Learning new words by rote is no longer the way to go

Training & Learning


Language learners that are at an intermediate level often complain that they lack the vocabulary to express themselves eloquently. Many feel that they have mastered the basics of grammar and can make themselves understood, but they are constantly stuck using the same words.

This frustration is often intensified by the idea that expanding your vocabulary necessarily involves learning long lists of words by rote. More fun – and more effective – techniques do exist, but they require a little bit of creativity.

One such technique is the Linkword method, developed by author and researcher Michael Gruneberg. The premise to this method is that it is easier to remember a new word when it is associated with something that is already known. This is why a native English speaker will find the French word chat, which means cat in English, easier to remember than the same word kissa in Finnish because the French word is written in almost the same way as in English.

There is a visual association that is automatically possible between the English word and the French word that will make the latter much easier to memorize. Most French words, however, are not as convenient for English speakers, and that is what can make learning a new language a time-consuming hobby.

Thanks to the Linkword method however, the word kissa could be still be memorized by thinking about the auditory associations you can make with the sound of the Finnish word. The sound of kissa in Finnish sounds a lot like the word kiss in English. If you create a mental image of a “cat giving a kiss to a mouse,” for example, it would make remembering the word kissa easier.

The French word for cabbage is chou, which is pronounced almost like shoe in English. If you imagine “a cabbage that is growing out of a shoe,” then the French word chou would be more likely to stick.

Ready-made Linkword word lists are easily available in many languages, but memory experts believe it is often better to come up with your own word associations. This technique may seem more time-consuming than learning words by rote at first glance because it requires a bit of time and creativity to construct an association. The words learned this way are much more likely to “stick,” though, but the only way to be sure is to try it out.

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