How to memorise English vocabulary effectively and recall it in future conversations

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The question is - how can you memorise English vocabulary effectively and recall it in future conversations?

By browsing the Internet, you can come across dozens of techniques to remember English vocabulary. Fifteen fairly basic methods can be found here.

I can’t deny that reading, using a dictionary, singing songs, drawing pictures and keeping a notebook of words are beneficial techniques when it comes to memorising English vocabulary.

BUT - there is a difference between memorising English vocabulary for the sake of just memorising it, and memorising English vocabulary so that it can be easily retrieved when you are in the middle of a conversation.

Read on to see how you can memorise English vocabulary effectively so that it will be on the tip of your tongue and “swimming” in your brain in your future conversations.


MEMORISE ENGLISH VOCABULARY EFFECTIVELY - ACQUAINTING YOURSELF WITH NEW WORDS YOU THINK WILL BE USEFUL WHEN COMMUNICATING IN ENGLISH

English language text

A teacher's self-written English language text

I wrote the above text about my experience applying for Polish citizenship. I’ll now explain the stages you should follow to get the most out of it in order to memorise English vocabulary effectively and make it part of your everyday speech. Let’s focus on the  word “citizenship”:

1. Listen to the text and read it quickly to get a sense of what it’s about. Links to the audio files can be found here, here and here.

2. If you don’t know the meaning of “citizenship”, check it in a good English dictionary or translate it into your first language

3. Take the target word, “citizenship”, and use an audio file from the text to say it aloud in order to become familiar with the pronunciation



PUT IN EFFORT TO GET TO KNOW A WORD AND ITS NATURAL COLLOCATES DEEPLY

It’s simply not enough to see a word, check its definition and listen to the way it’s pronounced a few times. 

Apart from the effective memorisation of each target word, your aims should be to:

(a) find out how each target word functions in a range of contexts

(b) find out which other words each target word collocates with

(c) create personalised sentences containing the target word

With the above goals in mind, let’s dive in to check the next set of stages to learn the word “citizenship” in the deepest possible manner:

4. I have written extensively about the idea of creating and maintaining a Word-Phrase Table here and here

However, for the purposes of getting to know our target word, “citizenship”,  inside out, let’s remind ourselves of the concept of a Word-Phrase Table:

(a) If you feel that it’s necessary, write your mother tongue equivalent on the left-hand side, and the target word on the right hand side:

(b) Using a good Collocations Dictionary, begin your study of the most natural and useful collocations which can go with each target word. I thoroughly recommend you grab a copy of the Oxford Collocations Dictionary for students of English. The entry for the word “citizenship”, shown in the screenshot below, reveals just how detailed and the Oxford Collocations Dictionary for students of English is:

Oxford Collocations Dictionary

Entry for "citizenship" from the Oxford Collocations Dictionary

(c) Using information from the Oxford Collocations Dictionary or any appropriate sources, you can transfer some of the collocations to your Word-Phrase Table after a dash (-), thus:

(d) In order to memorise English vocabulary and collocations effectively, I thoroughly believe in the idea of creating TRUE and PERSONALISED sentences containing a target word and its natural collocates. You can also add personal opinions using a target word.

With constant re-reading and repetition, these sentences will soon be on the tip of your tongue in future conversations. The ideal scenario is for a native speaker to create audio files of your sentences so that you have an additional source of high-quality input. 

In the table below, I have created some sentences which are TRUE for me after a star (*):

(e)  See the table below. I strongly believe in the power of visualisation - using different colours, fonts and italics to enhance one’s visual memory. The colours of the Polish flag are red and white. Therefore, making the phrases “Polish citizen” and “Polish citizenship” stand out in a bold red colour helps to create a strong association between Poland and the target phrases “Polish citizen” and “Polish citizenship”:

5. If you would like to add even more personalised sentences to your Word-Phrase Table, or just get to know a word more deeply, here are two ways to do that:

(a) Try the website Word Hippo

First of all, type “citizenship” into the sentences box and click “find it”:

A list of sentences containing the word “citizenship”, which are taken from mostly trustworthy sources on the Internet, such as Government websites and well-known newspapers, will thereafter appear. 

Scroll through the sentences. They may provide you with ideas so that you can create your own similar personalised sentences or opinions which can be added to your Word-Phrase Table. Only small changes may be required to the sentences which Word Hippo provides.

(b) Use corpuses to gain further contextual information about words you have added to your Word-Phrase Table.

So, what is a corpus?

A corpus is a collection of linguistic data, either compiled as real written texts or as a transcription of real examples of recorded speech. 

The information that corpora contains is typically presented in the form of word frequency lists and concordances. Concordances display keywords in context in example sentences.

On english-corpora.org, there are plenty of corpuses available, such as The Movie Corpus, The TV Corpus, the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and the British National Corpus (BNC). 

The British National Corpus (BNC) was originally created by Oxford University Press back in the 1980s - early 1990s. It contains 100 million words from a plethora of genres (e.g. spoken, fiction, magazines, newspapers, and academic).

I will go into corpora much more in a forthcoming post on this blog.

For now, I believe you will have some fun navigating the corpuses on english-corpora.org.


CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

In order to memorise English vocabulary effectively, I believe that you can apply the above methodology to any English language text or transcript you come across in the future. 

Remember - your goal should always be to develop deep and long-lasting associations with English words by keeping a record of: 

  1. a target word’s most common collocations and sentences 
  2. personalised sentences - true sentences about you and your life which contain a target word

The key to fluency is having words, collocations and personalised sentences on the tip of your tongue during conversation.

By updating your Word-Phrase Table, using Word Hippo and exploring corpuses, you will be able to memorise English vocabulary effectively and indefinitely.

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