Academic Support, Student Services. Learning Vocabulary

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1 Why is it important? Academic Support, Student Services Learning Vocabulary A degree in Modern Languages requires a number different kinds of learning. Learning vocabulary is very different from writing a literature or history essay or understanding grammar concepts. Whilst it is possible to absorb some vocabulary passively through reading and listening, it is not possible to increase it significantly without some very pro-active learning. Looking up a word and establishing its meaning is not the same as learning it so that you can remember it if you come across it again. Effective vocabulary learning will speed up your reading, improve your understanding and increase the ease with which you can communicate. Much of the learning necessary to learn vocabulary is to do with memorising. Memorising is a crucial skill in language learning, but because it has been out of fashion in schools you may neither have been taught how to do it, nor practised it very effectively. We all have different ways of doing it, so committing something to memory challenges us to work out the ways that work best for us. It requires some commitment but is very satisfying once accomplished. The purpose of these pages is first to suggest ways in which memory works best and then to look at how you might use the ideas to learn vocabulary. Some points to bear in mind: Understand what works for you. We all have different ways of making our memory work best for us, depending on our previous experience, what we need to learn and on our individual learning preferences. Be pro-active. No-one can do it for you. Only you can decide whether you know something or not. Think of it as a process of discovering how you learn. Talk to other people about how they learn and consider working with friends Continue reading to find out more about how your memory works best

2 Making your memory work for you Beginnings: We tend to remember what we learn at the beginning of a session Endings: We remember what we learned recently Patterns: The brain likes patterns and structure. Create your own such as stories, time lines, mnemonics Chunks: We remember best in small chunks. Identify points where to break down what you need to learn. Keep the chunks small Links: We like to link things with something we know already, hang information onto something so that it cannot float away. Create your own links, no matter how silly. Interest: We remember things that interest us. Make it interesting Novelty: We remember things that stand out as different We have to put things into our memory and be able to find them again when we need them, usually to generate some kind of output. For some kinds of learning, this involves transferring things from our short term to our long term memory. Input It helps to use all of our senses, but we tend to have individual preferences that feel most effective. Visual: colour, shape, pictures, diagrams, flow charts, mind maps, posters Auditory: record, listen, verbalise (aloud), music, rhythm Kinaesthetic: move, write, draw, touch Output We have to check regularly if we have remembered something. If we do not, it will not transfer to long term memory. Use structured reviews, i.e. check 15 mins, then 24 hours, then 2 or 3 days, etc. after learning. This need not take long and can be done informally, e.g. while standing at the bus stop! Think of materials and resources that might help: prompt cards, PC files, a sound recording, asking friends to test Do not try to learn too much at once and check regularly what you have just learned.

3 Applying memory strategies to learning vocabulary 1. Decide HOW LONG you are going to spend Establish a routine for doing it regularly, say 15 minutes at the beginning of each work session. 2. Identify WHAT you need to learn Read through the passage without stopping to look up words. Identify which words you know, which you think you can guess from context and which you definitely do not know. Use highlights, underlining whichever works for you. Read through again checking words in a dictionary. Decide if your guesses were accurate or if you need to learn. Using a DICTIONARY 3. KEEP A RECORD of what you intend to learn You are aiming for a list of words you need to learn, with the French and the English, grouped in a way that makes sense to you. Check if there are electronic dictionaries that would speed up the process. (Your school may be able to guide you on this) Look at all the meanings and make sure you have chosen the right one for the context. Make sure you have the whole phrase, the gender, the following preposition etc. Decide on the materials you need. You might use a notebook, index cards or a computer file. Then decide how to organise the words. It could be according to topic i.e. all the words to do with advertising. You will always have general words that are not topic specific, so think about how you are going to organise those alphabetically, by date with a note of the text in which they occur, according to whether they are verbs or nouns etc. with colour coding for gender You may want to put them in a sentence to give them a context.

4 4. Think about HOW you will learn them Decide how many words at a time you will learn. Remember small chunks are best. Try three or four at a time to start with. Use all of your senses (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic) unless you know you learn best using one in particular. If so use your strengths. Make links. It does not matter if they only make sense to you. Auditory: Saying aloud in French and English; record yourself saying them in French and leave a space to say the English, sing them! Visual: Write in colour, join French and English with shapes; create symbols that mean something to you; make posters of the week s words and put up on the wall. You are trying to create a picture you can use to help you recall. Links: Look for similarities with words you know already that are connected in meaning, recognise root words and analyse, order the words to make up a story, no matter how silly. If you have to work hard at remembering the spelling Identify the parts of the word you cannot remember. Say it, read it, write it. Does it help to keep on writing and saying? Write with finger on the desk or in the air and say it. Focus on the difficult part, highlight it, put a box round it, look for a link that will help you remember, break the word down into chunks that mean something for you. Use look, cover, write, check look at the word, cover it up, try writing it and check it. Increase the time between looking at it and writing it. When you are confident with the first three or four words, move on to the next.

5 5. Reviewing or Checking how well you are remembering Look back at page 2 for structured reviews. Keep checking if you have remembered the words already learned. Highlight any that are problematic and focus on them. The ultimate test of how well you know the words is to be able to read the passage in which they occur without any problems. You will need to keep reviewing them as the number of words increases. If you are remembering them after several weeks and noticing that you understand them if you come across them in different contexts, then you have most probably got them safely stored in your long term memory! Further useful hints on memory and vocabulary learning are available at Follow the link for Memory Improvement

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