Remembering the Words

The best way to remember English vocabulary

One of the most difficult things about learning a foreign language is mastering the vocabulary. Even if you have a first language (such as French or German) which is related to English, there are many “false friends”, words which are similar to English ones but which are actually used differently. There is no easy way to memorise English words, but there is one method that is guaranteed to get results: quiz yourself.

Back in the 19thCentury, a German psychologist called

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

Ebbinghaus was one of the first to study memory, and his work is still recognised today. He found that when a person memorises a set of new words, they forget over 50% of them within an hour. After a day, almost 2/3 is forgotten, and after 6 days, only 30% of the words stay in our head. Therefore, most of the words you learn will be forgotten very quickly! But there’s good news, too. Ebbinghaus found that when you review new words shortly after you first learn them, you won’t forget them so quickly. To put a word in your long-term memory, you will need to review it about seven times. Each time you remember the word, you will make or widen the path to the word in your brain. The best way to do this is by quizzing yourself, and the easiest way to do this is by using word cards.

Make a list of about twenty useful English words that you’d like to remember. Write each word on the front of the card with its part of speech (noun, verb, adjective etc). On the back, write its meaning, either in easy English or in your native language, along with an example sentence from your dictionary. Then test yourself, from word to meaning first, and then from meaning to word. Don’t forget to shuffle the cards each time so that you remember the words, not the list. And you should test yourself both orally and by writing. Do this often, and you’ll never forget the words!

These days, there are also many cheap or free ways to make “word cards” on your computer and phone. You might like to google some, or check out iTunes for some of the latest Apps there. Whichever way you choose to do it, reviewing vocabulary by quizzing yourself is well worth the time and effort.

Naomi Smith

Director of Study, GV Brisbane

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