Top 7 Scientific Ways to Improve Your Vocabulary
Vocabulary learning is the most crucial step in the process of learning a new language. Yet, this relatively simple step carries challenges with it, which daunt learners who see vocabulary learning as an endless process of memorizing words, only to forget them the next day. As a writer, acquiring and retaining a rich vocabulary is very important, so I’ve been through the process of learning vocabulary. In this article, I’ll discuss how vocabulary learning can be approached from a scientific perspective, with 7 tried-and-tested tips that will ensure the words you learn remain with you for a lifetime.
#1: Read, Read, and…Read Some More
One of the best ways to improve your vocabulary is to read as much as you can. Reading books, magazines, and newspapers will create associations between the words you encounter and the context you encounter them in. Start out with popular literature, like magazines, books, and blog posts, and make note of new words you come across. You can keep a journal or diary that lists your daily life, hobbies, or interesting things you’ve experienced—this will help you incorporate new words you’ve recently learned and keep track of your vocabulary. If you’re an auditory learner, listen to podcasts and audiobooks in your target language—this will help you think and process information in the language you’re learning.
#2: Memorize Words Through Mnemonics
Mnemonics refer to a method of learning information by organizing it into lists, parts of a whole, or according to its particular characteristics. These memory devices can be a rhyme, music, an acronym, an image, or a phrase. For example, if you are trying to learn pairs of commonly confused words, such as dingy and dinghy, you can use them in a sentence: The hot dinghy was gloomy and dingy. Here, by associating the word ‘hot’ which starts with the letter h with dinghy, you’re reminding yourself that ‘dinghy’ is a noun and therefore must mean a boat. On the other hand, as you’ve used the adjective ‘gloomy’ with starts with ‘g’ along with the word dingy, you know it means ‘grimy.’ This is an example of a phrase or a sentence mnemonic used to learn information.
#3: Place Words Where They Belong: In Context
Learning vocabulary is not a passive process of memorization, but is all about placing and approaching words in their context. Rather than rote-learning lists of words, study words in the context of sentences, text matter, articles, and real-life situations. Think of words as the ‘paint’ that makes up the larger canvas of language learning. Approaching words in the place where they’re located will help you remember them much more easily. Make sentences with the words and test yourself: are you using the word in its correct part of speech? Apply the words you’re learning to situations around you and use them in conversations with other people. And don’t forget to read, as we mentioned earlier.
#4: Make and Use Flashcards
You will be able to improve your vocabulary much better if you target learning a specific set of words, instead of trying to cram everything you can see. Learners attempting to acquire a wide spectrum of vocabulary should choose high-frequency words that are used most in that language. Flashcards are a great way to pick up the essential vocabulary of a language and acquire the most spoken and written words. They’re also scientifically proven to be a top tool of language learning that helps improve vocabulary in a quick and efficient way. You can make your own flashcards if you prefer a hands-on approach, or else, use flashcards that are available in the market.
#5: Repeat and Revise
Memories are formed and stored in a very specific way in our brains. The information you learn stays in your short-term memory for a brief amount of time before disappearing forever. The best way to ‘engrave’ this information into the permanent long-term memory is to study the information after fixed intervals of time, known as spaced repetition. While studying vocabulary, this technique can be of immense help in learning and retaining new words. Simply repeat a particular set of words after a certain period of time. Reviewing the words around 4-5 times will push them into your long-term memory and you will be able to recall them for a long time—even a lifetime!
#6: Create ‘Friendships’ with Words
Information that contains emotional or social links tends to be embedded more deeply in memory than dry factual data. Research into the foundations of memory has found that information with emotional associations invoked greater activity in the brain’s memory storage areas. By attaching emotional ‘links’ to the words you learn, you are setting them up for a long time in your memory. This is because when the words you’re learning have an added layer of association to them, retrieving and recalling them becomes easier. Associate the words you are learning with events and activities in your daily life and create ‘stories’ around them.
#7: Infuse Creativity Into Your Learning
Vocabulary learning is a process of studying and repetition, but you can take ‘cheat days’ off and acquire vocabulary through other non-traditional ways, like watching a movie, listening to music, or playing word games like crosswords, word searches, and vocabulary exercises. Remember, note down any new words you come across and add them to your vocabulary box—and if you come across words you’ve just learned, practice ‘retrieving’ what you’ve learned about that word, as well connecting it to the situation you are now encountering it in.
Vocabulary learning can be a rewarding process when you approach it in a systematic manner and use scientific techniques like the ones described above. Vocabulary learning is an art as well as a science, so infuse creativity into your daily learning schedules and watch how easily the word stays with you. Above all, be involved in the process and give it your best shot.
Happy vocabulary learning!
Christalle Fernandes is a content writer with a passion for words and the English language. She is interested in all the nuances of the English language and writes blogs and articles on vocabulary and language acquisition.