Eight tips for remembering vocabulary in a new language without the brain fog

Have you ever wondered why some words and phrases are difficult to learn? Try these tips and use the ideas or resources your language tutor probably does.

1- Have a log of what you have learned by keeping a small notepad, which can also contain post-it labels where you write a word or a phrase in Spanish on one side, and its meaning in English on the opposite side. It may be helpful to draw an icon or stick any silly picture that helps you remember them in the association. 

2- So, why not creating an association game with those you find the hardest or, for some reason, will not stick? Some words and phrases can be difficult to remember, even at basic levels. For example, if you are learning Spanish, the word for ‘Look’ is ‘Mira’ as in look at something in its command form- ‘Look!’ Both words can easily be associated with a familiar word in English, such as the word ‘mirror.’ You know they don’t mean the same. Still, it’s an association that may help you. After all, you look in the mirror, so ‘Mira’ is not so far from its interpretation. They do not even have to have any connection in meaning. It’s your association; you create it, you turn it into a tool to help you.

3- Highlight or underline parts of a question and its answer. E.g. ¿Dónde vives? Vivo en Londres; ¿Cómo te llamas? Me llamo Ana; or if learning French- ¿Comment tu t’appelles? Je m‘appelle Ana. Remember, these are only basic examples.

4- If you feel enthusiastic, play a memory game with words (yes, the one you used to play as a kid!). Spread your target language words or phrases on one side of the table and the English equivalent words/phrases on the other side, maybe by using pictures (or words translated into your native language), all face down. Turn them and try to match them by finding the right pair, and only remove them if it’s a match. If you can play it with somebody else, it’s a game, but you don’t have to. The winner is the one with all the correct pairs.

You can also use questions on one side and answers on the other to make a match. The more questions and vocabulary you have, the more fun it is. You can also play snap with them (‘Dúo’ in Spanish). It’s ideal for verbal phrases or verb tense learning as well.

5- It may sound silly, but writing sentences or questions and cutting them out to put them together afterwards, may help a few people. Begin with chunks, though. E.g., ¿Cómo/ te llamas? – but leave some words together. This activity will help you later when sentences get a little longer. You can always keep the cards in an envelope. 

6- Write a short glossary as a ‘survival‘ kit for the following class and keep it in front of you. Mainly keep track of leading questions and answers from your last lesson. If you have to say them or ask a question, use it as a resource, especially if you can’t remember them from the top of your head. It would help to prepare a verb table with you with some verb endings and declinations when you reach intermediate levels.

7- If possible, strategically display a few post-it labels with words, questions and answers in some parts of the house (ok, this one may not be ideal if you have kids, dogs…), but find one safe place, such as the top of your bedroom mirror or fridge, for example. They may help you remember that specific word or sentence that doesn’t stick no matter what (they may not stick on the fridge, though 😊). Just don’t forget to say them out loud! Talk to yourself in your target language, which will help you speak more confidently in the future.

8- Mind mapping- this one may work for many, but it may not be for everyone. You can draw a spidergram which ramifies. Your centre should contain the main subject, for example- clothes. Then branch it out with lines coming from the centre with related vocabulary to your topic. If it’s clothes, for example, and you are learning Spanish, use ropa; then ramify it with: camisa, camiseta, chaqueta, falda, etc. Don’t make your diagram fussy! Scribble on it, draw on it the way you can, not how you think it should be.

spidergram- mind mapping

We know this all may sound like a lot of effort, but if you take these tips onboard from the basic levels, this sort of investment will pay off, and they can turn into a habit. So, you don’t have time? Spend less time on social media and checking phone messages. You don’t always have to stick to these plans, but the little you do may go a long way.


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