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Tips for remembering vocabulary

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

A set of over-ear headphones and an open notebook is places on top of flags of different countries.

Learning a new language can be exciting but it is not always easy. There is a lot to remember including vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar and pronunciation.

Paying attention in your language class is often not enough for the new words and rules to sink in. You may also find that if you do not use the language for a while, you begin to forget key aspects of it you previously knew well.

Here are some tips to remember what you have learnt!

Keep an organised notebook

Whilst everyone learns in different ways, most people benefit from having a record of vocabulary and language rules that they can refer back to and revise from.

Notes you make in lessons may be messy or unorganised, as you are hurriedly writing down everything you learn as you go.

Have a separate notebook for organised notes, where language content you need to know is easy to find, categorised and clearly readable. Use tables, diagrams and different colours to connect related content.

Making the notebook will also act as a revision task in itself as you will need to go back through everything you have done in your lessons and it will make you think about what content you need to know for your language exams.

You will be thankful for organised notes when you are studying for the exams and you can enjoy having a handy reference book in the future.

Go back over vocabulary

It may not be enough to just have words written down – you need to continuously familiarise yourself with them.

Maybe make a plan to read through a list of new vocabulary every few days and test yourself to see if you still remember them. Make sure you say them aloud or sound them out in your head as well as memorising what they look like written on the page.

The more senses you use to learn new vocabulary, the more likely you are to successfully remember them over time.

Record yourself

Not everyone enjoys listening to the sound of their own voice but it can actually be very useful to do so! If you have a set of vocabulary you are learning, record yourself saying these words and using them in sentences. You can listen to your recording wherever you are, helping to drill in the vocabulary.

Try speaking along with yourself to further bury the words into your mind, or leave a designated gap in your recording to vocalise them and try out saying them in different sentences.

Don’t try to learn too many at once

When learning a new language, you may get excited and want to learn a lot of content at once. Perhaps you will be able to retain this new information in the short-term, but in the long run you will struggle to remember it all.

Be realistic in how much you learn in a day. Set a certain amount of new words or grammar rules to memorise and go over and over these many times before moving onto different content.

Try a variety of activities

Another good technique to familiarise yourself with vocabulary and rules is the use of puzzles, games and activities.

A word search of new vocabulary will get you thinking about spellings of words, and a crossword will combine this with learning their definitions. Try activities such as labeling images of objects with what they are named in the language you are learning or completing sentences with the correct word.

You will be able to find plenty of these activities online. Vary which types of activity you use or narrow down which ones you enjoy the most and help you learn the best.

Learn words’ definitions and put them into sentences

It is all well and good to memorise a list of vocabulary but do you know all of the words’ definitions? It is no use knowing countless words if you cannot implement them into your writing or speaking because you don’t know what they mean.

As you are learning new words, make sure you are also memorising their definitions. It is okay if this means you have to shorten the vocabulary list you have challenged yourself to learn!

A good way to test if you understand what words mean is to try and put them into sentences. If you are trying to memorise the words for different articles of clothing, for example, put them in the sentences describing the parts of the body they go on. Make sure you say your sentences aloud as well as writing them down to help you remember even better.

Practise memory techniques

Brain training and improving your memory in general will in turn help you learn a language. Keep your mind active and flexible by solving puzzles and riddles. You can find many online or you can buy books full of them from beginner to advanced level.

A great memory game is laying out a load of everyday objects in a row on a surface and giving yourself a set amount of time to try and remember what they are and the order they are in. After the time is up, cover up the objects and attempt to recite them all in the correct order. It is a frustrating challenge but one you can improve on – just like your ability to learn a language!

Want to put your new memory skills to the test by learning English? Enrol in a General English course or learn English for Specific Purposes with Think English.

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