For centuries, rote memorisation has been the standard for remembering new information.

Perhaps some of you – and definitely your parents can remember agonising hours spent repeating multiplication tables and verb conjugation during their primary school years.

Although there are far more effective ways to remember new materials including English vocabulary, in many parts of the world, repetition and recitation are still go-to teaching methods used the classrooms today.

Don’t take all of this wrong; there is value in repeating newly-gained knowledge. For instance, business experts recommend using a person’s name at least three times upon meeting him/her.

“Hi, Chris, it’s nice to meet you!”, “What’s your interest in this workshop, Chris?” and, later, injecting that name once again: “Nice talking with you, Chris.”

This technique works well to remember people’s names because it forces you to focus on the person. If used as a means to focus on new words, it works too... but merely repeating new words in English is not enough.

To remember every new word you run across and those on the vocabulary lists your English teacher no doubt gives you, Superprof has compiled a list of hacks, tips and tricks to make the job easy.

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When You Get a New Vocab List

When ESL students get a new word list, they view it as a form of torture rather than a chance meeting with a friend.

Many ESL teachers marvel at the groans and outright revulsion new word lists provoke but such a reaction is not unwarranted.

Don't feel overwhelmed by long word lists, play with them
ESOL students often feel dismay when given long word lists to memorise Image by Khusen Rustamov from Pixabay

Some language instruction programmes provide lists that are 50 words long or longer, often with the instruction that their English learners should work to understand those lists on their own.

Again, this is not because your teacher is mean and wants you to suffer; s/he is only doing what she is told to do and, in doing so, gives you a great chance to decide how you want to learn these words.

The first things you should do is go through that list, marking all of the words you already know. If you don’t know any of them, that’s fine; by the end of this activity, you will.

If there are words that look familiar but you’re not sure if you know them, focus on those, first.

Why do they look familiar – could they be another form of a word you already know? Maybe they have a similar spelling? If the answer doesn’t come to you right away, don’t worry.

Let’s look at all of the other words, now.

First, find and mark the syllables. Syllables are units of a word, usually made up of a vowel and a consonant. Watch out! Some syllables are tricky; they might only be a vowel, like the ‘o’ in the word ‘sociology’.

Once you’ve defined the syllables for every word, it’s time to get your dictionary out.

You can find the meaning of each word as well as its related words, like when a noun becomes and adjective or maybe if that word can be used as both a noun and a verb. While you’re at it, have a look at the IPA spelling; it will tell you how each word should be pronounced.

You can use a dictionary online or, better yet, an actual dictionary.

Online dictionaries have all of the same information as paper dictionaries do – even more, considering you can hear the word spoken out loud but there is a really good reason for using a standard dictionary.

Your brain processes information in many different ways, one of them is when you use your hands. The action of flipping through your dictionary, perhaps with your finger tracing down the page and your eyes following, will boost your ability to remember each word you find and read about.

For that same reason, you should copy your word list at least once, if not more.

Science has proven a link between handwriting and remembering so, if you want to be the first in your class to remember that long list of words, get your hand moving!

Using this trick to learn English words will also give you a chance to practise your writing skills

Playing word games is a good way to remember new words
Even native English speakers like to play word games; you can revolutionise your learning by playing too Image by STIGMAMA from Pixabay

Play With Your Words

Now that you’ve accepted these new words – learned everything about them, it’s time to treat them like the friends they are.

Just as you play with your live friends, you can play with your new words.

You can make up games or, if imagination fails you, how about some activities used in English classes all over the world?

  • Make a Sentence: for each word on your list, build a sentence – the sillier the better!
  • Synonyms and antonyms: find another word that has the same meaning and one that means the opposite for every word on your list. Feel free to use your dictionary or a thesaurus!
  • Word chains: find a word that starts with the last letter of the first word on the list, continue finding words that start with the last letter of the word you just used.
    • If there are no words on your list that start with that letter, use words that aren’t on the list
  • Find another form: can that word be changed into an adjective? Can it be used as a verb?

You can play all of these games by yourself but the fun (and the learning) really gets going when played with a group of people.

If you are playing in a group, you might consider having a spelling bee – the ‘judge’ says the word and you have to spell it correctly. You might also enjoy What’s The Word, a game where you have to give the meaning of the word while others guess what the word is.

Finally, you might play ‘Letters of the Alphabet’, a game that calls for you to say one word for each alphabet letter. You might arrange the words on your list in alphabetical order and, if you’re missing any letters, you can plug words in that you already know.

These games are also great to sharpen your listening skills.

Use Word Association To Remember New Vocabulary

Learning English and mastering pronunciation of hard-to-say words can be difficult so, the more you speak English, the more fluent you will sound and the sooner you’ll reach the advanced level.

Did you know that you can improve your English fluency by speaking English every day?

One activity that can improve your speaking skills as well as help you learn English vocabulary is connecting words you don’t yet know well to words you comfortable using.

These association tactics are used in ESL classes as well as the standard English class that native speakers learn grammar rules and other language skills in.

The concept is simple: for every word on your list, come up with at least three words associated with what that word represents.

Let’s say the word at the top of your list is ‘computer’. Three associated words might be ‘technology’, ‘internet’ and ‘streaming’.

If you really want to show off, you can name four words that come from the word ‘computer’ : to compute – a verb, ‘computerised’ (adjective), meaning something made digital; ‘computation’, a noun meaning ‘a mathematical calculation’ and ‘computationally’, and adverb relating to the process of mathematical calculation.

No matter which variation of this game that you play, you will soon find yourself moving beyond beginners and up to the intermediate level.

Keep your word list notes visible so you can focus on them
Making a note of words you need to learn more about will help you keep focus on them Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

Word Searches

Your English courses are no doubt filled with activities to promote proficiency in English. Still, much as you may love English language and culture, you may find your English lessons a bit boring.

That is perfectly natural. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad student or have lost your desire to learn how to speak English.

Teachers have guidelines to follow but nothing says you have to stick to the same methods of learning that you use in your native language.

All of the activities we’ve listed so far are fun ways to get serious about English learning; this one is a bit more academic.

As an English learner devoted to picking up English skills as quickly as possible, you have no doubt already bought several books in English. If not, you can download English writing from the Internet or, if nothing else, use your textbooks.

Whenever you meet new words and phrases, take some time from your self-study to read English texts – out loud if you want to practise your English pronunciation. When you find the word or idiom you were searching for, you can highlight it or write it on a poster board.

If you’re a bit short on time or not quite that dedicated, you can ‘find’ words a bit differently.

You might write any new language you want to remember – idioms and other English phrases as well as new words on a poster board or tack small notes to the wall in your study area.

Later, as you read in English, whenever you meet a word on your board, you can say ‘mission accomplished!’ and take that word down after you mark it in your text.

Searching for words you’re currently learning as you work on your English reading skills is a great way to improve your reading comprehension, too.

Have fun!

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A student by trade, Daniel spends most of his time working on that essay that's due in a couple of days' time. When he's not working, he can be found working on his salsa steps, or in bed.