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The biggest challenge when studying vocabulary is to actually remember the words you just learned. Some words seem to stick to your memory immediately whereas you seem to always forget others.
There are several ways to improve your memory when learning foreign language vocabulary. None is foolproof and all require some work, but with those tips you will be able to learn more efficiently:
When meeting a new word, you need to make it stick to its meaning in your mind. You can picture your memory as a giant Christmas trees, with many branches representing each a part of your memory. To remember a new word, you need to hang it on a branch, existing or newly created. It is extremely difficult to remember more than a few new words when they are totally out of the blue and not tied in any way to something else that is already in your memory. Fortunately, there are many ways to tie a new word to something in your memory:
True cognates and false
Many words in a foreign language will be similar to words in a language you already know. Sure, some of these will be 'false friends', such as French 'éventuellement' (meaning 'maybe') and English 'eventually' who look very similar but have different meanings. But most cognates - words that look similar in two different languages - are real friends. That means that to remember them all you need is see the similarity with the other word you already know. You will do this without having to think for most words (French 'le restaurant' is English 'the restaurant'). Other similarities will come to some people earlier than others (cat/chat, to flirt/compter fleurette, etc...).
With some basic etymological knowledge, but you can also investigate a little closer words that at first do not seem to be similar in any way, but are. For instance, French and English have many shared words who only differ by one letter. Where French uses 'G', English puts a 'W'. To learn that French for 'warren' is 'garenne', all you need is replace the 'g' by a 'w'. The same goes for William/Guillaume, war/guerre, warranty/guarantie, ward/guarde, wasp/guêpe, wage/gage, etc...
The more you study languages, the more attractive it will be to notice these hidden similarities and to use them to recall new foreign language words.
Using word roots to learn new vocabulary in a foreign language
P>Foreign language vocabulary is not made of random combinations of letters. Many words in a language are derived from other words in the same language. These words can often be grouped around a common root. If you learn the root and recognize it in new words, it will considerably help you to remember the new word.
For instance, with the old Latin word root 'pater' - father, you can learn many words in Romance languages. In French you could learn patrimoine (estate of the father), patrie (fatherland), patronyme (name of the father), etc... These words roots work in different ways in each language. For important languages, you can often find a book that presents the most common word roots and lists examples of words that use these roots.
Using mental hooks to remember new foreign language words
One of the most efficient tricks to learn a new word in a foreign language that you can relate to nothing you know, is to use a mental hook. These 'mental hooks' are vivid mental images made up to tie a new word to something you will remember. For instance, to remember Russian for big - 'bolshoi', you can think of watching a show of gigantic balls, BALL-SHOW.
The more incongruous, the better. They don't need to make sense or be perfect as they will only be used by you. If the hook is good enough for you to remember the word, that's all that counts. The good thing about mental hooks is that they are environmentally friendly. After a few months, they will rot away and you will remember only the word and its meaning but forget the mental image you created to remember them.
Using context to remember new words
Using words in context enhances greatly the chance you will remember them. This can be as simple as reading a text where the words are used, memorizing a dialog from a film or a language program or learning a song. You can also be exposed to the word in a memorable context.
For instance you travel to
It is always a good idea to learn words with a phrase as an example. For instance, if you learn that French for 'to eat' is 'manger', it is better to learn 'He already ate'/'Il a déjà mangé' or 'She is eating an apple'/'Elle mange une pomme' than just learning the word alone. The phrase will help you recall the word better and improve your chances of using it correctly when speaking. Depending on how you work on vocabulary learning, you can either find example phrases in dictionaries, or cut and paste a phrase you found in a real text you were reading.
Using repetition to remember foreign language words
Repetition is essential to remember words over the long run. This is not easy to implement, but with a little discipline and organization you can make it work. If you are using flash cards, make it a rule to go over the flash cards you mastered for example after one week, then one month, then six months. It is not a big job to repeat flash cards you are supposed to know, and you should know have the fear that you are opening a can of worms that will undermine your confidence in your existing knowledge of the language. The only thing you will achieve is to reinforce your vocabulary skills. It is not uncommon for people to master perfectly a list of words for a school exam, then forget most of them after a few days. That is not problem is all you want is pass a school exam on a specific day, but if what you want is learn a foreign language, you need more.
If you learn new vocabulary with a newspaper and dictionary, it is a good idea to go back to last month's articles with no dictionary and see how much you understand.
If you are learning with Pimsleur, the tape will take care of the repetion as it is a basic principle of their system, called timed interval repetition. Words learned with Pimsleur usually stick to your memory, provided you do one tape a day.
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