To learn any language successfully, you need to learn a lot of new vocabulary. But all too often, it can feel like all those new words just go in one ear and out the other. So what can you do to increase vocabulary and remember more of the new words you encounter?
Today, I'm delighted to feature a guest post that examines 8 scientifically proven ways to improve memory and ways to improve your vocabulary.
It builds on the method I teach in my StoryLearning courses (which you can try for free here) and explains:
- The difference between active and passive vocabulary
- How what you eat and drink affects how much you remember
- The role exercise and sleep should play in your learning
I hope you enjoy the post!
Over to Hugh…
When it comes to using a foreign language, how often do you realize that you're out of words to speak on a topic?
Remembering vocabulary is the hardest part of learning a foreign language for many learners.
Here's the kicker: No matter how good your grammar skills are, they mean nothing until you know sufficient vocabulary.
It's just impossible to understand other people and express your ideas without knowing how to remember new words. Having a wide vocabulary should be high on your list of priorities.
It's simple – the more words you know, the better you can express yourself.
Active vs. Passive Vocabulary
Obviously, every learner has a passive and active vocabulary since some words stick, and some don't.
When you understand words but don't use them, they're in your passive vocabulary, while words you understand and can use in writing and speaking are part of your active vocabulary.
Sometimes you use the same limited vocabulary when you speak, and this can cause anxiety if you can't deliver the right message due to a lack of knowledge.
When you start learning a foreign language, you'll always need to grow your vocab. If you learn how to memorize words fast, the better the command of your target language will be.
Do you ever ask yourself, why is my vocabulary getting worse, not better? Are you wondering how to increase your vocabulary without forgetting it later? Then, you need these scientifically proven ways to create a better memory and help the new words stick.
Let's hear Olly's take on this first…
Ready to find out about some scientifically proven new ways to learn foreign vocabulary? Here goes!
8 Scientifically Proven, Memory Boosting Ways to Increase Vocabulary
1. Listen To Music
Learning foreign language vocabulary requires concentration, so it may seem that listening to music while learning new words is a bad idea, as multitasking decreases productivity.
Although this makes sense, it depends on the kind of music you listen to.
For instance, music may induce a state of meditation and, therefore, relax the brain, which helps us stay focused.
According to the founder of LifeSounds Educational Services, sounds can help to hold attention and enhance language memory as it's easier to memorize better through rhythm and rhyme.
Take into account that you should avoid listening to:
- music with words
- music that’s too loud
Moreover, it's proven that classical music significantly increases memory performance in comparison with not listening to any music. The reason is that music is effective in raising efficiency in repetitive work.
As for me, I listen to chill-out mixes and relaxing music, and it helps motivate me to spend more time studying.
2. Eat Nuts
Have you ever thought about how food products affect your psychical and mental health?
Although most people know that proper nutrition is important for our well-being, most people aren't aware that products can help you boost brain functions that are important for the educational process.
If your brain is ready to perceive information, you can digest that information faster.
One of the best foods to improve brain power (including memory and language) is nuts. They're rich in omega-3 fatty acids and zinc, which help to support cognitive function and keep you concentrated.
One research study by the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging claims that consuming at least 5 servings of nuts weekly helps to improve overall cognition.
No matter what type of nuts you love, whether almonds, walnuts, or pistachios, they contain essential fatty acids. Moreover, they are rich in iron, which helps to increase the ability to retain information which is so important for learning new words.
So next time you take a break, why not eat some nuts, boost your brainpower and an improvement in memory?
3. Find A Source Of Caffeine
To begin with, let's find out what caffeine is. It's a central nervous system stimulant that prevents the onset of drowsiness and, therefore, makes you more active.
Why bother with caffeine?
- It enhances certain memories at least up to 24 hours after it’s consumed which means it can make remembering new vocabulary faster and more effective.
- It promotes the activity of the anterior cingulate which stimulates concentration and, therefore, you’ll be able to spend more time studying.
- It has a calming effect on your mood, so you feel better while hitting the books.
As you can see, caffeine helps make the educational process easier and faster, so getting it is a must.
(Note from Olly: You might find coffee helps keep the Inconsistency Villain at bay!)
If you're not a big fan of coffee, don't be upset as there are many other sources of caffeine like yerba mate, black and green tea, or dark chocolate.
For a variety of reasons, consuming caffeine at normal doses (300-400 mg daily) is one of many ways to improve vocabulary and can help you to learn more words faster.
By the way, you don't have to do crazy math calculations to understand what the normal caffeine dose is equivalent to. Just remember that you shouldn't consume more than 5 shots of espresso/1 Starbucks Venti brewed coffee/5 Red Bulls in a day.
4. Make Sure To Exercise Regularly
We all know the benefits of sports for our physical health. Physical activities allow us to stay fit and prevent health problems, but they can also help you to study better.
Doing exercise… :
- improves brain functions that influence learning readiness
- boosts your performance and maximizes the potential for learning
- stimulates endorphins that keep you in a positive mood
Believe it or not, researchers have shown that education and health are closely linked. If you're a healthy person, you're more likely to achieve better results in your studies.
Regular exercise is one of the best activities to improve memory and plays an important indirect role when it comes to learning new vocabulary.
5. Use Unusual Fonts
Do you use Arial or Times New Roman fonts when you print words to learn?
If so, stop using these fonts right now.
Researcher Connor Diemand-Yauman claims that people can learn material faster and better when they study it in a font that is unfamiliar to them and hard to read. Why? Because the unusual fonts require more attention and are more memorable.
How to use the fonts for improving memory:
- Present information in an unusual font like Comic Sans or Bodoni
- Set the colour to dark green or red to grab your attention
- Choose a large, readable font size (12-16 pt)
Wondering how to improve word recall? Try using hard-to-read fonts for your vocabulary lists, print them out and start learning words faster.
Funny fonts may be one of the less conventional ways to remember words, but it works! Give it a try.
6. Rest Well Daily
Want to know a little secret about how to remember a language? Get enough sleep!
Although the educational process takes much time and effort, it's nearly impossible to hit the books without breaks and a good rest.
Being a successful learner means having enough energy and desire to learn every day, so resting well daily is a must.
Scientists claim that an adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep daily as it allows a person to boost body functions and prevent health problems.
At the same time, good sleep improves memory and concentration, essential for learners who need to digest a significant amount of information daily.
According to research, studying just before sleeping improves a student's ability to recall information.
Can you learn another language in your sleep? The short answer is no, but if you learn words before bedtime, you will be able to reproduce the material more quickly and easily.
This is because you reactivate memories during slow-wave sleep, which improves memory consolidation. This phenomenon is called verbal cueing and it helps to improve vocabulary learning. It's almost like learning another language in your sleep!
The bottom line? Sleeping is essential to the learning process, so make sure you get enough of it.
(Edit from Olly: This is completely true… just ironic that I discovered StoryLearning during a sleepless night on top of a mountain!)
7. Create Mental Associations
Next up; how to remember words fast when you feel like you're brain is at capacity with new vocabulary.
Doing vocabulary-building activities can help you learn words faster, and the key to this is to create mental associations for words. This is the power of mnemonic techniques.
You can make associations using images or simply by connecting the new vocabulary with other words.
Memorizing through association is a great way to learn a great amount of information for the following reasons:
- associations are easier to remember than random words
- it forces you to focus on what you’re trying to learn
- it reinforces the memory of the material in your mind
Learning words in context is also an example of this as it helps you remember words easier.
Another great tip for how to remember vocabulary fast is to make your word associations creative- boring things don't tend to stick in the memory.
8. Use Words Actively
This last point is no secret: the more often you use a word, the better you remember it.
Practicing is the key to success in language and memory, and you shouldn't be afraid of pronouncing or misspelling something.
The main idea is to understand the meaning of a word and when and how to use it. Later, you'll be able to pronounce and write it the right way.
If you want to use words actively, there are many different ways to memorize vocabulary. You can communicate with foreign friends/colleagues, write articles or notes, or even attend speaking clubs or language exchanges.
Practice and repetition is the scientifically proven best way to learn a language.
Take the time to build up your vocabulary as it's a surefire way to express your thoughts and ideas even if your grammar isn't perfect.
Learning new words can be daunting, especially when you're pressed for time. But the results are well worth the time and effort you put in.
And now, with the suggestions in this article, you have some scientifically proven ways to improve your memory and focus that can help you to learn vocabulary faster without wasting your time.
Remember, though, there's a difference between memory and learning. You can follow all the recommendations for improved memory in this article, but you still need to put in the work with the learning part!
Try some of the vocabulary memorization techniques in the Story Learning courses for fast improvement.
Hugh Beaulac is a geek who runs the MC2 website and loves learning new things. He hits the books, and learning scientific methods is his cup of tea. Follow him on Twitter to learn more.
What methods do you use to remember new vocabulary? And which ideas mentioned in this article are you most excited to try out? Let us know in the comments below!