7 Tricks To Help Remember New Words Quickly & Easily

Words, words, words…so many to learn and it’s so hard to remember them all, let alone use them, right? Well, today I’ve got seven tips that should make learning & remembering new vocabulary easier, faster, more fun, and more effective. 1. Make word association webs – our brain takes what we read and makes it […]

Written by Paul Turner for TEFL.net

Words, words, words…so many to learn and it’s so hard to remember them all, let alone use them, right? Well, today I’ve got seven tips that should make learning & remembering new vocabulary easier, faster, more fun, and more effective.

1. Make word association webs – our brain takes what we read and makes it into images, ideas, and feelings etc. and then makes connections between what we knew before and the new information (words and ideas). This is how we remember things. The “new” stuff is fitted into the “old” stuff. Think of a tree. It is easier for you to see a big tree with lots of branches and leaves than it is to see a small tree with very few branches and leaves, right? Well, it’s the same for your brain. When you connect a new word or idea to things you already know you make it easier for your brain to find (see) it when you need to remember it. How can you do this? Easy. Make an Idea Web. Start with the thing you want to remember (words, ideas, sentences) in the middle of a piece of paper. Then draw lines from it like a spider’s web. At the end of the line write down any ideas or words or even pictures that you think of when you say the word or idea in the middle of the page. Anything you think of is ok…just write it down.

This only takes about 2 minutes. Now all the words/ideas are getting connected in your mind. If you see or hear one of them it will help your brain remember all of the others. To make this work really well, you can talk to yourself about how each word/idea fits together with the others. The more you do this, the more connections you make. Lots of connections makes it very easy for your brain to “see” the word you want to recall when you are trying to remember it.

2. Remember in Chunks (collocations) – Remembering the word is important but English, like Chinese, is a language and languages are NOT just facts to be remembered – they are tools for people to USE to express their ideas and communicate. So, find examples of how each word is used in your text. Write a few words before and after the word so that you remember how it is used. For example: if your word is “arrogant” write something like this….”the tall, arrogant man” … This will help you to remember that “arrogant” is an adjective and that it describes people. The next thing to do is to make 3 full sentences with the word to practice using it.

3. Use pictures – Draw small pictures that show the meaning of the word if you can. Sounds crazy, right? That’s why it works. Our brains have so much normal information coming in every moment that a crazy image is a nice surprise – and you always remember surprises, don’t you? Our brains are also specially designed to catch and understand visual information quickly. So, make a funny picture that shows the meaning of the word you want to remember and your brain will remember it easily.

4. Tell a tall story – I always hear my students say that there are too many new words to remember. There’s a memory trick you can use to do this. Just make a crazy story that uses all the words. Picture it in your mind as you make the story. We remember stories easily, especially crazy stories that we can imagine in detail in our minds. Repeat the story and you will remember the words. When you make the story connect the words in funny ways. For example, if you want to remember these 20 words:

shoes, piano, tree, pencil, bird, bus, books, driver, dog, pizza, flower, basketball, door, television, spoons, chair, jump, dance, computer, stone….you could make a story like this:

There is a piano wearing shoes and sitting in a tree. The tree is strange because someone has stuck a giant pencil through it. On the pencil a bird is sitting and watching a bus full of people reading books. Even the driver is reading a book which is bad because he isn’t paying attention to driving. So, he hits a dog that is eating a pizza in the middle of the road and kills it. The driver digs a hole and buries the dog in it and then puts a flower on it. He notices that there is a door in the dog’s grave and opens it. Inside he can see a television with 2 spoons for antennas on top of it. No-one is watching the television because they are all watching the chair. Why? – Because the chair is jumping and dancing and throwing stones at the computer.

Try it. You’ll be surprised!

5. Recycle the pieces – Use roots, prefixes and suffixes to guess what a word means. For example:

Maybe you don’t recognize this word “microbiology” but may be able to guess what it means. First, look at the prefix “micro”. Micro means very small. You may also remember that “ology” means a subject, the study of something. Already we know that part of this word’s meaning is “the study of” + “something small”. Now, you will probably remember that “bio” means living things. So, we can figure out that microbiology probably means the study of very small living things. This is correct. English is like a puzzle – we put the pieces together to make new words. So if you make a list of word beginnings that you often see (un-, dis-, con-, micro-, etc.) and word endings that you often see (-able, -ly, -ent, -tion, -ive, etc.) and remember what they mean, you will be able to guess what many new words mean.

6. Think & learn in opposites – Learn words with opposite meanings (antonyms) and words with similar meanings (synonyms) together. For example, learn angry/happy (antonyms) and angry/cross (synonyms) at the same time. We can remember similar and opposite things more easily because they “stick together” in our minds.

7. Timing is everything – According to psychologists who study how we remember anything, there is a better way to learn things quickly and permanently. Use the new word immediately. Use it 10 minutes later. Use it 1 hour later. Use it 1 day later. Use it 1 week later. After that, you’ll rarely have to review – the new vocabulary is yours forever.

Have Fun!

Written by Paul Turner for TEFL.net
July 2008 | Filed under Teacher Technique
Paul Turner M.Ed TSL, BA Psych.