Step 1: Get new words flowing through your brain
\r\nHow? Two possibilities: actively and passively. Actively, by talking to people. Or passively by reading, listening, watching, studying. \r\nDoes this sound familiar: you’ve just heard a new word for the first time and you think “ok self, here it is. Now let’s pass this word down to long-term memory until we need it”. Five days (or hours…or minutes) later you go on down to long-term memory for the word, and it isn’t there. Maybe the first letter or the number of syllables is there, but the word is GONE! You’re upset, embarrassed, disappointed. Why long term memory? Why have you failed me!\r\n
Step 2: Accept that you won’t start using a word after hearing it once
\r\n Most of us need to see, hear, or read a word 8 (or for some of us MANY more) times before we start using it. Lower your expectations and be kind to yourself. You will learn that word and use it, but it’s going to take a bit of time and work. \r\n
Step 3: Start writing down new words everywhere and anywhere!
\r\nSo, you’re out there working with the language and come across a word you don’t know, write it down! You probably don’t have time to look up what it means right then and there, but you can later.\r\nAccumulate words for a few days, then settle down and look them up, better still, go to a language exchange, or find a friend and go over them with them! \r\n
Step 4: Make it yours: find your system for categorizing all that new vocabulary
\r\nFor many of us our long-term memory needs a bit of help and exercise. For most we need an external record of the vocabulary that we’re trying to learn. \r\nAnd so we have the vocabulary notebook. There is no good or bad way to make the notebook. It can be a pocket- or full-sized notebook. It could be organized chronologically, alphabetically, or following some other system of categorization. It depends completely on you. Then write down what the meanings are, but also the context, and have a laugh over the crazy way that you’ve heard some of them used, or the crazy ways you could use them!\r\nAnd it doesn’t need to be a pen and paper system. You can use your phone, tablet, or computer. However handwriting may help memory retention. A recent episode of the podcast Freakonomics called Who Needs Handwriting, talks about if writing things down by hand actually improves memory retention. Long answer short, it depends. But for many of us writing instead of typing does help us remember. \r\nReally it’s the repetition that helps those words stick in your head and don’t be surprised if the same word turns up in your notebook more than once, as we’ve seen the human memory is a long way from perfect. Bringing us to the next step…\r\n
Step 5: Review it
\r\nEven if you’ve created the best system for you, if you throw your vocabulary notebook on a shelf or in the bottom for your bag then you’re only doing half the work. Reviewing and re-reviewing is key. \r\nThis step isn’t just mindless reading over your notebook. We recommend sitting down and doing a bit of critical thinking (thinking about the way you think). How do you remember things in general? How do you think about the new words you learn in a foreign language? Do you associate them with words in your native language or maybe words in another foreign language? Do you match the new word with an image or emotion? Or maybe you use the Memory Palace technique. Whatever your memory technique, apply it to reviewing your vocabulary book and experiment to see what works for you. \r\nIf you’re one of those super-dedicated, super-organized people, you may go over your notebook regularly; or you may not, and you may simply throw out that rapidly dissolving piece of paper from your pocket and start a new one every week.\r\nIt’s all part of the process, and really can be all a lot of fun. And lastly and certainly the most satisfying…\r\n
Step 6: Use it!
\r\nOne day you’ll go down to long-term memory and the word will be there, just waiting to be used! “HURRAY” you’ll think. And you’ll use it. And then you’ll use it again. And voila! That word has joined your vocabulary! It’s yours to use, along with all the other words you’ve learned. \r\nNow just string these new words together with a pinch of accurate pronunciation, a dash of cultural awareness, and then mix it together with some grammar and you’ve got yourself a foreign language!