Tired to spend hours learning vocabulary and then forget it in a few days? In this article you will discover how to improve your learning speed, make the learning process more fun and most of all how to considerably improve your memory. After reading this you will never learn vocabulary the same way again.
There is no such thing as good and bad memory
It’s not my fault, I have a bad memory
WRONG! Truth be told, the people who can remember things as soon as they read it and seem to have an awesome memory worked for it. Sure, we aren’t all created equal and it can be slightly more difficult for some to learn. But you want to know the truth? Only two elements really matter when it comes to learning a language :
- How you learn
- How motivated you are
The “bad memory” argument is nothing else than an excuse. Unless you suffer from some kind of disease, how effective your memory is mainly depends on the way you use it and train it. As harsh as it may sound, it’s actually a very good news. It means you can become good at remembering too. All you need is
Three steps to an awesome memory
Remember how you learnt your native language as a kid? You didn’t repeat a list of vocabulary for hours, no instead you spent days listening to people talking around you. Unfamiliar sounds progressively became words, and unknown words known words. Then you repeated those words you heard, again and again untill you could finally speak. Your native language is the one you know the best after all, so why not learn a second language the same way you learnt it?
1) Always learn words from context
Think about it, there are many inconvenients to learning a word in isolation :
- You have no idea how to use it
- It’s harder to memorize
- You may learn a word that no one uses
Remember that strange list of vocabulary your teacher asked you to learn by heart? That list of words you never read or heard anywhere but in that list. Many words are very specific and absolutely useless to most people. These are not the words you want to learn when you study a language. Instead you want to learn the words that people actually use everyday.
That’s exactly what you do if you learn words from context. Instead of picking some random words in a dictionary, you learn words you read in a book, heard in a movie or saw in the street. Real words used by real people in everyday situations.
On top of that, the context in which you discovered the words helps you remember it more easily, and when the time comes to use it, you know exactly how to do that.
If you use a SRS software (see below), you can directly add sentences to it which has many benefits compared to adding a single word. Among them :
- You learn the word in context
- You learn the phrase structure
- You learn expressions
- You learn grammar by observing
2) Be regular
Multiple studies have shown the benefits of regularity to memorize. When it comes to learning, 20 minutes everyday are better than 2 hours once a week.
The words learnt with regularity are much more likely to remain in your memory than the ones you reviewed only once. Now you certainly wonder how to review words everyday and organize all that. Well, some softwares do that perfectly.
3) Get exposure to your target language
It’s essential that you spend a lot of time reading and listening to your target langugae. That way you will not only discover new useful words, but reading and hearing words you just learnt will help you memorize them for good. In addition to that, listening to the sound of the language you learn will train your ear and your brain and make it easier for you to pronounce the language correctly.
One software to rule them all : the magic of SRS
Okay now you know how to associate words with ideas and pictures and how to better remember. But how do you study all those words with pictures? Printing every word you learn would be long and boring, so here is a better solution : use a SRS software.
SRS stands for Spaced Repetition System. Simply said, these softwares manage the words for you and ask you to study them just before you start to forget them. This allows for a long term memorization.
Spaced repetition is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect. Wikipedia
Spaced repetition softwares are extremely practical because they allow you to memorize lot’s of vocabulary without spending hours doing it. It never takes me more than 20 minutes per day. And you can do that everywhere, in the subway, at home, while waiting for your bus etc.
All you have to do is enter the vord you want to learn (preferably in a sentence), it’s translation, and if possible an association. Then the software will tell you when you need to study. Now, here are a few softwares you can use :
Memrise is certainly the most user friendly SRS software. It’s a website as well as an iphone and android app on which people share courses. For example there are many courses to learn basic French vocabulary. In addition to these courses already created, you are free to create your own. Memrise tells you when to study to make it easier for you. Apps are also available for IOS and android.
Memrise is cool to get started, but if you want to study more seriously, you may want to switch to anki, which is much more flexible.
Like memrise, anki is a SRS software. You can download it on your computer or smartphone. It’s less user-friendly but much more powerful and flexible.
Called king of the SRS, anki is the favorite of many language lovers.
Mosalingua : the recommended solution for beginners
Mosalingua is like anki and memrise an application using the SRS system. It’s different though as it guides you through the learning process. Concretely the app asks you how well you speak French and then suggests vocabulary to learn. In addition to that, some very good advice and bonuses become available as you learn more and more words. It’s a paid app but is really worth it in my opinion. Unfortunately, it is only available on android and IOS devices, although a web version is on the way.
Learn more about mosalingua for iphone and ipad
Learn more about mosalingua for android
What if you could easily remember lot’s of words?
Anthony Metivier, creator of the Magnetic Memory methos teaches you how to learn and memorize the vocabulary of any language in his online course.
With these softwares and learning advice in mind, learning should now be considerably easier. Tell us how it goes for you in the comments!