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Super-fast vocabulary learning techniques

 Language Learning Forum : Learning Techniques, Methods & Strategies Post Reply
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luke
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United States
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 Message 113 of 255
25 March 2007 at 7:23am | IP Logged 
Two techniques that I've found helpful are:

1) Recognizing word families. For example:

abrigar: abrigo

In this case, the first word is a verb, the second is a related noun. Abrigo is an overcoat.

2) Putting verb translations in the target language. I use this in books where I want a memory hook on the same page as the target word. The related words can provide memory hooks. One example in Spanish:

abrigar: proteger, cubrir, guardar

This has the advantage of all being in the target language.

Edited by luke on 25 March 2007 at 7:24am

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Zhuangzi
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 Message 114 of 255
25 March 2007 at 10:54pm | IP Logged 
Voabulary learning is the big struggle in mastering a new language. But it is just a part of the whole process, a process that needs to be enjoyable in order to ensure continuity.

As an on and off activity while working, I have learned 8 new languages well and am working on Russian right now. I learn from content as I explain below. I did devise special systems for Chinese characters which I could explain if there is interest. I have never had the patience to use mnemonic systems for vocabulary learning.

The following is largely copied from an exchange on the subject of bilingual versus monolingual dictionaries.

I am a language learner. I do not study dictionaries. I learn from content. I have done so for over 40 years. My shelves are full of foreign language readers with glossaries which give simple translations of words into English. To me these are mere hints of the meaning. Only after meeting these words in many contexts do I learn how to use them. I do not want lengthy explanations of new words, nor unrelated examples of the words in use, nor synonyms nor other, to me, irrelevant information. I want a quick hint so I can get back to trying to figure out the meaning of what I am enjoying reading (and often listening to). A dictionary does not define the meaning of words. Usage does. A dictionary just reports on different examples of common usage at the time of printing. A hint will do.

I am reading and listening to Tolstoy which is too difficult for me to read using traditional readers. There are too many unknown words and word lists cannot predict what I know and do not know in a given text. Flipping back and forth to the glossary, often not finding my hint, would distract me from reading. And then there is the problem of retention.

However, I now read these texts on a computer with an instant online dictionary. I know that War and Peace has about 30-40% new words for me. I can and do read Russian texts with only 5% new words. That is good for fluency and reading speed. But I have an excellent audio book of War and Peace so I am enjoying working my way through this difficult content, reading and listening.

I look up words often, even if I think I know the meaning. These words are saved, go on a list, collect the sentences and phrases where they occur and are stored in my computer. If I listen often to each 3-5 minute segment, and re-read it a few times, some words stick, most do not. Then I move on. The words I have saved are already highlighted in my texts when I next come across them. I can instantly check my hint again if necessary. Eventually, when I feel I know the words, I remove them from my list.

Language learning is, to me, a fuzzy logic process. We can try to learn words and rules deliberately, but mostly we learn incidentally, from listening and reading, as we get used to the language. The content needs to be interesting, in order to keep us motivated. Thanks to online dictionaries, MP3 files, and what we can do with e-text and word databases, I can alternate between easy texts and difficult texts, I even recommend doing so.

The meaning of what I am reading is sometimes unclear. There are contexts which I do not fully understand. But I do not ask why, because I know from experience that it all becomes clearer eventually. The important thing is to continue the exposure to content of my choosing. In that task the quick hint based on the experience of my own language is most effective. Using a monolingual dictionary in the language I am learning is less efficient. I have tried. And in language learning efficiency is the great accelerator, the great intensifier.

There are other deliberate vocabulary learning strategies which help me, as long as the vocabulary (words and phrases) comes from interesting content that I am reading and listening to. These strategies include tagging, flash cards, cloze tests, printing and studying lists and more. These are easily done from the vocabulary lists generated by the process described above.

Using the computer also makes it possible to find content which maximizes the appearance of words I am trying to learn, and has the proportion of unknown words that I feel like taking on, few or many, depending on my mood and purpose.

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Vlad
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 Message 115 of 255
26 March 2007 at 2:06am | IP Logged 
Zhuangzi,

I fully agree. I use almost the same system as well, because of the same reasons and I can only recommend it.

I also realized, that while reading (depending on how you read) I say the sentences I read in my head, so I unconsciously use something close to Ardashir's technique of shadowing (although I'm a little skeptical about this technique, so this wasn’t deliberate).

For me, books work out a little better than computer texts, because they have a 'solid' page structure. In other words the words will remain in the same position on the same page forever and that is a very strong memory tool for me.

Zhuangzi wrote:

I did devise special systems for Chinese characters, which I could explain if there is interest.

Could you explain your system? There definitely is interest :-)

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frenkeld
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United States
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 Message 116 of 255
26 March 2007 at 9:25am | IP Logged 
Zhuangzi wrote:
The words I have saved are already highlighted in my texts when I next come across them.

Zhuangzi,

If you mean that the words in your database are highlighted in any e-text you open next, what tools do you use for that?

Also, how do you store electronically the new words and the phrases and sentences containing them?


Vlad wrote:
For me, books work out a little better than computer texts, because they have a 'solid' page structure.

Vlad,

Have you ever trying reading the same book both in hard copy and electronically?



Edited by frenkeld on 26 March 2007 at 9:37am

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leosmith
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 Message 117 of 255
26 March 2007 at 9:34am | IP Logged 
Zhuangzi wrote:
I did devise special systems for Chinese characters which I could explain if there is interest.

Very nice post Zhuangzi. I'll second Vlad's request - I'd be very interested. I'd recommend putting it in a new thread, to increase the likelyhood Chinese character learners will see it.
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Vlad
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 Message 118 of 255
26 March 2007 at 10:51am | IP Logged 
frenkeld wrote:


Vlad,

Have you ever trying reading the same book both in hard copy and electronically?



Not the entire book. Only once and only about one third of it. I read the The avenger by Forsyth as a hard copy in Italian and wanted to read the same thing in Spanish, but after 80 pages I lost interest.

Zhuangzi is right. The text has to be interesting. so I chose a different book by the same author, also an e book. I read about 300 pages but didn't finish it. Regular books just work out better for me I guess.




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Zhuangzi
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 Message 119 of 255
26 March 2007 at 11:31am | IP Logged 
Vlad,

I use books in addition to reading on the computer. I read books that I am able to enjoy without having to look words up in a dictionary. Or I re-read content that I have "worked" at on the computer. Books are more comfortable than reading on the computer.

Re Chinese characters:

To me vocabulary is best learned in context. I find that words and phrases sort of grow on me. If I can notice them when I read, and then hear them when I listen, they will eventually stick and come out in my conversation. But I rarely read a text where I do not also have the audio. And I listen to the same audio many times, noticing the words and phrases that I have been trying to learn. I believe that the context and the sound creates an almost emotional 'episodic memory' connection to words and phrases which facilitates learning to use them.

All of that is fine for vocabulary learning in general, but Chinese characters have the added problem of having to learn all those strokes.While there are roots, and components etc. you quickly figure them out, but their usefulness is limited. In the end it boils to a mechanical process of memorizing and training your brain.

Here is what I did.

I got writing paper which was divided into squares. I would take a small number of characters, say 7-10, taken from my reading and listening. I would write the first one into a square on the upper left hand corner. I would practice writing it 10 times. Then I would write the meaning or the sound into a square three columns to the right. I then do the same with the next character, and the next and the next. Soon I run into the translation or sound of the first character and do the same thing with it. I just keep doing that for 20 minutes. Then I introduce another 7-10 characters and space the re-appearance of the first character a little further back. I started learning 10 a day and was able to get up to 30 a day with a 50% retention rate.
This has to be accompanied by reading.
Today the word processor probably makes it less important to be able to write characters.


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Zhuangzi
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 Message 120 of 255
26 March 2007 at 11:38am | IP Logged 
Frenkeld,

The functionality that I mentioned requires a lot of programming. It is part of a system we are developing and that I am using in Beta for Russian. I mentioned these functions as an example of what is becoming possible with technology. The intent is to increase the efficiency of "incidental" vocabulary learning through interesting content.

In order for the words to be highlighted and all the other functions to work, the content has to be uploaded into the system, which is easy to do.


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