• Vocabulary Learning Strategies


    It’s more than just flashcards…

    Cognates are words that are similar in two languages.  Because of their histories, Spanish and English share thousands of words that are very similar in spelling and somewhat similar in sound.  This means that with a little practice, you will easily understand thousands of words in Spanish.

    What do these words from the first chapter in your book mean?

    Cero     familia     doctor     comunidad    terrible     apartamento     regular     mucho       

    Mnemonic Techniques
    "Mnemonic" means "aiding memory" in ancient Greek.  Often referred to as "memory trick," mnemonics work by developing a plan for remembering the word while you learn it.  Mnemonics help learners because they integrate new words into existing mental structures and because they provide retrieval clues. Learners need to experiment with different kinds of mnemonic techniques to see which ones work best for them. 

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mnemonic for good examples of Mnemonic devices for different subjects like math and biology

    The Peg Method
    This method allows items, such as words in a word list, to be recalled by linking them with a set of memorized "pegs" or "hooks." Learners associate words to be memorized with these "pegs".  This is most useful for words that always go in the same order, for example, number, months, or the days of the week.  You could also use this to remember how to spell difficult words.

    Example: the planets
    The list: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto
    The “pegs”: My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas.

    Create a phrase of “pegs” to help remember the first letter of the days of the week in Spanish:

    Lunes               __________________
    Martes              __________________
    Miércoles          __________________
    Jueves              __________________
    Viernes             __________________

    Create a list of “pegs” to remember how to spell “jueves” (Thursday)

    J          __________________
    U          __________________
    E          __________________
    V          __________________
    E          __________________
    S          __________________

    How did this strategy help you? What problems did you still have remembering the words?


    The Keyword Method
    It calls for the establishment of an sound and visual link between the second language word to be learned and a word in your first language that sounds similar. For instance, the Spanish word huevo (egg – pronounced wave-o) can be learned by first establishing an acoustic link with the English word “wave” and then conjuring up an image of someone waving while eggs are being thrown at him. Similarly, the Spanish word pan (bread) can be learned by imagining a loaf of bread in a pan.  This is probably the most useful method for learning a foreign language.

    Practice: these are words from the first unit in your book.  What are some keywords or phrases to help you remember them?

    Apellido – last name  ______________________________________________________

    Sábado – Saturday ________________________________________________________

    Escribir – to write _________________________________________________________

    Hoy – today _____________________________________________________________

    Pregunta – question _______________________________________________________

    The Loci Method
    To use this ancient technique, one imagines a familiar location, such as a room. Then one mentally places the first item to be remembered in the first location, the second item in the second location, and so forth. To recall the items, one takes an imaginary walk along the landmarks in the room and retrieves the items that were "put" there.  This strategy is good for remembering lists of items when the order isn’t important 

    Practice this technique with this list of cognates:


    The Finger Method
     Associate each item to be learned with a finger.  If you write them on your finger, make sure they’re gone before the test.  Limited to ten words.

    Pair pictures with words you need to learn. Studies have shown that this is an effective and efficient way to memorize vocabulary.  Use an image search on google, cut out pictures from magazines, or make your own drawings. 


    Instead of using real pictures, visualize a word you need to remember. This is much more 
    effective than merely repeating the word. 

    Physical Mnemonics 
    Physically enacting the information in a word or a sentence results in better recall than simple repetition.


    It is well known in psychology that if the material to be memorized is organized in some fashion, learners can use this organization to their benefit. Group the words you need to remember by color, size, function, likes/dislikes, good/bad, or any other feature that makes sense to you.  For example, if you need to remember the foreign language word for “cat”, think of the word for “dog”.


    The Narrative Chain
    Link words in a list together into a sentence or a story. By using the words and associating them with each other you create a firmer connection between the new words and those already stored in your memory. 


    Semantic Mapping
    Arrange the words into a diagram with a key word at the top and related words as branches linked to the key word and to each other. You can practice this technique in a group. 


    Practicing retrieval can improve long-term recall. In addition, you can find out what percentage of the material you retained with your study method and timing. If you are not satisfied with the results, try new techniques and/or spend more time studying.  Another good strategy is to eliminate the words you already know and focus on the words you still need to learn. 


    No two people in the world have the same vocabulary because everybody has different interests and experiences. In addition to the vocabulary contained in your learning materials, you should make an effort to learn words in the foreign language that reflect your own interests and expertise. 

    Since you need to learn many thousands of words to become a competent speaker of the language you are studying, it is a good idea to develop a plan for learning new words every day besides those included in your lessons. If you are a beginner, set up a schedule. You can also supplement the vocabulary in your textbook. For instance, if it gives the word for cold, learn the word for hot as well. 


    Even though your self-test revealed perfect recall, chances are that by the next day you will have forgotten part of the material. Unlike computers, human beings tend to forget over time. Therefore, one of the keys to successful language study is regular reviewing of previously learned material. 


    Spaced Practice 
    Spaced practice leads to better long-term recall. Long periods of study are less helpful for long-term retention to foreign language learners than shorter but more frequent study periods.  Toe help you practice frequently, leave a list of words you need to study by the TV for commercials, in the bathroom, and in the car.


    Real-Life Practice
    When material learned in one context is retrieved in another, memory performance tends to suffer. Military training, therefore, always includes practice under conditions that simulate those in the battle field. Language skills learned in the highly familiar and safe cocoon of the classroom tend to disintegrate in the more stressful real-life communication conditions. Participation in real-life communicative situations during language training is a must. Seek out as many opportunities for real-life practice as you can possibly find. Try to use the material you have learned in real-life situations.