5 Ways to Memorize New Words in a Flash and Expand your Vocabulary


Need to memorize new words for an upcoming quiz in a short period of time? Sick of asking how to say a particular word over and over again? Or are you simply making a concerted effort to expand your vocabulary?

Whatever the motivation, these 5 easy tricks will have you using new words when speaking and writing in your target language in no time at all.

Making new memories is a three-step process. Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

How do we memorize new information?

Before we get started, it helps to have an understanding of how the brain memorizes new info. Psychologists break the memorization process down into 3 key steps:

1. Encoding

First, your brain needs to encode new information by converting it into one of three memorable forms (visual i.e. pictures, acoustic i.e. sound or semantic i.e. meaning)

2. Storage

Next, it has to store this new information. Your brain has to decipher what type of information it is, then, decide where to store the new memory, how long to store it for,  and also how many new memories can be stored in that space.  In other words, your brain has to decide whether to store new memories in the short-term memory, which has a limited capacity, or in the long-term memory, which has a much larger, possibly, unlimited capacity.

3. Retrieval

Retrieval is basically how we access these memories at a later time. In other words, retrieval is how we take memories out of storage for use. We retrieve memories from short-term storage and long-term storage in slightly different ways. We retrieve short-term memory sequentially whereas we retrieve long-term memory by association. Taking this into account when learning new words and organizing new vocabulary into a specific order or making connections between different vocabulary, for example, can help make retrieval easier later on.

Organize by Order

As we now know, organizing vocabulary by sequence can help us memorize and retrieve new words from our short-term memory faster. This could be chronologically, for example, when memorizing daily routines, usually, we memorize the set of actions in a logical chronological sequence (wake up, get up, take a shower, get dressed etc.). It could also be alphabetical, for example, fruits and vegetables (apple, banana, carrot, dragon fruit, eggplant etc.).

Try organizing vocabulary by sequence to make memorizing new words easier. You could organize according to size or alphabetical order. Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Categorize

Sometimes, memorizing vocabulary feels like a never-ending task. Instead of trying to memorize everything all at once, to make more effective use of your divide and conquer. Splitting words up into categories and easily digestible chunks of 8-10 words can make the task seem less daunting. Equally, by making thematic lists of vocabulary, you make connections between different words which improves your chance of remembering them in the long-term.  One good way to test yourself is to make word maps by association or create thematic lists of vocabulary from memory.

Try making thematic lists to make learning new vocab more memorable. Photo by William Felker on Unsplash

Associate

Words that are relevant to our lives are easier to apply to day to day situations so they are by virtue easier to remember. When you memorize new words, try and imprint this new information in your brain in the 3 ways mentioned earlier (visually, acoustically and semantically) to create a more solid memory.

Repeat the word out loud and see if you can associate the sounds or pronunciation with another word you know.

Paint a new picture of the new word in your mind by associating it with an example from your real life. For example, when learning clothing vocabulary, you could think of favorite pieces from your wardrobe. Obviously, for things like transition words, creating a visual memory is trickier but it works well for adjectives and nouns.

And then, use the new vocabulary in context and make sure you have fully understood the meaning. Look up a definition in the same language, read through the examples and check to see if you know any synonyms for that word. 

Use Flashcards

When it comes to memorizing new words, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. There’s a reason why flashcards have been a student’s staple for generations. They work.

If you’re not sure what a flashcard is, it’s a card which is used as a learning aid. On one side of the card, you write a word or expression in your first language, and on the reverse side of the card, you write the translation into your target language. You can also use pictures or definitions.

The trick with flashcards, however, is consistency. If you don’t review new vocabulary regularly, you’ll forget it. No ifs and buts about it. Don’t believe me? Do a quick Google of the “Forgetting Curve” to find out more about how quickly we forget new information or watch this quick YouTube video. It’s not really all that surprising but it’s a good reminder.

One of the reasons why flashcards work so well is because they are easy to review regularly and testing yourself requires minimal time investment. And, making a stack of flashcards has never been easier. Take your pick from a number of language learning apps which offer this feature like Reji, Quizlet or Anki


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