Jul
14

Memory game to boost vocabulary

I certainly don’t pretend to be an expert at speaking other languages.  I struggle and find it extremely difficult to learn languages.  After spending years at school learning French, I think I could probably order a sandwich and a glass of orange juice, but I certainly couldn’t converse.  I have always dreamt of being fluent in another language however and have tried many times to learn.  I took an intensive Spanish course in Central America and presently live in Munich in Germany, where I struggle on a daily basis to make myself understood.  Always going through phases of feeling inspired and phases where I couldn’t care less anymore, I slowly advance step by step…. painfully slowly actually :-)  Nevertheless, its getting better and although my French from school was taken out and shot many years ago, my Spanish hasn’t got that much worse, despite not having spoken any for over a year.

I decided that this must be because I have build a network of Spanish ideas and words in my brain and they mutually support one another.  This apparently is why its easier to remember a word that you know in the context of a sentence rather than just a single word on a piece of paper.  Normally I try to write words down in a little book so that I can read them on the U-Bahn in the mornings.  Some words however just won’t go into my head.  No matter how many times I repeat them, I close my little book and they’re gone.  Writing complete sentences in my book actually worked better.  Learning the sentence doesn’t seem any more difficult than learning a single word, and actually you can learn several new words at the same time.  It also seems that once I close the book it stays in my head rather than running away and by repeating the sentence a few times over I find it much easier to remember.

The system for learning new words that I find to be most effective (for myself atleast) is to play a memory game.  I now write all my new words on to flash cards.  A flash card is a small piece of card that has a native word on one side and the foreign word on the other (I’ll assume German for the purpose of this blog entry).  Ok, going from German to English is easier than the other way around, so I take 5-10 cards with words I find difficult and put them German side up.  I then choose one and try to remember what the English word on the other side is.  If I get it right, I put it down English side up (ie. I flip it over).  If I get it wrong, I leave it German side up and move to another card.

Once all the cards are English side up, I then try to go from English to German.  This is more difficult, but as I have just done it the other way, its still fairly fresh in the mind.  Once everything is back to German side up, its repeated until you can do it effortlessly.  I’ve honestly never found a word that I couldn’t memorize like this.  Clearly doing it once doens’t mean you’ve learn that word, I personally need to do this every day for a few days.  Considering that it only takes about 5 or 10 minutes, you can do it while having a coffee.

Once the words are written on the cards they will eventually be learned.  The only problem now is to find the words to write on the cards in the first place 🙂

A good web site, although not bursting with information is How to Learn Any Language.  You can read about Mezzofanti, the Italian who learned 25 languages and tips on how to learn languages.  If anybody has any more tips for learning languages, (especially German), I’d be very interested.

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