One of the most common questions that I get from students who have been studying English for a while is what is the easiest way to memorize vocabulary? Understanding how our memories work is important. Once you know how the job is done, there are some steps that you can take to make it easier.
Your brain is not a cup. It does not hold 100ml of information and no more. Think of it more like a muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. But that comparison does not show how complicated and fascinating the brain really is. The brain is a maze of connections that pass electricity from one node to another and each connection is a new way of thinking or piece of information. This means that if you want your brain to know that something is important enough to remember, you need to make lots of connections to it.
To remember English vocabulary
Don’t learn vocabulary in isolation. If you want to remember the word ice cream, learn that word and all of the ingredients together with freezer, container, cone, and other related words. Learning relevant words together will help to create a network instead of an isolated “island in your mind” which is easily forgotten.
Connect it with the other senses. Connecting the word with the different senses will help you to ensure that you are making many varied connections. So when you learn ice cream, think about the smell, the taste and the feel of ice cream on your tongue. Think about the chill that you feel when you open the freezer. Connecting the memories of these senses will utilize more of your brain and mark that information as important.
Do not translate. Remember that by translating, you are connecting the word to first language words not English words. To help you to recall the words faster, connect them to English words, concepts and memories. Instead of translating try using simple English words or a picture; you don’t need definitions just a memory trigger will remind you.
Make sentences. This means that you connect the vocabulary to situations and sentences that you are likely to use them in. It is also good practice in using the grammar of the word. For example if you learn the word rely, do we say rely on someone or rely in someone? This is the grammar of the word and it is important if you look up a word in the dictionary to see what prepositions and other words are commonly used with it.
Remember that the brain is likely to hold about 8 new pieces of information at a time and you can trick it to learn a group as one piece. I used to teach kids three different forms of verbs at one time eat-ate-eaten and drink-drank-drunk. Surprisingly, the kids remembered these easier than if you try to get them to remember the individual words. But don’t try to remember a long list of vocabulary in one sitting, or look up 50 words as you are reading and expect to remember them all. A little vocabulary each day is the best way to go.