To learn any language successfully you need to learn a lot of new vocabulary. But all too often, it can feel like all those new words just go in one ear and out the other. So what can you do to ensure you remember more of the new vocabulary you encounter?
Today, I’m delighted to feature a guest post that examines 8 scientifically proven ways to improve your memory and remember more new vocabulary.
It builds on the method I teach in my StoryLearning courses (which you can try free here), and explains:
- The difference between active and passive vocabulary
- How what you eat and drink affects how much you remember
- The role exercise and sleep should play in your learning
I hope you enjoy the post!
Over to Hugh…
When it comes to using a foreign language, how often do you realize that you’re out of words to speak on a topic?
For many learners, building a vocabulary is the hardest part of learning a foreign language.
Here’s the kicker: No matter how good your grammar skills are, it means nothing until you have a sufficient vocabulary.
It’s just impossible to understand other people and express your ideas without knowing words, so having a good vocabulary should be high on your list of priorities.
It’s simple – the more words you know, the better you can express yourself.
Obviously, every learner has a passive and active vocabulary, since some words stick, and some don’t.
When you understand words but don’t use them, they’re in your passive vocabulary, while words that you understand and can use in writing and speaking are part of your active vocabulary.
Sometimes you use the same limited vocabulary when you speak, and this can cause anxiety if you can’t deliver the right message due to a lack of knowledge.
When you start learning a foreign language, you’ll always need to grow your vocab, and the faster you do it, the better.
So how can you improve your vocabulary without forgetting it later? You need to rely on science as it shows proven ways to create a better memory and, therefore, help the new words stick.
Let's hear Olly's take on this first…
Ready to find out about some scientifically proven new ways to learn foreign vocabulary? Here goes!
8 Scientifically Proven Ways To Improve Your Memory For New Vocabulary
Learning foreign language vocabulary requires concentration, so it may seem that listening to music while learning new words is a bad idea, as multitasking decreases productivity.
Although this makes sense, it depends on the kind of music you listen to.
For instance, music may induce a state of meditation and, therefore, relax the brain which helps us stay focused.
According to the founder of LifeSounds Educational Services, sounds can help to hold attention and enhance the memory as it’s easier to memorize better through rhythm and rhyme.
Take into account that you should avoid listening to:
- music with words
- music that’s too loud
Moreover, it’s proven that classical music significantly increases memory performance in comparison with not listening to any music. The reason is that music is effective in raising efficiency in repetitive work.
As for me, I listen to chill-out mixes and relaxing music, and it helps motivate me to spend more time studying.
Have you ever thought about how food products affect your psychical and mental health?
Although most people know that proper nutrition is important for our well-being, most people aren’t aware that products can help you boost brain functions that are important for the educational process.
If your brain is ready to perceive information, you can digest that information faster.
One of the best foods to improve brain power are nuts as they’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids and zinc which help to support cognitive function and keep you concentrated.
One research study by the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging claims that consuming at least 5 servings of nuts weekly helps to improve overall cognition.
No matter what type of nuts you love, whether almonds, walnuts, or pistachios, they contain essential fatty acids. Moreover, they are rich in iron, which helps to increase the ability to retain information which is so important for learning new words.
So next time you take a break, why not eat some nuts and boost your brain power?
To begin with, let’s find out what caffeine is. It’s a central nervous system stimulant that prevents the onset of drowsiness and, therefore, makes you more active.
Why bother with caffeine?
- It enhances certain memories at least up to 24 hours after it’s consumed which means it can make remembering new vocabulary faster and more effective.
- It promotes the activity of the anterior cingulate which stimulates concentration and, therefore, you’ll be able to spend more time studying.
- It has a calming effect on your mood, so you feel better while hitting the books.
As you can see, caffeine helps to make the educational process easier and faster, so getting it is a must.
(Note from Olly: You might find coffee helps keep the Inconsistency Villain at bay!)
If you’re not a big fan of coffee, don’t be upset as there are many other sources of caffeine like yerba mate, black and green tea, or dark chocolate.
For a variety of reasons, consuming caffeine at normal doses (300-400 mg daily) can help you to learn more words and enrich your vocabulary faster.
By the way, you don’t have to do the crazy math calculations to understand what the normal caffeine dose is equivalent to. Just remember that you shouldn’t consume more than 5 shots of espresso/1 Starbucks Venti brewed coffee/5 Red Bulls in a day.
We all know the benefits of sports for our physical health. Physical activities allow us to stay fit and prevent health problems, but they can also help you to study better.
Doing exercise… :
- improves brain functions that influence learning readiness
- boosts your performance and maximizes the potential for learning
- stimulates endorphins that keep you in a positive mood
Believe it or not, researchers have shown that education and health are closely linked. If you’re a healthy person you’re more likely to achieve better results in your studies, so doing regular exercise plays an important indirect role when it comes to learning new vocabulary.
Do you use Arial or Times New Roman fonts when you print words to learn?
If so, stop using these fonts right now.
Researcher Connor Diemand-Yauman claims that people can learn material faster and better when they study it in a font that is unfamiliar to them and hard to read. Why? Because the unusual fonts require more attention and are more memorable.
How to use the fonts for improving the memory:
- Present information in an unusual font like Comic Sans or Bodoni
- Set the colour to dark green or red to grab your attention
- Choose a large, readable font size (12-16 pt)
Hard-to-read fonts promote better recall, so you can print words and start learning words faster.
Although the educational process takes much time and effort, it’s nearly impossible to hit the books without breaks and a good rest.
Being a successful learner means having enough energy and enough desire to learn every day, so resting well daily is a must.
Scientists claim that an adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep daily as it allows a person to boost body functions and prevent health problems.
At the same time, a good sleep improves memory and concentration, which is important for learners who need to digest a great amount of information daily.
According to research, studying just before sleeping improves a student’s ability to recall information. If you learn words before bedtime, you will be able to reproduce the material more quickly and easily.
Another study has suggested the sleep helps us to cement foreigns we’ve been exposed to into the memory.
This is because you reactivate memories during slow wave sleep and this improves memory consolidation. This phenomenon is called verbal cueing and it helps to improve vocabulary learning.
The bottom line? Sleeping is essential to the learning process, so make sure you get enough of it.
(Edit from Olly: This is completely true… just ironic that I discovered StoryLearning during a sleepless night on top of a mountain!)
By doing vocabulary building activities, you can help yourself learn words faster, and the key to this is to create mental associations for words. This is the power of mnemonic techniques.
You can make associations using images or simply by connecting the new vocabulary with other words.
Memorizing through association is a great way to learn a great amount of information for the following reasons:
- associations are easier to remember than random words
- it forces you to focus on what you’re trying to learn
- it reinforces the memory of the material in your mind
Learning words in context is also an example of this and it helps you to remember words much better.
Another great tip is to make your word associations creative as boring things don’t tend to stick in the memory.
This last point is no secret: the more often you use a word, the better you remember it.
Practicing is the key to success, and you shouldn’t be afraid of pronouncing or spelling something incorrectly.
The main idea is to understand the meaning of a word, and when and how to use it. Later, you’ll be able to pronounce and write it the right way.
If you want to use words actively, there are lots of different ways to do it. You can communicate with foreign friends/colleagues, write articles or notes, or even attend speaking clubs or language exchanges.
Take the time to build up your vocabulary as it’s a surefire way to express your thoughts and ideas even if your grammar isn’t perfect.
Learning new words can be daunting, especially when you’re pressed for time. But the results are well worth the time and effort you put in.
And now, with the suggestions in this article, you have some scientifically proven ways to improve your memory and focus that can help to learn vocabulary faster without wasting your time.
What methods do you use to remember new vocabulary? And which the ideas mentioned in this article are you most excited to try out? Let us know in the comments below!