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Your best vocabulary learning methods?

 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
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Ezy Ryder
Senior Member
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Speaks: Polish*, English
Studies: Mandarin, Japanese

 Message 9 of 58
03 June 2015 at 7:58am | IP Logged 
Try to review as quickly as reasonable. If you can't recall a word in 3-6 seconds, don't
bother, just "fail" it.
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Senior Member
Czech Republic
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 Message 10 of 58
03 June 2015 at 10:40am | IP Logged 
I am all for tons of input (books, tv series, podcasts etc.), srs can be more digestable in a pone or tablet on the go. Input, both intensive and extensive approach, works. But it takes time and some people have harder time activating the knowledge.

However, there is one thing that is surprisingly rarely mentioned around here, even though it isn't that useful for a very advanced learner. Vocabulary builders. Specific books, usually monolingual, with basic vocabulary (often sorted per level), examples, exercises. Some learners may not like them but I enjoy having a good resource to cover many gaps in the basic and intermediate vocabulary and it seems to work quite well for me. What language are you learning and at what level?

As that was more of a beginner/intermediate tip, there is as well something you might like if you are more advanced. Dictionary of synonymes is a good tool once you need to get further away from repeating words like "good" and "interesting" all the time, especially in writing. It is a great thing to use any way you like (read what you need repeatedly, make your own drills/examples, put into srs or wordlist, whatever). And, second tip, a verb guide is not only a grammar tool, it can give you a good list of verbs that are commonly used in the language. This is something many sources (such as quite popular illustrated dictionaries and travel language guides I see in the bookshopes) underestimate horribly.

What else wasn't mentioned and could be useful:
use the gsearch function of the forum for goldlists. That is one of the paper based srs alternatives. I tried and even though I wasn't able to keep to it, I think it is a good technique.
And you might as well like mindmaps. The method can work for vocabulary just as well as for many other subjects.
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Senior Member
United States
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 Message 11 of 58
03 June 2015 at 11:28am | IP Logged 
A simple paper-based vocabulary learning technique is to highlight vocabuary words encountered in a text in a specific color (e.g. red) and then use a color transparency sheet over the page which obscures those words. You review these pages in increasing intervals (after 1 day, 2 days, 4 days, 8 days, ...) to make sure you can still recall the words.

If you don't have such a transparency sheet, you can also just use a black marker and black out the words you are learning. Write those words out on a diffent sheet that will become your "answer key" that you can use during your review days (1 day, 2 days, 4 days, 8 days, ...).

When you review, set yourself a goal (say, 90% correct) and if you don't achieve that goal, you review earlier next time (e.g. review again the next day to get your accuracy back up). Don't set your goal too high. For example, if you marked 100 words and beat yourself up if you can only remember 98 of them, this is going to be frustrating. If you remember 90/100 words then it's good enough. Those 10 difficult words will come up somewhere else later where they're easier for you to pick up.

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 Message 12 of 58
03 June 2015 at 11:44am | IP Logged 
I'll put in a link to an article about Iversen's wordlist method. It has in turn a few link to other relevant thread on this forum.
Here it is:
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Monox D. I-Fly
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Speaks: Indonesian*

 Message 13 of 58
03 June 2015 at 5:56pm | IP Logged 
Well, for learning vocabularies, usually I try to connect them to similar words in another language. Here are some examples which I quoted from my log:
Monox D. I-Fly wrote:
Some new vocabs I got:
Syarri = Evil
Kasala = Laziness (I remember this one because "kasala" sounds similar to "kesel", which in Javanese means "tired". Being tired makes us lazy, doesn't it?)
Waswas = Whisper (Both start with W so it's easy to remember)

Monox D. I-Fly wrote:

Ka-sun = Trophy
"Ka-sun" sounds similar to "Katsu" (Japanese for "Win"). Trophy is given to the winner.

Khidzaa'un = Soccer shoes
"Khidzaa'" sounds similar to "Idak" (Javanese for "Step on"). Imagine being stepped on by a pair of soccer shoes.

Shofaarotun = Whistle
Shofaarotun -> Shofaaroh -> Shvaro -> Suworo (Javanese for "Sound"). Whistles produce sound.

They are Arabic words. Now that I know that the Japanese word for "evil" is "zurui" I also connect it with "syarri":
Zurui -> Zurri -> Zarri -> Syarri
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Senior Member
United Kingdom
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 Message 14 of 58
03 June 2015 at 6:13pm | IP Logged 
smallwhite wrote:
Flashcards used to be on paper. You can use paper cards with the Leitner System.

I'm a big fan of homespun Leitner systems. My son (14 years old) has a card file box for his French vocabulary from school, which he treats a bit like the 3 box method on the wikipedia page. He has 2 dividers in it: the front section is for new cards he's learning, and theoretically he works on this stack every day or couple of days. The middle section is for words he knows pretty well and reviews every couple of weeks. The back section is for words he knows very well and reviews every 2-3 months. I suppose he should retire the easiest cards to another box and maybe look through those once a year or so.

The problem with computer based SRS is that the algorithms are pretty fixed. With a manual system you can decide for yourself when to move a card up or down, and you can decide for yourself if you need an extra review of one of the boxes. Incidentally, Leitner described his system as a "hand computer".

Having said all that, nowadays I mostly use Anki because my decks travel with me wherever I go and I can review a few cards at any odd moment.

Edited by Jeffers on 03 June 2015 at 6:17pm

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Super Polyglot
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 Message 15 of 58
03 June 2015 at 6:48pm | IP Logged 
My wordlist layout has already been mentioned by Daegga, and I have definitely not become tired of using it yet. Nor of writing about it.

I do one main session where I learn words or simple word groups in groups of 5-7 items - enough to make it a challenge to remember them, but not enough to make me cheat. The important point here is to stop repeating them in your mind and instead train your recall skills.

I start out writing those 5-7 words or word groups in a column on a sheet and check that I remember them all, and when I do I write the translations in a second column. Then I check that I can recall all the original words just by looking at the translations, and when that is settled I hide the original words in column one and reconstruct them in a third column. After that I go to the next group of words.

This is a fairly simple setup once you have got used to it, and personally I like to have at least one standardized method for vocabulary learning which doesn't call for a lot of preparations or luck, and which doesn't force me to invent the wheel again and again. Learning words from chance encounters is like collecting berries in the woods. Making wordlists is like growing vegetables in a garden.

One important, but invisible part of vocabulary learning not only with wordlists, but also other techniques is to establish 'memory hooks' for each word, ranging from observations about related words over imagery inspired by its sound to fond memories about the place you saw it first (including, but not restricted to the textual context). A word isn't just a shiny round thing stored in a cupboard. Nay, it should look like an unwieldy brain cell with lots of neurons stretching in all directions. And each time you touch one of those neurons the cell nucleus should flare up like a light bulb.

Ideally you should always ask yourself when confronted with a new word: which clues could help me to recall this word later? And two or three clues are better than one. This spills over into the repetition process. I normally just do one or maybe two repetition rounds, typically a day or two after I made a wordlist, and here I try to remember not only the words themselves, but also the way I tried to memorize them during round one. If I can reinforce the memory hooks along with the words I stand a much better chance of keeping the words alive.

And just to stress an important point once again: passive words don't become active without doing something actively with them.

Edited by Iversen on 03 June 2015 at 9:47pm

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Lucie Tellier
Joined 3338 days ago

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Speaks: French*, English

 Message 16 of 58
04 June 2015 at 11:48pm | IP Logged 
First, I want to thank you all for your answers and advice.
I think my language profile wasn't filled out at the time, which might have created some confusion.
I'm French, and I would like to reach a very high level in English, strictly for professional/scholastic purposes. I started studying Italian a few days ago, but that particular project is currently on the back burner.

Sadly, I don't have a smartphone, and to be honest, I don't plan to ever buy one. Computer-based SRS systems have never worked well for me, and I've injured myself several times by overusing them.

I would like to become a translator. I'm currently trying to go back to university to do this, but I'm well aware of the fact that a translator is mostly self-taught. All the classes in the world won't change the fact that I need to become really good at translating on my own.

I have a question which might seem a bit weird.

For various reasons, I was forced by my old university teachers to learn lists of not-so-useful words, mostly related to fauna and flora.
Unfortunately, there are many basic words which I don't know in English. I can't even recognize them in a text.

I still have most of the flashcards I made over the years, but I feel like they're not useful to me anymore at the moment. I mean, I'm sure most of them could be useful down the line, but right now I need to (re)learn the basics, so having that many words on flashcards is overwhelming.

I'm torn between working my way through rarer words which I may still need at some point and thus not having to make new flashcards, and wasting more time making cards for easier words...

Moreover, I'm not exactly sure what the best learning method is for easier words.
I have a collection of monolingual vocabulary books in mind and I have access to them, but I'd rather not use the dictionary all the time to make my flashcards.

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