Assimilate vocabulary faster and better!

How often have you felt irritated because a foreign word escapes you? It is here, very close, you have learned it, you have repeated it hundreds of times, but you’re still unable to remember it!

First of all, no need to panic; it’s absolutely normal. You should know that we all have two types of vocabulary – passive and activePassive vocabulary lets you understand a word and then quickly translate it. Our passive vocabulary is usually bigger than the active one. Active words are those you can use without looking up in a dictionary: they are always there, ready to jump out.

Words can also be divided into two other groups.  I’m talking about material words (table, chair, friend, to read…) and abstract words (joy, love, cold, contemporary…). Material words are associated with a material object; we can see them all around us, and that’s why there are easier to remember. But abstract words are more complicated to memorize, and again it’s completely natural.

Very often after 2 or 3 years of language learning we have the impression that we are not advancing, that there is no progress, that learning new words is becoming more and more difficult. This is because you have already learned all the important material words and you’ve now arrived at the abstract ones which are a bit harder to learn. But nothing is impossible for our brain, it can work miracles! So I would like to share some little secrets with you to help you absorb new vocabulary better and faster.

  1. Envelope yourself with new words. If you are studying Russian, set your cell-phone in Russian. Stick some words on your fridge, in the toilet (very efficient!), in the bathroom, in the office. If you are learning English, why don’t you set your car’s GPS in the language of Shakespeare?
  2. When learning a new word, try to decompose it into familiar elements. Take, for example, Russian word Подушка. It is composed of “под“(under) and “уши” (ears), it is something we put under our ears when we go to sleep. Right, a pillow! Or, for example: Сотрудник: со= together, труд = hard word, -ник – profession suffix, it means somebody we work with, a co-work-er. By the way, often other languages build their words in exactly the same way. Take the French collaborateur (со – together, it’s even written in the same way, labeur – hard work; -eur – French profession suffix).
  3. Learn words together with their antonyms, i.e. their opposites: Good-bad, Hot-cold.
  4. It is better to memorize words in small phrases. For example, Я работаю с сотрудниками (I work with my coworkers). В Африке жарко, в Антарктике холодно (It is hot in Africa, it’s cold in Antarctica).
  5. Make sure you always have lists of words to revise with you. For this purpose it’s important to have a special notebook, not a thousand chaotic sheets of paper. It’s better to organize your vocabulary around one particular subject: Weather: hot, warm, cold; Work: office, boss, coworker, colleague…
  6. Even better: make small cards with words written in your mother tongue on one side, and on the other side their translation. If you have 5 free minutes on the bus, take a dozen of them, look at one word in your language, then try to remember the translation (it’s a good exercise to work on your active vocabulary, because it’s always more difficult to translate into a foreign language). It’s very funny and very efficient!
  7. Learn poems and songs by heart. What can be funnier than foreign songs? (Besame, besame mucho!) Imagine how surprised your foreign friends will be when they hear you recite a famous poet’s poems? Learning by heart is the best way to remember new words.

I hope my tips will be helpful. Learning new words is not only interesting, but also very useful to keep your brain active.  Forget about Alzheimer’s forever!

Tatiana Klimova

Russian Language Podcast

Copyright 2016


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