In the past, my students have often said to me, “When I study vocabulary in class, it’s easy to remember but a couple of days later I’ve completely forgotten it. What can I do to make sure I remember the words?”
The answer, in my experience, is simple: Repetition and Personalisation
Yes, learning vocabulary is just like anything else; the more you do it, the better you get. Most studies agree that it is essential to repeat or practice a new set of words immediately after being exposed to them. And then repetition should follow at progressively longer intervals. So when you learn new words remember the saying “Use it or lose it”. Try to use the new words in your journal or in conversation with your classmates, or stick post-its of the words around your bedroom and when you see a post-it try to use the word in a sentence to describe your current situation. Choose one day per week to go back over the words you have learned that week and if there are any you forgot, add them to the list for the following week and keep doing this until they are stuck in your brain. Make it fun by getting a friend to test you or test yourself and buy yourself a small reward when you get 10/10.
It’s a fact that memory works best when dealing with things that are already important to us. Therefore, if you link a new word into an aspect of your life you are much more likely to remember it. For example, imagine the word: difficult. You could try to learn this word by looking at its opposite: easy, or by using synonyms: hard but you’re more likely to remember it if you write three example sentences that make the word mean something to you. e.g.
- Monday’s test was really difficult so I only got 5 out of 10.
- I’m no good at tennis. I find it really difficult to hit the ball.
- Yesterday was a difficult day for me because my car broke down and I was late for work.
This takes more time to do, but the personalised example sentence not only helps the word stick in your brain it also helps you feel confident in adding the word to the range of vocabulary you already use. Try it, and then remember to follow up with Step 1.
The most important thing is to be realistic and to self-study. Very few people can remember something they only see once but if you take the time outside class to review and personalise the new vocabulary you learn every day, you’ll soon find that you can remember more and more.
So to summarise this week’s Tip – To remember new vocabulary, make it meaningful to you and then try to review and use it regularly.