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How To Remember Vocabulary

Crystal Holmes
13 January to 3 February 2013
Everyone knows how to encounter new vocabulary - by getting more input. Reading, watching,
and listening to more in the target language will expose you to many new words and phrases that
you can include in your own vocabulary. However, the hard part about vocabulary is
remembering it. So, in the next several posts I want to discuss some techniques for how you can
help yourself to remember your new vocabulary. And remember, not every technique will be
helpful for you. Be sure to try different ones and then use the ones you like best!
Regardless of what memory techniques and methods you use, the most important thing to do is
to organize your vocabulary. As you read in my post "Organization = Effectivenss", unorganized
materials means there is a loss of information. Not only that, but trying to find the items you
need takes a lot of time when materials aren't conveniently listed and rated in one place. Learn
related words together in context. Also learn antonymns (words with opposite meanings)
together; for example, you might learn "to struggle" and "to overcome" at the same time.
There are many ways to classify your vocabulary. You can simply list it in alphabetical order to
create your own dictionary. You can also simply list it in the order in which you found the
words. Many books, however, organize vocabulary under topic headings like: animals, science,
politics, technology, careers, family, etc. But you should also consider arranging your vocabulary
items under more abstract topic headings, like: cause and effect, choices, beliefs, arguments,
behavior, accomplishments, etc. You can also arrange vocabulary items according to situations
where they might be used or according to "families", creating groups of words with similar
meanings. Creating a list based on the frequency of occurrence is another option, as well as
organizing items by level of difficulty. Of course, there's no rule that says you have to choose
only one way to organize your vocabulary! You can make multiple lists based on your needs.
Regardless of what type of classification system you choose to use, you will find that after a
while you will have lots and lots of words to review. You don't want to spend a lot of time
reviewing words when you should be learning new ones. So you can recycle the vocabulary you
are acquiring. Try to use words you are reviewing in definitions of new words or in their
example sentences. You could also focus only on the words that are most difficult. Another
option is to use a program with spaced-repetition so that it will do the work of knowing which
words need to be reviewed for you. One that I like is called Memnosyne. It also allows you to
rate how well you remembered the word, make notes about the card, etc.
Now, for a few general study recommendations.

1. Distribute Learning. Don't try to cram all your weekly study time into one session. Spread it
out over the week. Take frequent breaks from studying, and give yourself rewards for daily
2. Remember Something Else. When you are stuck and can't remember, think of something
related to the topic. For example if you cannot remember a name, think about what the person
did, what period they lived in or who they associated with. Write down what you do know and
soon it will trigger facts that you are trying to recall.
3. Note When You Don't Remember. If you tried some memory techniques that do not seem to
work, it's okay. Experiment with other techniques and use what is best for you and not what
works for a classmate. Find out what works and what doesn't. Congratulate and reward yourself
when you do remember.
Stay tuned for next week's post, as we'll start discussing various techniques that you can use to
remember new vocabulary better!

Last week's post covered some basics about organizing your vocabulary and some general study
recommendations. Now it's time to start discovering which memory techniques are most helpful
for you. There are many different activities and tricks for remembering vocabulary, but they
mostly fall into three categories (though some activities can fall into more than one category).
1. Repetition. This is more of a "brute force" method. It doesn't require any special skills or
imagination. Just time to repeat and repeat.
2. Visualization. You have to create an association between the word and some other object or
picture and then remember the connection between them. It can take some time to come up with
the best visualization for a word, but once you've got the picture, it sticks!
3. Physical Responses and Storytelling. These require the most time to prepare, but they can
sometimes be the most effective way to remember new words.
This post will cover some ideas in the Repetition category. The next two posts will have some
ideas for the other categories. :)
1. Flash Cards. Many people still benefit from old-fashioned flash cards. They find it effective
to write their words with definitions, example sentences, synonymns, and antonymns on small
cards and carry them around to review throughout the day. Many people can review a small stack
of cards while riding an elevator, waiting on the bus or train, commuting, or standing in line. For
those who prefer technology to physical cards, the spaced repetition program is a good tool, and
it is especially useful if you can use it on your phone. The program is set to remember which

words you need to review next, and some programs allow you to rate how well you remembered
it, so that it can repeat the more difficult words more frequently in a session.
2. Recite It. While you're reviewing your flash cards, it's important to also say the word aloud (if
you won't be disturbing others in the process, of course). This trains your ears, mouth, and mind
to the sound and feel of the word. Involving more of your senses makes learning by rote more
3. Copy It. Write it down multiple times. We often write notes to ourselves to remember things,
so do the same with your vocabulary. Copy the words, definitions, and example sentences
several times to increase the probability that you'll remember.
4. Review Daily. Reviewing your notes the same day is helpful in retaining the information.
When you learn a new word, you should review that word several times within 24 hours. Using
this technique alone, you can increase the chances of remembering by over 70 percent!
5. Alliteration. Try to create a short sentence using the new word, but include similar sounds to
create an alliterative effect. For example, if you are learning the word "bay" in the sense of "a
deep, prolonged bark", you might write, "Becky's beagle barked and bayed, becoming
bothersome for Billy." Don't worry if you aren't very creative. Your sentence doesn't have to
make sense! Sometimes the sillier, the better! Creating a visual image to go with the alliteration
will help you remember this word even better!
6. Rhyme. Create a short rhyme using the new word. It's helpful if you can incorporate the
definition or related, similar words into the rhyme. Putting it to music and remembering your
little tune will help you to think of this new word throughout the day.
7. Acronymns and Acrostics. Try to create an abbreviation that reminds you of the word. One
popular acronymn for remembering the order of the colors of the rainbow is the name Roy G.
Biv - Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet. Or, create an acrostic. One very popular
acrostic for remembering the order of the planets is My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us
Nachos. The first letter of each word is the first letter of each planet: Mercury, Venus, Earth,
Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.
8. Diglot Weave. If you've ever spoken "Spanglish", you've used this technique. To use a diglot
weave, insert foreign words into English sentences until you get their meanings quickly. For
example: "semper" means "always" in Latin, so repeat to yourself several sentences like: I will
semper have trouble with vocabulary unless I give the time to it. Romeo told Juliet, "I will love
you semper." Two and two semper make four - SEMPER! It semper gets cold here in the winter.
The sun semper rises in the east. Semper in September the fall semester commences.
9. Over-Learn. When you think you got it, don't quit. Don't miss a chance to review again. Go
ahead and "beat that dead horse" one more time!

Last week we talked about some different methods for remembering vocabulary simply using
repetition. This week we're going to look at ways to visualize new words. One website writes:
"Our brains store information based on past experiences, and we tend to automatically relate new
information to these past events in order to remember them. This is association. However, you
can also apply visual association to learn new vocabulary. Take the word 'risorius,' for example.
The risorius is a facial muscle that helps make us smile. By breaking down parts of the word, you
can create an association. In this case, "Risorius" sounds like "Why-So-Serious?" famously
spoken by the Joker from the Batman series. And what better way to memorize the function of
the risorius, than to picture that wide crimson grin from the Joker himself. Having this image
implanted in your mind whenever the word "risorius" pops up will guarantee that you never
forget it."
1. Sloppy Notes. Neat notes are boring, and not very interesting visually. Instead of simply
listing new vocabulary, write it in different colors, with different types of pens or markers, and in
different directions on the page. Remembering its color and position on the page will help you to
visualize the word itself.
2. Draw Pictures. This can be combined with the previous tip. Draw a picture that gives the
meaning of the word and add it to your notes or flash cards.
3. Create a Comic. We all like comic strips and funny cartoons. Why not create your own? You
can create your own characters and use them to act out and demonstrate new vocabulary items
while being funny and engaging at the same time. Use your comic or cartoon to connect facts
and illustrate relationships. When abstract concepts can be "seen" they are much easier to
remember. You can be as creative as you want, as long as you understand your scribble. :)
4. Mnemonic Device. A useful technique is to find linkwords, words that have the same
pronunciation in a known language as the target word, and associate them visually or auditorially
with the target word. For example, if you were trying to remember "ohel", the Hebrew word for
"tent", the memorable sentence "Oh hell, there's a raccoon in my tent" can be used.
5. Diagrams. Create a diagram of related words. Someone learning Hungarian, for example,
might create the following diagram to remember related words.

6. Mind Map. Similar to a diagram, but instead of related words, you use related ideas and facts.
These maps always begin in the center of the page with an idea represented by a picture.
Branches of information and facts then come out of that central idea like spokes on a wheel. This
helps to establish mental connections between the central idea and the specific ideas of the
branches. It can take some time to get good at making efficient mind maps, but once you've
made a good one, it's likely to stick in your memory for a long time.

7. Memory Room or Palace. This technique uses any room or place that you know extremely
well. It can be a room in your home or your office. Whatever you use, this familiar place will be
your guide for remembering the new information. You must be able to mentally see and walk
around the room with ease, otherwise it won't be an effective room for you to use. For the
technique to work, you must have the place or route 100% imprinted on your mind. First,
analyze the room methodically. As you mentally walk in the door of your room, go around the
room, starting on the right and circling around to the left. Pay attention to the items in the room
and replay the scenes in your mind. When you get back to the door of the room, turn around and
walk in the opposite direction until you get to the starting point. As you learn new items, you can
associate each new item with an item in the room.
8. Journey Method. Sometimes called "the method of loci", this technique is essentially the
same as the previous one. You can use entire neighborhoods or cities. This time, you should
choose a route you know well, and you will attach information and new words to landmarks in
your journey.

This is the last article in this series on how to remember vocabulary. This series of posts
summarizes all the information I currently have about memory techniques related to language
learning. If you have any ideas that could help other language learners, please feel free to share
them with me! :)
1. Learn It Actively.
You remember 20% of what you read only, 30% of what you hear only, 40% of what you see
only, 50% of what you say only, 60% of what you do only. But you remember 90% of what you
learn by many sensory activities. So, move around while studying vocabulary.
2. Make It Meaningful. Look for connections in what you are studying. For example, packing a
parachute by itself can be boring, however, the excitement of jumping out of a plane gives a
whole new meaning to this process. Focusing on the big picture helps provide meaning to the
learning process and stimulates us to remember.
3. Peg System. If you need to remember a sequence, or words in sequence, this system can help.
Each peg attaches an image to a basic or commonly known sequence, such as the alphabet or a
set of numbers. The trick here is to use the same image for each peg. That way, you retain the
order of items simply by attaching it to an image. With appropriate preparation and utilization,
you will come to find that this system can store almost infinite amounts of information when
4. Chain Method. Once you've learned how to convert ideas to objects and pictures in your
brain, you can now begin "linking" them together. This method is best used for memorizing long
lists. Say you want to remember the presidents in order beginning with Washington, Adams,

Jefferson, and Madison. With a bit of word manipulation, your story may go like this. "A man
washes a ton (Washington) of clothes in a river. Suddenly, the river goes dry as he finds that the
water has been blocked by two huge dams (Adams) that grew out of the ground. The man asks
his "deaf son" (Jefferson) to take the clothes back home, but he can't hear him. So the dad gets
mad at his son (Madison)." The fundamental key here is to create a silly story with the images
that coincide with the items on your list. We like being entertained, so the wackier the storyline,
the easier the story will be to remember.
5. WAYK. The Where Are Your Keys game uses American Sign Language while learning new
vocabulary in the target language. This is a good system because for every new word you learn,
you learn the sign to go with it, and there is a physical association for each word. I watched the
introductory video about a year ago and haven't had any practice with it since, and I still
remember several of the signs demonstrated there. This is a great way for people to learn a new
language as well as languages that are in danger of extinction. Plus, no one has to be a teacher
because everyone is a teacher!