welcome to the edge

Just can’t get it into my head

listen while you read (or drive, please drive safe)
disclaimer, memory loss is another issue

as you might have understood from the reverse Kiley Minogue quote, this post is about how to learn new vocabulary.

…. do you remember how you learnt the vocabulary you currently know? Are you aware of how you picked it up?

I KNOW I HAVE A TENDENCY TO GIVE LONG INTROS AND TO DIGRESS A LITTE…. so if you are reading you can scroll down to the main pieces of advice I give. If you are listening and driving refrain from fiddling with the phone and keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel, as Jim morrison used to say.
I’ll be brief , I promise.
So, where was I ? Oh yes , do you remember and are you aware of how , how long it took, and how hard it was or has been to learn a language? I say has been because we never stop learning. So, you see? Is a loooong process. Is it hard? very hard, most adults are insecure when it comes to public speaking let alone writing something. On the how we learn I can definitely help you, no doubt.

Some words are remarkably striking, think of …”bad”, ”dangerous”, ”black or white” see what I did there? oh come on, they are all Micheal Jackson’s songs…anyway no digressing I said.
Some other words relate directly to our first language ”fruit”…”port”, ”psychology” but most of the little words we have known since we were children or teenagers got stuck in our brain because of repetition. Think of ”made in china”, ”(mickey) mouse”, or ”Rock & Roll” even though most people don’t think about the meaning of the 2 words only know the music genre but it doesn’t matter, all this vocabulary is there cause we learned it in context and we heard it , read it, and used it time and time again.

Now, let’s approach this sistematically.

You are here to improve your performance, your output, but what about the input?

I mean, language learning can be divided in 2 main parts.

Input, what you take in and output, what you produce.

Input is visual (reading) and audio (listening) whereas output is writing and speaking I mean two different sets, four skills ok? So you read & you listen and you write & speak ok? yeah ok I don’t wanna go on about this.

So now back to the question.

how to learn new vocabulary?

Well, you have to work on your input.
I can give 3 main tips, let’s call them rules, it sounds strict but they have to be followed just like rules.

1 read and listen to new stuff
2 do not use a dictionary A.K.A. use context
3 repeat

Let’s look into that in detail:

1 Get exposed to new stuff, find something you like and indulge in it,
no matter what, anything goes but remember to vary, alternate topics and sources and styles, you’ll see most vocabulary is frequently repeated especially in the news, you will soon consolidate by finding the same word in different context or, on the contrary, always in the same ”environment”.

2 Dictionaries are powerful tools, but as all great powers they come with great responsibilities. Why shouldn’t you use it? Because it is a lazy way to learn, the brain is not engaged, you become a copy-paste learner, and it’s a passive way. I mean it’s a great way to memorize data for a history test or a quiz show but not for fluent speaking. You need to memorize new words in context. In their natural environment. Imagine you met a new species of animal, you wouldn’t go on wikipedia looking it up, right? you would have to classify this animal according to your knowledge and the arbitrary methods we have to classify animals, same thing with words in another language. ok ok I am digressing, but you got the idea, right?
It sounds difficult but it is what every child (you included) has ever done to learn a first language, you see? Children don’t look up things on dictionaries….what do they do? Well, they learn from context aaaand this is our 3rd point they..

3 repeat
as simple as that.
now it is up to you how to repeat
let me give you some examples from the least to most effective

  • some people keep a glossary and revise it ( you have to make it context rich though, if you find the word ”eyelid” you should also include something like ”when I look at myself in the mirror I notice that my eyelids are blackened by sleepless nights trying to learn new words from a list”)
  • you could also use the vocabulary you recently acquired to write sentences, preferably a question you will ask to your friend, classmate, teacher.
  • you could read again the same topic, the same kind of stuff from time to time. You could also re-watch a movie that you’re familiar with like your favourite movie, you watched it in another language and that really helps boosting your vocabulary
  • you could prepare a short speech of 2 minutes where you squeeze in 2 or 3 new words. This is very effective. It is also called ”the elevator pitch” I’ll tell you more about that.
did you guess it?
  • As a last resource I would say you could…and this is one of my favourite ”games” let’s say, you could describe the word like in a game of ”don’t say” (taboo).
    For example it is an object we use to open a door but it is not a key, can be found on windows too, we grab it and pull it or turn it to open the door. Yes you guessed right it is a handle. You can play this game in your head or with your teacher, teachers absolutely love this, trust me.

In a nutshell, read and listen to whatever you can get your eyes and ears on. And if you’re desperate for an audience and you have no one to talk in english…. talk to me!


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