Today’s class was over and I was about to leave the classroom when one of the students asked me for advice – quite a lot of pieces of it, actually. One was how to learn and build up her vocabulary. Well, as there are people, so there are ways of learning words. To tell the truth, I am not that interested in it. I always leave it to each individual learner, who should make the most of their past experience to decide on the best way of building up their vocabulary.
To show one example, which, I was sure, was better than most others, I gave her a little advice. My emphasis is always on two factors: repetition and impact. Without repetition, there is no learning words. No doubt about it. I am not confident about how to spell “attendance” after all the effort I’ve put in for the last 30 years. I am still confused whether it is attendAnce or attendEnce. So repetition is of utmost importance.
At the same time, impact also plays an important role to store the memory and change it into a long-term memory in your hippocampus. This impact can be made when a word that you think you have learned somewhere in the vocabulary book is found in the text you are reading or listening to. This is the very moment when you have learned the word.
Therefore, what you need to do is to read your vocabulary builder repeatedly. It doesn’t matter whether you have learned those words at this moment. Even if you focus on one page and try to memorize only 30 words on the page, you will be disappointed to find none of them left in your memory the next day. So don’t even care about it. Just “read” 100 pages a day. What matters is if you have read the vocabulary builder 5 or 6 times, you are more likely to encounter those words in other situations.
That is my policy. I know my memory is not good enough to remember more than two words in a minute or so, so I do not rely on my ability in the first place. I just wait for an aha! moment to come.
Isn’t this a common principle among most skills? If you don’t have a special ability, you can make up for it by practicing more. If you practice one time, it doesn’t make a difference. If you practice two times, there will be no change occurring, either. Most people will stop making effort there. But I personally never stop it. I know my inherent ability is not worth mentioning (considering neither of my parents went to high school!). The only option left for me was to keep practicing until one day I could use that particular skill as if that were something I was born with. Learning vocabulary falls into this category.