Memorizing Vocabulary and Phrases

Many of us spend one or two hours each day learning vocabulary, often presented to us without context or visual hooks. Today I am going to attempt to create a list of techniques that we can use to better remember our French.

If you have studied French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, Catalan, Corsican or Portuguese, you have been able to learn hundreds of words because of commonalities. Romance languages offer English and romance language speakers many words that are easily understood. They are known as cognates. A cognate is when two words in different languages share a similar meaning, spelling and pronunciation. False cognates, also known as “False Friends”, can also be confusing for English speakers learning French, Spanish and Italian…so it is important to identify them early in your language study.

With French I have relied heavily on other memorization techniques, like:

  1. Latching on to a key sound and working with it to create a mnemonic.
  2. Using a technique known as a diglot weave, where we insert the new foreign word or phrase into an English sentence. Normally you would simply substitute the foreign word into the place where its’ English equivalent would be. Doing this with four or five sentences can help anchor the word in some kind of context. There are now even browser add-ons that can  help create them. One such plug-in for “Polyglots” is made for Google Chrome, where random web-page words are translated into your target language. Another add-on works with Firefox, known as “WebVocab“, and requires Greasemonkey, replacing any words on a web page with the language words you are learning.
  3. Using Quizlet‘s wide array of games and word recall methods, with word lists.
  4. Using an echo technique, where the learner echoes a native speaker’s reading of the word or phrase with a small time delay.
  5. Creating a pictograph of the symbols used to spell the word, so they are associated with the English equivalent.
  6. Developing an Anki file, and relying on the program’s built in spaced-time repetition to focus more repetitions on those words or phrases that are not “sticking” well.
  7. Using a visual dictionary or my own illustrations to help with context associations.
  8. Brute force repetition is always the least desired technique, but is does work for a short while.

As you may have read, the top 100 core words of a language make up 50% of the words one encounters during a normal day, so whichever method you choose, knowing the core-100 should be among your immediate language learning goals. Use and mastery of the techniques listed above may be of considerable help in accomplishing this feat in the most efficient manner possible.

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