04 / 02 / 2004


Good morning,

In your testimonies many of you expressed your frustration with having a limited vocabulary; it's a horrible feeling when you have to speak English and can't remember the words!

Almost everything you do with English exposes you to new words and helps you improve your vocabulary: reading, watching original-version movies, writing, etc. However, if you really want to pass new words to long-term memory, you must actively do something with them. You can't just write them down in your notebook and expect them to automatically be memorised.

Following are a few ideas that can help to pass new vocabulary into long-term memory.

Word Bank
One of my favourite tools for learning and organising new vocabulary is a word bank. This is a document, notebook or folder where you record new words into different meaning categories. Neuro-linguistic studies have shown that our brain remembers words in semantic groups (or meaning categories). In other words, we remember similar words together. For example, the word "apple" is stored near "orange" and "banana" and other fruits, not with "bicycle." Relating new words with already-known words will help you to pass them to long-term memory.

Flash Cards
Putting new words on small flash cards to review them at just about anytime during the day can be very helpful. Cut a DIN A4 piece of paper into 16 pieces (of approximately 7.5cm x 5.0cm). On one side of each paper write the new English word. On the opposite side write the translation and/or a sentence using the word. You can use these flash cards to quickly test yourself throughout the day, since they are easy to carry with you.

Mnemonic Tricks
Mnemonic tricks are strategies that you can use to help yourself remember new words. Sometimes they are ridiculous relationships that we create between new English words and other English words, or even Spanish or Catalan words. For example, yesterday in a class a student told me that he remembered the word "receipt" (recibo / rebut) by relating it to the English verb "receive." Although they are different words, there is some similarity in meaning and spelling between them. By making this connection, he was able to instantly learn this new word. I'm sure all of you have used these methods at some time in your life, don't be afraid to use them with English!

Working New Vocabulary into your Writing
I'm also sure that many of you have been asked to write a composition with new vocabulary. Although sometimes unnatural, forcing new words into a coherent text can help you to learn the new words. Of course, ideally you would have a teacher that could correct your composition to make sure that all of the words are incorporated correctly.

I hope you find these ideas helpful.

Enjoy the rest of your day!