Without doubt the question I am most frequently asked by students is: ‘What is the best way to remember new vocabulary?’
Well, first of all, it’s very important to understand that different people have different dominant learning styles. Some, for example, prefer a very visual way, using pictures, images and spatial understanding. Others might tend towards a more logical style, preferring to use system, logic and reasoning. Also, some people are more solitary and others more social learners.
So, a very useful first step is to identify your own dominant style.
BUT! Keep in mind that these different styles all use different parts of the brain and the more parts of the brain we use the more we will be able to remember. The brain is a muscle and the more exercise it gets the better it works. So, it is a good idea to try to use as many learning styles as possible.
The memory works in a very particular way, the starting point is the sensory input. So, hearing or reading new vocabulary. It will then discard (forget) what it does not find relevant. So, this is the point at which we need to make the new vocabulary relevant and associated with knowledge we already have. It will then go into our short term memory, but this will be lost unless we can move it into our long-term memory.
So then, strategies.
Make Sentences: As soon as possible after you learn new vocabulary make at least 5 sentences of your own using this vocabulary. Try to make the context/situations as different as possible and make the relevant to you, about your life, your experience, your interests.
Record Yourself: First, this will get you actually speaking in English and so practising its sounds. Once you are speaking you are activating your knowledge, it’s going deeper. You could record the sentences you have made and related words or short definitions.
Related Words: Look up related words in a dictionary or on the internet. If you’ve just learnt ‘create’ – you’ll get creative, Creationist, creative, creator, etc. 5 for the price of one and, because they’re all related they’ll be easier to remember and will reinforce the first word.
Read, read and then read some more: There is nothing in the world better for expanding and activating our vocabulary than reading, whether this is our native language or a second language. And, it really doesn’t matter what you read, a comic is as good as classic literature, online news articles as good as cooking instructions. Keep an eye out for the new vocabulary and add the context to your own sentences.
Flash Cards: Make your own flash cards with a word on one side and a short definition with example sentence on the other. You can also draw the meaning or use images from the internet. http://images.google.com can also be used as a visual dictionary. Keep the flash cards somewhere near and revisit them regularly.
Word Games: Scrabble, word search, hangman, there are masses of resources you can find on and off the internet.
Finally, research has shown that the memory continues to work while we are sleeping. In fact, that’s when it does some of its most important work. So, for many of these exercises it is a good idea, if you can, to do them, for a short amount of time, not too long before you go to bed and then to revisit/revise them, if possible quite soon after you get up.
Also, there is some research to show that physical activity contributes to the memory and that doing some physical activity at the same time as doing memory exercises can contribute to keeping that memory. Most actresses and actors, when they are learning new lines, very often will be walking about as they try to learn. This can also help with visualisation of the new information.
And, finally, finally, if you are learning English with your own teacher, either face-to-face or Skype English lessons, make sure that your teacher is returning to new vocabulary from time to time. We all know that revision, repetition and revisiting new vocabulary and structures is essential to long-term learning, but sometimes we also need to be reminded of these things. No teacher will mind if you ask them to include regular revision in your lessons.