Writing in The Telegraph recently, a teacher of English as a foreign language described strategies for mastering ESL vocabulary. Here, we quote some of her strategies that work equally well for learning the vocabulary of your native tongue, and explain how you can apply this strategy to vocabulary learning with Vocabulary.com.
ESL Tip 1:
Dissect new words When encountering a new word, take a look at its structure. Many words consist of prefixes and suffixes, and an understanding of these parts of speech is advantageous. The French word désagréable, for example, contains the negating prefix dés- and the adjective-forming suffix –able. Studying these affixes can help you to understand conjugation and structure, and make educated guesses when encountering new vocabulary.
How can we help you "dissect new words" on Vocabulary.com? When you encounter a word in the Challenge or our Dictionary, take a minute to read its blurb: they're written to sound like a friendly English teacher is in the room with you, and they often include helpful morphology info, such as this for inconsistent: "Broken down into its roots, in- plus -consistent, the word literally means 'not consistent.'"
Or learn some widely-used prefixes every vocabulary detective should have at his disposal with our interactive Power Prefix Vocabulary Lists, covering anti-, con-, fore-, inter-, mis-, pre-, sub-, super-, trans-, and uni-.
ESL Tip 2:
Read, read, read Reading helps you revisit learned vocabulary, and see those words in new sentences and contexts. One excellent source of foreign language exposure is through graded readers, which are designed specifically for language learners. Another good source is advertisements or menus, which tend to use short, colloquial text.
How can we help you "read, read, read" on Vocabulary.com? Your brain's natural strategy for learning words is through context clues, so we introduce context examples throughout the Vocabulary.com Challenge and in our Dictionary. Read more about your brain's natural word-learning patterns in "Do I Know You? Word Knowledge Limbo." Or use the usage examples in our Dictionary pages to get to know words as they appear in the real world.
ESL Tip 3:
Visualise One mnemonic learning trick for new vocabulary is the Keyword Method. Drawing on a similar-sounding word in your native language, visualise a picture or scene to go with the new vocabulary. For example, on a trip to Moscow, I remembered the Russian formal hello, “Zdravstvujtye” (Здравствуйте) with the mental image of a stressed vulture. These visualisations are often abstract, ridiculous, and embarrassing to admit, but they work, especially for longer words.
How can we help you "visualise" on Vocabulary.com? Again, check out our word blurbs for quick, easy memorization strategies, visual and otherwise. For example, when learning verge, the blurb explains that "the British call the strip of grass that borders a walkway the verge, giving you a clear mental picture that goes beyond the abstract." Or for scotch, which means prevent, the blurb helps you remember that "Drinking Scotch is one way to scotch your efforts to remain sober."
ESL Tip 4:
Focus on phrases Linguist Michael Lewis encourages language learning in lexical chunks, rather than on a word-by-word basis. A good portion of daily communication involves predictable common phrases: “turn left,” “just a minute,” “nice to meet you.” When studying a new language, memorise these phrases and you'll have a ready arsenal of dialogue, without the stress of having to build and conjugate your sentences from scratch.
How can we help you "focus on phrases" on Vocabulary.com? Chunking, or learning words in phrases, is essential to new word acquisition. Read more about it in "All Aboard the Chunking Express;" or page through the usage examples on our definition pages for a quick overview of common contexts for any word you're looking to learn.
ESL Tip 5:
Review often In a vocabulary class, yesterday’s vocabulary is more important than today’s. The goal is to transfer the short-term knowledge of new vocabulary into your long-term memory. Review is essential — in the first few days or weeks after learning new vocabulary, recycle those words and you'll entrench them in your memory. A good language textbook or online program will be organised in a way that reviews and applies learned vocabulary in later lessons.
How can we help you "review often" on Vocabulary.com? Research shows that the human brain is designed to forget — and also that the more you see a word, the more likely you are to retain it. When you play the Challenge, we carefully determine the number and frequency of questions you see on each word. And you'll note that even after you master a word, we continue to send the occasional question to make sure that word is well-lodged in your brain. Read more about that in "Can Forgetting Help You Learn?"
Or experience it for yourself. Your next question in the Vocabulary.com Challenge awaits!
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