How To Remember Vocabulary
Here we talk about how to find and then how to remember vocabulary. Maybe you discover new words but then forget them. Or maybe you just don’t know how to start building your vocabulary. In this blog post, we will explore both of these questions. What’s more, we will discuss some techniques you can use to truly remember all of those new words.
Where to find new words
Obviously, the first point about new vocabulary is where you can find it. Actually, vocabulary is everywhere. For example, you can see new words on the side of a bus, or on food labels in the supermarket. You can hear new words on the radio or the TV. And while you should definitely make a note of any news words you hear in these situations, the problem with this method is that you can’t control the quantity.
Or maybe it is better to say: you can’t rely on the quantity. Maybe you find two news words each time you go to the supermarket, or you hear a new phrase on the TV. Of course, you should write down this information as soon as possible. But, there is a faster way to learn lots of new words, and that way is reading.
Read as much as possible
Reading constantly makes such a big difference to everyone vocabulary. When you read, you massively increase your exposure to new words. Unlike when you go to a shop or take the bus, the number of new words you will find in a book or a newspaper article is huge. One small newspaper article can contain anything between 400 – 1000 words. Therefore, the chances of finding 10 words you don’t already know are very high. If you read just three articles a week, you can also potentially learn 30 new words per week.
Does it matter what you read?
What you read is less important than the fact the you are reading. Novels and short stories are more difficult to read than newspaper articles, but they are a great source of new words. But maybe the most important thing is to read something which you find interesting. If your favourite activity is football and you hate classical music, then don’t read a story about classical music.
This is because the feeling of being bored will not help you process the words and then remember them. You will just be fighting with the topic you are reading. Or you will be fighting with yourself to stay awake. But if you love classical music, then read about that. Choose a topic that you love. This is the key point. Once you have found your topic, look for a magazine which talks about it. Alternatively, buy a book on the subject or find an article which discusses it on the internet.
The next step is to read in a way that will help you to remember vocabulary. After all, that the point of this reading activity, isn’t it? So, how do we do this?
There are two kinds of reading you should practice. Firstly, read for general understanding. Second, read for detail.
When you read for general understanding, don’t worry about making sense of every single word. Let’s say you have chosen as your text a short story by Raymond Carver. His stories are a good place to start because the language he uses is simple language, and his stories are often only five or six pages long. Read the whole story from start to finish. Don’t worry about understanding everything, just read it and see how much you understand. If you understand 50%, that’s fine. If you understand 20%, that’s also fine. Perhaps you understand every word, and if that is true, then you should write your own short story!
Once you have read the text completely, go back to the beginning and then read only the first page. This time, use a dictionary. Write down all the words you don’t understand. When you get to the end of the page, look up all your new words in your dictionary. Write down your words and their definitions on a piece of paper or in a notebook, and then go back to the text. Read the text again, then ask yourself if it makes more sense this time.
Next, take 10 words from your list and choose those as your favourite ones. These are the ones you are going to learn.
How to remember vocabulary
Okay, you now you have a lot of new words and a reliable way of finding them by reading. But how do you remember them? If students complain about anything, it is usually that they forget all their new words. The key thing here is to learn how not to forget them.
The human brain receives so much information all the time that it is actually programmed to forget things. Forgetting things helps us to keep in our heads only the things which are important. But what does “important” mean? It seems that, in general, the brain only considers something “important” when it has seen it three or four times. If the information does not come back, it cannot be very important, and it cannot be very dangerous or a threat. Therefore, it is not important for us to remember it. The solution is to cheat the process.
Trick your brain
This evolutionary feature of our brains – forgetting unimportant information – is something we can actually cheat. When your brain sees the same information again and again, it is more likely to remember it. Therefore, with your list of new words, check them 10 times on the first day you learn them. Maybe you are on the bus, or waiting in line in the supermarket, or maybe you are waiting for the microwave to ping. Use this time to check your new words.
Look at your list, repeat the words to yourself and test your memory. Moreover, use these words the next time you speak English, or the next time you send someone an email. If you do this 10 times a day, then by the end of the week you will remember all these new words. Finally, go back to your text and read it again. There you will see how much more you understand. What’s more, by seeing these words again, you will be transferring the information to your long-term memory. That means that your brain will think these words are “important”.
There are two elements to building up a great vocabulary. Firstly, you need a reliable way of finding words. For sure, the best way to find new words is by reading something. Secondly, you need to be able remember your new words. Looking up, writing down, repeating and using these new words is the way your brain will finally put them into your long-term memory. Reading is the first step, but making a vocabulary list and repeating it is essential if you want to keep these words in your head. Make a habit of doing both, and you will be well on your way to speaking like a thesaurus!
There are many techniques you can use to improve your language skills. For vocabulary, reading is probably the best. And remember that it is important to read something you really love. This helps to you stay interested.
At the same time, it is important to understand that learning a language, like learning anything, takes time. What’s more, it takes effort. As well as the correct technique, you also need motivation. A teacher can give you ideas and methods to follow, but motivation comes from inside. It comes from you. Study a little bit every day, read a little bit every day and practice your vocabulary, and you will soon be talking like Shakespeare. Or someone with a very good vocabulary, anyway.
Do you know any good tips to learn or remember vocabulary? If so, leave them in the comments below. If you want to know more about any of our fabulous English courses, click here.