Seven Deadly Tricks for Learning Vocabulary in Another Language

image0 - Seven Deadly Tricks for Learning Vocabulary in Another Language

As an English Second Language Teacher of many years and also a student of several different languages, I have found that trying to memorize a list of new vocabulary to be not only tedious, but in a way traumatizing. (Hyperbole? I don’t think so.) Think of the pressure you put on yourself, to sit with a typed list of words to study with no context. This will only lead to tears. There are better ways. 

RECOPY your notes from class. The repetition allows muscle memory to grow. Also, the more ways you repeat the words: Writing it out, Speaking the word aloud, and Listening to your pronunciation, the more grease you put on your memory wheel. Keep those synapses snapping by creating repetitions in a variety of ways.

GAMES: Oh how I love language games. There are many websites with interactive online games that people can use to improve their vocabulary. Just choose your category (for example: Animals) and then do a Search for “ESL Games with Animals.” This can also be a group activity in class, with friends or family or on Zoom. There is no better way to bond a class/group or create a perfect memory of words, than in an environment of laughter and friendly competition. (In my Beginner’s classes we had vocabulary games such as: emotions, colors, clothing and even types of weather.) 

USE YOUR WORDS: Try to use new vocabulary with native speakers. It’s good practice and perhaps you will make a new friend. I learned the word Malamente, a Spanish word meaning hardly, barely or badly. I use it with Spanish speakers when they ask me if I speak Spanish. I respond, “Pues, malamente.” (Translation: “Well, badly.”) That generally gets a chuckle. 

TRAVEL: Go to a country or even an area in your country where you will be immersed in the target language. Do all of your daily activities trying to use your new vocabulary and phrases. The locals will appreciate that you are trying, even if you make mistakes. There is nothing more annoying than a tourist not trying to communicate in the native language. (Make sure you study some vocabulary and phrases before your trip. Online and in person language classes can help immensely.) 

MNEMONICS can also be helpful with phrases or spelling of individual words. “Every Good Boy Deserves Favor,” is a mnemonic to help music students read notes. You could use an acronym like this for phrases in English. For example: “How much does this cost?” HMDTC for a phrase.

SINGING: There is something about the vibration of the lungs and the repetition of the chorus that really works for me and I used to memorize songs in Spanish as a teen, by first listening, writing down the words and then singing them. As an adult, I was Substitute Teaching for a Music Teacher in Elementary School one day and the Teacher was so sick that he’d created no lesson plan. I called and asked him if I could teach the kids some songs in Spanish from YouTube videos. These songs were days of the week and general small talk (Where are you from, What’s your name, etc.). Some of the kids were singing the songs even after class was over. Their retention due to the musical element was twice as much as it would have been with another method. 

GO TO THE ROOTS: Language Preparation books generally have a list of roots, prefixes and suffixes and their definitions. For example: Anti = against, opposed to. With this root information, you can identify a new word’s meaning by just knowing a fragment of it. Example: Antiviral (Anti, Viral) = Against Viruses. (I know. I know. I said lists are traumatizing, but these are very handy for identifying new vocabulary while reading and they are imperative, if you are taking college entrance exams in English.)  Go out or online and practice! By Seana S.


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