How to learn difficult words in English!
What do you do if you’re having problems learning a word? Next time, you might want to try using some mnemonics.
Some words are easier to learn than others. For example, there are thousands of cognates in English, such as the word “education”, which is almost identical in French (“éducation”) and Spanish (“educación”). In other cases, you can guess the meaning of words through the context. However, some words are just really hard to learn as they just don’t seem to have any relation to any other words you know. So, what can you do?
Simple! Use mnemonics! Mnemonics are devices to help you remember things. There are a variety of them, including rhymes, spelling acronyms and sentence mnemonics. Visual mnemonics with pictures or images are really good for learning words.
In order to create your own visual mnemonic, you need to think about the word. What does it sound like? What does it make you think of? What does it rhyme with? Once you’ve established this, you can create an image that captures the word in your mind. And in order for this to work, your images need to be clear, distinct, strong and, if possible, a little bit crazy. Finally, write a sentence with your new word to help you remember it. We asked a few people for their examples of visual mnemonics.
1. I was having difficulties with the French word “escargot”, which means “snail”. So, I put together an image of an enormous snail travelling on a cargo ship. [Frank, Australia]
2. I used “oreos” to help me learn the Spanish word “orejas” (which means “ears”). I created a picture of a girl with oreos on her ears. It really helped me. [Abigail, USA]
3. I kept forgetting the word for “trousers” in German, which is “Hose”. So, I came up with a picture of some really dirty trousers that were being cleaned with a garden hose. [Sophie, Scotland]
4. I was learning Norwegian and was having problems with the word “mulighet”, which means “opportunity, capability, chance, possibility”, etc. So, I came up with an image using a “mule” because this word sounds a bit like a part of the word I wanted to learn.” [Pete, England]
5. I’ve always found the word “abduct” hard to remember. So, I put together an image of a pirate abducting a duck, because “abduct” sounds a bit like duck. [David, Spain]
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Online flashcard solutions
One good way of testing yourself with your mnemonics is to use flashcards. There are lots of websites that have flashcard programs that are great for learning. One of these is Anki (http://ankisrs.net). It shows you one side of the flashcard and you have to guess what’s on the other side. It also uses “spaced repetition”. For example, if you find one of the cards easy, it won’t ask you again for a while. However, if you found it hard, it’ll ask you again the following day. This program can really help you learn things. Another great site is memrise (www.memrise.com).
■ a mnemonic n = a device or technique for learning or remembering something
■ a cognate n = a word that has the same origin or root in several languages. For example, “garden” (English), “jardin” (French) and “jardín” (Spanish) are all cognates
■ a context n = the context of a word or sentence consists of the topic in general, and the words or sentences before and after it
■ an acronym n = a word composed of the first letters of the words in a phrase. For example, LOL = laughing out loud
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