, studied and lived in many places and travelled in 80 countries, acquiring cross-cultural knowledge and building an extensive network of professionals.

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