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The Best Ways to Memorize Vocab!

by: Jonica |

Vocab, vocab, vocab! If you're not learning a new grammar, you've probably got a list of words in your hand that need to go into your brain. And stay there. But what's the best way to keep these words in your memory bank forever? There's so many methods of memorization out there, but when it comes to building conversational fluency in a new language, which is best? Let's go over a few methods and their pros and cons.

Exposure in Class

This method happens with little effort on your part, and is the easiest to develop. As you attend your language classes, your instructor will naturally be using certain words and phrases with you throughout the lesson. "Turn to page 81." "Please read the sentence." "Are there any questions?" The reason you remember these phrases is not only due to repeated listening, but you are also connecting what you hear with an action. Languages have their own rhythm and social cues where you feel compelled to respond/react with an appropriate and expected reply, so these are being ingrained in your brain every class. You'll also be having lots of practice with your classmates and instructor on various topics, and you will naturally pick up and remember certain words that seem to stick with you!

That being said, with languages at a beginning level requiring at least 500-1000 words to conversate with someone for a few minutes, you simply can't get everything you need from passive listening in class alone. Fortunately, you're in a far better position than someone not taking classes at all, so joining ILC is a major step in improving your communication.

Notes & Flashcards

This is the most tried and true method of memorization and a staple for language learners. During your lessons, your instructor will be writing vocab words and their definitions on the board as they come up naturally during your class' conversations. Are you guys talking about pets? Then you'll definitely need to know words like "dog", "cat", "petting", "fur", "big", "small". Vocabulary often comes in groups that are in some way connected, which is extremely helpful when coming up with sentences in class.

Keeping up with notes not just on vocabulary, but the grammar you're using alongside them, is helpful when completing your homework assignments and increasing the relevance of each word to your life. It's not just the word "dog", it's now "I'm petting my big dog." Writing words down as you're learning in class is another way to connect your mind and body to new vocab. Your ears are listening, your hands are writing, your eyes are reading your notes. What a connection!

I highly recommend the use of flashcards. They're a great way of organizing your notes in class, especially if you're using apps like Anki. They have mobile and desktop options so you can customize to your preference. The major benefit of these apps is you can track how well you've learned each word. Simply mark the word to be reviewed again based on how well you remember it and your cards will sort themselves by the most prioritized words you still need to memorize.

Of course, notes and flashcards have to be reviewed in order to obtain their benefit. This part takes some self-discipline and motivation to see through. Fortunately, studies have shown that you really don't need to dedicate hours and hours studying each day. Just 10-30 minutes each day to flip through your cards will provide enough refreshment to stimulate your brain to think of ways to use these words in every day situations.

Reviewing your sentences and getting the meaning of vocab through context.

Writing Sentences

For elementary to advanced language learners, eventually your vocabulary lists may start to get a bit confusing. Words that sound the same, have similar meanings, or require context and nuance may keep popping up. This is where you'll have to upgrade from basic front and back flashcards into making your own sentences. Creating your own sentences and using them to study engages all of your senses AND immerses you in the language in a new way.

I suggest keeping a word document or google doc for keeping track of your sentences, and changing the text color of the new vocab so you can easily figure out which word you need to check the meaning for. Make sure your sentences provide clues to the word's meaning. For example, if your vocab word is "advice", write a sentence about when you ask a helpful friend about a problem. Now the word means more to you because a) you wrote it b) you imagined a scenario relevant to you c) you're using your current language skills to decipher real sentences. Of course, if you want to check if you're using a word correctly, ask your instructor!

This method takes a bit more commitment than simply flipping through flashcards, and if you fall behind in your writing schedule you may feel a bit overwhelmed as more vocabulary is introduced. Don't panic! You don't have to memorize the whole list of words or write sentences for each one. Choose the vocab that sticks to you the most, write sentences combining related words, and have fun with your creativity in your new language. Any words you've missed you will probably encounter again in the future, so try not to stress.

Best Way: Do 'em all!

By combining these techniques, you're guaranteed improved vocabulary retention in your target language. I'm sure it seems overwhelming at first, and there will be times you don't feel like studying, but developing these habits early in your fluency journey will have you soaring through our language levels. You'll be surprised when listening to music & podcasts or reading how words will seem to pop out at you! And then you'll be like, HEY! I KNOW THAT WORD!

Jonica has been a Korean language student for over 2 years with ILC.

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