Remember English Words
One of the most daunting parts of learning any language is remembering new words and then using them in conversations. I’m going to try to break it down for you simply and give you my best advice for keeping them in your memory.
In the episode, I also mentioned a free vocab spreadsheet that might help. Click below to download it.
Learn Words in Context
A mistake I see many people making is simply learning words from a dictionary or a ‘100 Most Common Words’ list. While there may be some benefit to this, your mind will retain new vocabulary much more easily if you learn words in context. This could include studying words that you come across in your favourite TV show, or perhaps words you see on the wall in your favourite coffee shop. Not only will this be useful for you to know, but it will allow your brain to create a connection between that word and the activity you were doing when you saw it, making it easier to learn.
And that leads me to my next point: make sure you are learning vocabulary you enjoy and that will be useful for you. For example, if you like to play football, it would be useful to learn football-related vocabulary (striker, defender, etc.) However, if that’s not your interest it would likely be a waste of time as you’ll never need to use those words.
Additionally, studies have shown your brain will learn faster if you’re having fun! Studying doesn’t have to be boring so do it in a way that makes you happy.
Create a Study Habit
Even the most motivated English students can feel burnt out sometimes. We all have those days where studying is the last thing we want to do. If you want to see fast improvements, it’s crucial to create a study routine, ideally every day. Make sure your study time is regular, at the same time every day, so your brain will automatically start thinking about it.
No matter how busy we get, we can always find an extra 30 minutes to study, right? Studies show you can begin to form a habit in 21 days, so I’m a big fan of 30-day challenges. Create a month-long calendar with the goal of studying for at least 5 or 10 minutes each day at your chosen time. Cross out the day when you’ve completed it. At the end of the 30 days, your behaviour will be more automated and you can assess whether you want to continue or adapt your routine.
There are many different ways to actually study the new words and people will each find their own methods. For most people, I would highly recommend using flashcards. Flashcard apps will show you the words to study each day and, depending on how easily you could remember it, will repeat the words at intervals over days and weeks until it sinks into your long term memory.
Using flashcards, you can also create mnemonics. These are ‘links’ that help your brain create an association with a word. For example, if you want to remember the word “generally”, you might create a story saying “Generally, the general is your ally”
Using the New Words
Now for the important part! Learning a word once isn’t enough to make it stick, you must keep repeating it in various different ways. But don’t worry! This doesn’t have to be as tedious as it sounds. Firstly, you might find it helpful to create a story or some example sentences using the new words.
Perhaps you have just learnt five new words and you want to practice them. You could set yourself the challenge of writing a story that includes all five of those words. You could even try using some new grammar rules in the story as well.
The second way to use words is, of course, in conversation! You might want to find a language partner who’s learning your language to share with, but I would also recommend paying for a professional, online tutor so you don’t waste time talking in your native language.
Before each lesson, try creating a ‘cheat sheet’ where you write down your new vocabulary and perhaps a couple of sentences too. Challenge yourself to use those new words throughout the lesson. If you let your teacher know about your challenge they will probably be happy to help you use them as well. Using the new words in a real conversation is one of the best ways of forcing it to sink into your long term memory.