All those who decide to learn a language have a goal: being able to express themselves in their new language. But, unfortunately, not everyone is prepared to make the extra effort required to achieve fluency and one of the pillars of any language is vocabulary. Only a few will act, and very few will persist in the quest of committing all these new words to their long-term memory. Most feel lost in the maze of rote-memorisation (the way we were taught at school) finding it boring and pointless because what is learned is easily forgotten. Some attribute the latter to their bad memory, others think it’s because they are useless at language learning.

So, how can we learn vocabulary effectively, so that the words, phrases and expressions pop out when they are needed?

There are multiple methods described since ancient times advocating their ability to make us remember any information we read, people names, lists of things we need to do etc.

In this article I’ll mention just the few that have proven to be effective.

Lifestyle changes


Sleep

Getting regular adequate sleep help with memory boosting. Sleep helps with the consolidation of memory.

Consolidation is when a fragile memory trace is stabilised with constant repetitions, and this strengthen and integrates the memory into the preexisting knowledge network.

A well-rested individual is able to learn new skills faster (Diekelmann and Born, 2010). And sleep contributes in linking newly acquired information with the ones we already have stored.

I know that 8-hour sleep are not always possible when leading a busy working life, or as a student, but when possible taking even a 10-minute nap can be as beneficial.


Adequate diet

Food like walnuts, blueberries, oily fish, whole grain, olive oil, green tea etc. help improve your overall memory as well as decrease your chances of Alzheimer and dementia.

Exercise

Exercise leads to increased blood flow to the brain and boosts your alertness, your mood and your concentration.

Exercise improve memory by releasing a protein which favours the growth of neurons whilst also forming connections in parts of the brain directly involved with memory.


Active social life

Maintaining close relationships, is proven to help improve memory, stave away dementia and Alzheimer, and of course happiness.


Hobbies

Practising old hobbies and in fact learning new skills, like learning a new language, lead to formation of new brain cells and to the connection between existing brain cells. This helps the brain prevent memory loss.

Learning a new language is excellent. Your brain cells are very active as you must constantly learn new vocabulary, phrases and grammar rules. You must find new ways to remember things and as such your memory improves constantly.


Getting out of your comfort zone

Doing challenging activities, like having a promotion at work, will play an important role towards improving your memory.


Keeping a positive mindset

Happiness and positive thinking promote the release of dopamine which stimulate the formation of memories and retention.


Meditation

Meditation, 10-minutes daily, help improve concentration as converting short-term memory into long-term memory (retention).


Specific time during the day

Research tell us that the afternoon is the best time to study if we want to maximise access to the stored memory (recall).


Study techniques


As I mentioned previously, these memorisation techniques have been used for a long while now, some more complicated than others. But let’s dive in.


Distributed Practice

Already in 1885,Hermann Ebbinghaus talked about the forgetting curve, meaning that we forget most newly acquired information within a few hours or days. He came to the conclusion that final memory performance is improved if learning sessions are distributed in time rather than being massed into a single study episode.[ Cepeda, Pashler, Vul,et Al, 2006] It means that intense study the night before your exam ( and we've all done it ) won't be effective.

The spaced-repetition method is about reinforcing a bit of information in your mind just when you are about to forget it. People who use distributed practice remember twice as many words in the long term as those who don’t.

The time you leave between the recall sessions is important. It has been proven that the longer gaps are more effective than the shorter gaps if you want to commit the information to your long-term memory.

A simple way to apply this technique is by using flashcards.


Chunking

Some researchers advocate chunking as the best method. They assure that not only that it helps you learn the words you want to memorise, but also it allows you to recall them when necessary.

Our brain is not wired to remember isolated words but to recall short patterns of maximum four items at a time. Hence the importance of fitting the words you are learning into groups your brain can easily remember. Learn words that are related by a strong context, such as words that when together have a totally different meaning than each word separately. For example, how’s it going? Which means the same as How are you?


Sentence mining

As the word suggests, you focus mainly on gathering sentences in the target language and commit them to memory. You find the sentences that illustrate the vocabulary you want to learn, ideally various sentences for each word, so that you can have an idea of how the language works. The grammar structures are learned the same way.

Sentence mining helps create a mental association with information that you already know. It shows you how to use the new vocabulary in different contexts; you see the words in several different occasions which accelerate consolidation. It allows you to memorise much faster.


Mnemonics

Mnemonics is a method designed to help recall information that is difficult to remember.

Our memory stores complex stimuli such as images, colours, smells, sounds, emotions, touch etc and the aim of mnemonics is to use our whole mind to help us remember the new information we are storing. The main way is by encoding information by using vivid images that are easier to recall when needed.

You can code information using stories, strong mental images, familiar journeys.The list is endless.

There are three principles in the use of mnemonics which are: imagination, association, and location.


Imagination

The stronger you imagine and visualise a situation, the more effectively it will stick on your mind for later recall. The more unusual and shocking the image, the better.


Association

It’s the method by which you link a thing to be remembered to a way of remembering it. You can create association by placing things on top of each other, by crashing thinks together, wrapping them around each other, having them dancing together, rotating them, linking them using the same colour, smell shape or feeling.


Location

Location gives you a coherent context into which you can place information so that it hangs together, and it’s a way of separating one mnemonic from another.


Acronyms

You most surely have come across this method at school. It’s an abbreviation form from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word.

For example, to study the Great Lakes the acronym is Homes

( Huron,Ontario,Michigan,Erie,Superior).


Memory palace

The memory palace is a powerful mnemonic device for improving recollection and it’s used as well in language learning.

The fundamental concept is to associate pieces of information that you wish to remember with parts of a location that you are familiar with. The idea of the memory palace, as with all mnemonics techniques, is to make use of all your senses. You begin by visualising yourself walking through your home, for example, and remembering every single detail.

The science behind it is, by associating items within your mind with a real physical place, your brain is able to store important things to remember easily.

For more information visit magneticmemorymethod.com


We have covered various methods that will help you remember your vocabulary and phrases.

Choose only the ones that suit your learning style and make the difference to your memory.


If you need a more in-depth introduction, register to the step-by-step guide to memorising vocabulary workshop.


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