Some More Tips On Memorising Vocabulary

Memorising Spanish Vocabulary

I have written about this a couple of times now but I am going to mention it again.

I just love using the mnemonic strategy to help remember vocabulary.

It wasn’t always this way.

When I did the world memory championships it was something I used for a couple of the events.   Back then I hated memorising the word list or the poem because it was so abstract and therefore difficult (for me anyway) to create imagery.

My strengths came with applying techniques to the fixed imagery of numbers and cards.

However I am finding that with just a few days of effort and practice, it is becoming a joy to try and think of images to use to help me remember vocabulary.

If only I had this insight back in the day when I was competing!

But back to memorising vocabulary…

The images are becoming more and more sophisticated.   And I am also finding them easier and easier to create.

Not only that, I am actually enjoying the process.

It is also extremely rewarding too.

The reward comes when you are faced with a Spanish word you know you have “processed”(i.e memorised).  You see the word, it triggers the imagery you have created,  and that you are reminded of the actual meaning of the word you have learnt.

It is pretty impressive when you walk through that process AND IT WORKS!

Of course there are times when the imagery comes quite easily but the the link to the actual translation is very poor or nonexistent.

Here Are Some Tips To Help

When you create your imagery, use the first idea triggered by the word you are trying to learn.

The reason is if that is what comes to mind first when creating the image, it will be the same thing (probably) that will come to mind when you see the word again in the future.

Make a strong connection with that and it will really help.

If you can’t immediately think of an image, try breaking the word down into its component syllables.  Then see what images spring to mind for each syllable.

The imagery you create can be as abstract and as tenuous as you like… as long as it helps you remember the syllable.

I have used my friend Sarah for the syllables CER and SER.  Any time the syllable -DO is used, I imagine a big lump of dough.  I used a barking dog to remember the for cow.  It is VACA roughly pronounced “BAR-CA”

Another point to be aware of is to make sure you base the imagery on the sound of the word.  For the system to work it is vital you focus on how it is pronounced, and not how it is spelt.

This is because if you want to speak and understand the language in real life situations then you will hear the sound and not see it written down.

If you only focus on the spelling then you will miss out on the word when it comes in the different form of how it is pronounced.  As you will discover, Spanish pronunciation can be very different from the way it is spelt.

The Spaced Repetition System Really Helps

Perhaps the most important tool in your Learning Spanish Box of Tricks is the Spaced Repetition System (SRS).

It is a real help to keep you stimulated and on track as well as driving your vocabulary deep into long term memory.

Sometimes you will find it a challenge to recall a word from the imagery alone.

This is because sometimes, the link you create is just not strong enough.

It happens to me all the time.

But it is part of the process so come to expect it occasionally.

Each time you create a new memory, it is going to be weak and fragile in the first few days of its existence. You will find this to be the case with the more abstract words.

This is why it is so key to have multiple early recalls of the word in the first few days UNTIL you can always get it right.

The SRS in Anki gives you those automatically.

Eventually you will be able to understand what the Spanish word means when you hear it.  It will also work the other way too.  You’ll be able to access that word when you want to use in Spanish.

But remember this is just a starting point.

When you first learn a word, it will be relatively one dimensional.

It will just be a word.  One with little attachment or personal association.

To make them stronger in your memory, you’ll need to begin actually translating the words and learning from the cards into real life.

Just by a process of association when you see a particular picture in your SRS you will automatically recall the word related to that picture.

What if you are using a picture of a Red Setter for your image for “dog” (el perro)?  Well every time you see that particular image of the Red Setter, the word “el perro” will be dragged out from your memory.

It will have become hard wired in there.

But what happens when you are presented with a picture of a Jack Russell or maybe a Collie?

This is where you will start to expand your understanding.  Your learning will begin to melt into your brain as you start making your own connections.

Here’s An Experience I Had Recently

This is what happened to me a couple of days ago.

I always start my day by going to the RTVE Noticias page to get my daily helping of news but in Spanish.

The feature that day had a big image of Donald Trump with the headline that was a clear reference to his first hundred days in office.

In the headline were the words “La Casa Blanca”.   I could see from the way the sentence was constructed that Trump was either going there or was there.

But I couldn’t work out where in the the world La Casa Blanca was.

And then it hit me… DOH!!!!

La Casa Blanca was the White House.

It seems obvious this side of the learning experience because La Casa is house and blanco/a is white…. The White House.

But the point isn’t that I didn’t know what it meant, or that I hadn’t made the connection before.

It was what went on in my brain WHEN it suddenly clicked.

Without being told, I had come to understand what a piece of Spanish actually meant.

Not necessarily how it literally translated, but what it meant.

And in that moment of “Ahhhh!” Learning had taken place and it felt REALLY good.

Well perhaps in this instance it was rather obvious to those sharper than I, but the point is I FELT learning take place.

I will never forget that moment, nor the lesson learnt.

True Language Learning Is A Journey Of Self Discovery

And this is the power and the beauty of the self discovery path of learning a new language.

There is tremendous mileage in self directed, self paced learning.  This is because of the little hits of dopamine you get when YOU are responsible for YOUR learning and YOU instigate a learning experience like that.

It is very empowering.

The alternative approach is to become overwhelmed with someone else’s agenda (either classes, a work book or one of the many language courses you can invest in).

When you are initially faced with new material at their pace, if you can’t keep up, then you will easily get overwhelmed.  This might put you off and perhaps you may even quit.

But, when you get a hit of dopamine from a self generated bit of learning it becomes addictive and you want to go back for more.

You start to increase the intensity of your learning so you can get more of those hits.

And then because you are learning more, you start to become more proficient in your language and that gives you a greater sense of confidence.

And then you establish the frame of reference that you CAN learn.   You realise that if you don’t understand something YET, it is because you haven’t put the necessary effort in YET.  It is not because you CAN’T do it.

It is terribly exciting.

At the moment I have worked my way through about 150-200 words using the SRS.   Already I am starting to piece together sentences from those words.

Tengo un dolor en mi espalda
Tienne una cam para mi por una noche

These aren’t sentences I have memorised or encountered.   These are sentences I have pieced together from the words I have learnt.

I am starting to communicate in Spanish!!!!!

And it feels good.

Similar Words/Meanings

I am starting to encounter related words – muerte (death), muerto (dead) for example.

What is interesting is that as I encounter them one at a time, I learn them one at a time and then use that to help learn the variation . That is how we learn words as youngsters.

Another example is agujero (hole) and aguja (needle) – similarly spelt words.

I am not sure if they are related or not but their similarity helped me learn them both as I encountered them.

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