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Vocabulary learning by etymology/mnemonic

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yong321
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Studies: Spanish

 
 Message 1 of 10
17 August 2015 at 8:09pm | IP Logged 
I like to learn vocabulary by looking up the etymology of the words and use that to help remember them. If that doesn't help, I make up a mnemonic. Take Spanish word hondo (adj. deep; n. bottom) as an example. I just need to remember a rule that generally applies to a large group of words, h<-f. So I change hondo back to fondo, which sounds and looks like the first part of fundamental, which connects to "deep" and "bottom" in meaning. Derrotar (v. defeat) does not appear to be related to any English word on first look. But etymology reveals that it ultimately shares the same Latin source with English word rout (as in "The enemy is routed."), which the -rot- part of derrotar, after stripping prefix de- and suffix -ar, sounds like. Thus a connection is made. But not all words can make use of etymology to aid memory. Thus, alfombra (carpet), e.g., can use the mnemonic I make up, "Al found a bra on the carpet".

Over the years I kept notes about the words I learned. As the words accumulate, I'm thinking of having the notes organized and published. But I don't know if this is appealing to a significant number of people. Young children prefer rote memory to any "clue". But adults, possibly teenagers as well, might find this etymology/mnemonic method useful. I'd like to hear your comments. Thanks.

Edited by yong321 on 18 August 2015 at 12:18am

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Iversen
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 Message 2 of 10
18 August 2015 at 12:23pm | IP Logged 
Making some kind of associations during the memorization of new words is essential. Mere repetition may work, but it takes an inordinate amount of repetitions to make a word stick if it hasn't got any associations to it. A word meaning is not just the 'other' side of a coin, where the physical or phonematic presentation of it is the main side - it is more like a mesh of threads running out into all directions, but with a tightly knit core. So learning a word is essentially building this mesh of connections while consciously or inconsciously getting a feel for the nature of the the central core.

Some associations are based on the circumstances where you saw the word, others on its sound, still others on purely linguistic processes like derivation and language development (including loans from other languages).

The etymology example given by Yong321 ("hondo") is actually based on two things: 1)recognition of the fact that many Spanish words have a 'h' where Latin, other Romance languages and English has an 'f' - or in other words, Spanish has been through a sound shift, which is systematic, 2) after you have identified related words in other languages, you can use knowledge about derivation patterns to connect the direct cognates with other words in other languages just as you can in Spanish itself.

And then I notice the sentence "Young children prefer rote memory to any "clue" and start to think - is this really the case? Of course young children can't look up the history of words in a book, but they definitely use associative techniques and inferences based on knowledge about words they already know, and this may lead to 'folk etymologies' which may be wrong, but even then they serve to give the words their tangled ball of semantic yarn. As adults we may have less time and less flexibility, and we have a tendency to equate everything in a new language with something we know from our native language, but on the other hand we have access to information sources like etymological dictionaries and other kinds of written information, and we would be worse off if we didn't use those possibilities.

Edited by Iversen on 19 August 2015 at 10:50am

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Brun Ugle
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 Message 3 of 10
18 August 2015 at 1:37pm | IP Logged 
I like using etymology to learn words too. I find it the easiest and most efficient. I often look to Wiktionary for
help in this.

Like Iversen, I disagree that children like learning by rote. I hated it and never learned anything by rote as a
child. It was too boring. I remember that my teacher tried to teach us multiplication in school and she thought
I was so slow and stupid. The problem was that she never explained what it really meant. She made it seem
like a bunch of random rules about what equals what and we just had to memorize everything up to 12x12. I
couldn't do it, but later I figured out on my own that multiplication was just a short-cut for addition and then I
didn't even need to learn times tables because I already knew how to calculate them.

It's the same with words. I had another, better, teacher in school who taught us Latin roots, prefixes and
suffixes and that made vocabulary learning a snap. So I think children can also benefit from it.
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Serpent
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 Message 4 of 10
18 August 2015 at 5:24pm | IP Logged 
There's a book called "Spanish vocabulary: an etymological approach" that deals with this. I love etymology and can't imagine learning related languages without involving it.
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yong321
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 Message 5 of 10
19 August 2015 at 4:54am | IP Logged 
Thanks everyone. It's just my personal observation that young children prefer rote memory to remembering things by association, because they tend to complain that the "clue" given them is an extra burden instead of memory aid. But I'd love to see scientific evidence to disprove (or prove) what I said.

By the way, here's a sample page of the notes I'm writing.


The last word "borrar" on the page took me a while to find a cognate. Wiktionary.org or Guido Silva's "Breve Diccionario" didn't help. Edward A. Roberts' new book, "A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Spanish Language", helped a lot. When I write the notes, I give just enough etymology to help me (or people) remember the word. Purely scholarly stuff is generally omitted.

Anyway. Now I realize that, convincing a publisher that these notes are useful to some people in learning foreign language vocabulary is not easy. I may end up with self-publishing it.
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Iversen
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 Message 6 of 10
19 August 2015 at 11:13am | IP Logged 
If you have enough unexpected and colorful explanations then your project might actually result in a book which also other people would like to read - and maybe even use. I remember a number of related projects. One of these was a book about RUssian which purported to be a dictionary of stems. But the book is a fiasco because it omits even the simplest grammatical informations - like the distinctions between imperfective/perfective in the case of verbs. Another book about Spanish is like a dictionary with few words, but good long explanations about the differences between several possible translations - one of my Greek English-dictionaries has the same character: max. 5000 word or so, but if there are three possible translations then you are told the difference between them. And finally I am reminded of Mrs. Byrne's dictionary of preposterous words in English - the kind you should learn in order to irritate people.   

Edited by Iversen on 19 August 2015 at 11:14am

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yong321
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yong321.freeshe
Joined 3736 days ago

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Studies: Spanish

 
 Message 7 of 10
19 August 2015 at 4:31pm | IP Logged 
Hi Iversen,

Thank you for your comments. The information you provided about other similar projects is valuable to me. My book will not primarily be on stems or conjugations/declensions. Plenty of dictionaries do that very well. Anyone using my little book uses it as a supplementary or auxiliary study material. It's meant to answer one question only: Is there any clue or hint I can use to help me remember the word? Actual usage of the word is provided by other sources.

Hi Serpent,

"Spanish vocabulary: an etymological approach" you recommended is very good. Mine is still different from it, though. There are still significant number of Spanish words whose etymology can't really help. In those cases, I try to think of a good "colorful" mnemonic. With this first-etymology-second-mnemonic approach, I can cover any word we need, not limited to those in the "Spanish vocabulary" book.

Speaking of that, I want to add that the opposite extreme is to use pure mnemonics, e.g.,

* Alison Matthews, Laurence Matthews, Tuttle Learning Chinese Characters: A Revolutionary New Way to Learn and Remember the 800 Most Basic Chinese Characters
* Michael Gruneberg, Spanish by Association

The "revolutionary" way to learn Chinese is almost a have-to. There's hardly an alternative. But for an English-speaking learner, the "Spanish by Association", i.e. by pure mnemonics with no etymology, is not the best method in my opinion.
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Serpent
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 Message 8 of 10
19 August 2015 at 5:05pm | IP Logged 
Well, the "Spanish vocabulary" book also lists some important words where etymology doesn't help. I think coming up with your own mnemonic is an important part of the process; pre-made mnemonics are often annoying.

There are at least a couple of Spanish mnemonics books on Amazon, as well as tons of SRS decks I'm sure. I hope you publish the two kinds of materials separately.


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