How to memorize new vocabulary easily – which learning strategies should you take on and which should you leave behind.

Learning new words in a foreign language can be a very long and arduous process. We sit around with our flashcards looking at the word we want to learn, then we look at the translation in our native language and back at the word we want to learn in the foreign language. Sometimes we might even mutter that word to ourselves to practice pronunciation. I think we can all agree that there must be a better way to do it! Not only is this way SUPER boring, it is also not very effective. The reason for that is that translating is a very costly strategy for our brains. First we read the foreign word and our brains are trying to analyze the writing for meaning (so we go from a series of signs that represent a thing to the idea of that thing!) , but of course we don’t find any! Then we look at the translation in our native language and our brains need to process that word for its meaning. And then finally our brains must connect that meaning to the new foreign word. In other words, it takes us 3-4 long steps to understand the thing we want to learn. AND THAT’S THE PROCESS FOR A LANGUAGE THAT USES THE SAME WRITING SYSTEM AS OUR NATIVE LANGUAGE. Think about how many more steps it would take to learn languages like Japanese, Georgian, or Hindi, which have entirely different signs that make entirely different sounds!

The question we always ask ourselves is “how do children know?” When you were growing up, you had no idea what things around you were and what to call them. BUT LUCKILY you had a few wonderful people around you that talked beautifully about all the things they saw. They pointed to an apple and said “apple”. They picked up the apple, smiled, and moved it to their mouths to show you it’s safe to eat. In other words, they gave you clues about the sound that word makes (hearing), connected that sound to an image (seeing), and gave you information about what to do with it (moving). Your little brains then started firing on all cylinders and all these new and very strong connections were made. That way you learned the answers to three important questions in ONE step. What is this? What do we call it? And what is it for? Reading and writing came MUCH later in your life, remember that! First listen, then speak. And once you’re confident with that, try to read and write a little bit. Applying this strategy to your learning routine will no doubt speed up the process of learning a new language!

Our online self-paced courses do just that. With our courses your brains will connect images to the sounds of words and those words to other words that belong to the same group. 

And always remember, don’t learn a language, BE it!