My students at UCT English Language Centre work extremely hard at expanding their knowledge and use of new words as they understand how important having a wide vocabulary is for their jobs, academic studies or simply getting the most out of daily life in Cape Town. One question I’m often asked is ‘what is the best way to remember all the new vocabulary we have learnt?’ Below are 4 tips on what students and teachers alike can do to ensure all that effort in the class doesn’t go to waste by being forgotten.
Repetition: There is a good kind of repetition but there is also a bad. The bad kind, known as rote learning, involves tasks such as attempting to memorize long lists of vocabulary items. Not only is this extremely boring but it’s a complete waste of time as research has shown that such activities have little effect on long-term retention. The good kind relates to how often we encounter a word. The more times we meet a word the better the retention.
Spacing: It is better to spread memory work out across a period of time instead of trying to cram everything into one big block. Short-term this means studying a few items then testing yourself on them, then learning a few more, then testing, then a few more and so on. In the long-term, newly learnt vocabulary should be reviewed the next lesson with the time between each subsequent encounter gradually being increased.
How much you have to think about the word: The more decisions you have to make about how you use a word and the more cognitively demanding these decisions are, the better the word is remembered. Vocabulary tasks such as matching, categorizing, sequencing and ranking items as well using items in your own sentences are all ways this can be achieved.
Personal Organising: Learners tend to remember words longer if they are using them to express meanings and to describe situations that are personally relevant to them. Learners should be encouraged to record and use words in ways they decided. Personalised sentences containing the target item, is a good example.
So if you are someone who sits for hours memorising telephone directories of new vocabulary – please stop! The message here is quality over quantity. If you spend a bit of time each day using five to seven new words or phrases in an engaging and personally meaningful way and make sure you often re-visit previously learnt items, ‘forgetting’ should no longer be a problem. The only thing you’ll need to forget is the dictionary!