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How to learn vocabulary / definitions

April 15th, 2013 by Tony Barlow

NLP Vocabulary strategyThroughout your school life you will be learning the meanings of words, building your vocabulary, learning definitions. English words, foreign language words, science words, history words, math words and so on.

Its essential that students have an effective strategy for learning the meaning of words or they will have a tough time keeping up.

One of my earliest clients was a 10 year old girl who was asked to learn 20 new definitions every week. It was taking her around 1 hour to learn the list and she had to come back to it 3 or 4 times during the week to make sure she had it.

She hated doing it and it was her main issue. I taught her how to memorize the whole list in about 5 minutes. In this article I’ll explain how this was done.

STRATEGIES THAT DON’T WORK !

When a student is having trouble learning the meaning of words and I ask them “How do you study these words, show me what you do”.

They will typically SAY the word and the definition a few times each, or WRITE out each definition a few times each. Doing it this way they will eventually be able to repeat the definition or they will be able to write out each definition. But does this mean that they understand the meaning ?

Being able to repeat a bunch of words does not mean you understand the meaning of a word. Also the above method is tedious and slow in terms of memorizing and is what is sometimes known as ‘rote’ learning (saying words over and over) its like trying to remember a song but without the tune.

HOW WE UNDERSTAND MEANING

How do we actually understand meaning ? What happens inside your mind when you understand the meaning of a word?

Its very simple. Tell me what happens inside your mind when I say the following word.
“Apple”
What happened ? Let me guess, you saw an apple right?

A picture of an apple popped into your mind ! and maybe the taste of the apple, the feeling of biting into an apple, the sound of biting into an apple.

So in other words you had a mental experience of an apple. That’s what happens when you understand the meaning of a word. You didn’t have to repeat a bunch of words like “An apple is a fruit than grows on…….” The picture just popped into your mind in a millisecond.

Now tell me what happens inside your mind with the next word
“pteridophytes” (teri do fites)
Not much, probably your mind went blank unless you are a botanist. If you don’t know the meaning of a word no mental experience pops up.

HOW TO MEMORIZE VOCABULARY QUICKLY

All you have to do is connect the word you are trying to learn with some kind of mental experience of what the word actually means in the real world.

Lets use the word pteridophytes as an example, here is the basic definition. pteridophyte

Pteridophytes = A flowerless and seedless plant

Step 1 – Find a picture of what the word means (even better get an actual pteridophyte).

pteridophyteStep 2 – Imagine the pteridophyte and while looking at the image (full mental experience )in your mind, say the word and the meaning. This will associate the word and the meaning neurologically.

HOW TO MEMORIZE DEFINITIONS IN SECONDS !

To achieve one time memory, which is what we are always going for in order to achieve accelerated learning rates.

The student needs to create a full mental experience of the meaning, not just a picture but the feeling of a pteridophyte, the sound of the pteridophyte blowing in the wind, a full hollywood production inside their thought process while saying the meaning of the word.

Also I suggest seeing the word itself somewhere in the picture.

Creating a full mental experience will make a strong impression on the brains neurology and the memory will stick long term, particularly if you can add emotion to the experience. Please read the article “How Memory Works” to find out more about achieving one time memory.

*Note: Remember that looking at a picture of a pteridophyte in a book and saying the meaning will not have the same effect. The student needs to LOOK AWAY from the book and create a mental experience (visualization). This is what puts the information into memory.

Teachers and tutors often say to me, I show him, I tell him, and he still doesn’t remember it.

Understand that the teaching method is not what gets the student to memorize or understand something. Its what the student does INSIDE their mind while you’re teaching them that matters most.

Other resources to help you start learning quickly and easily

  • Book a 1-2-1 Session with Tony
  • Book a FREE ‘Find out More’ chat with Tony
  • Go to the Free Tips Page to find out more

Thank you for reading this article, I really appreciate you coming to my site, I hope you are enjoying and benefiting from the information here. This site is designed to be the ultimate free resource for students / parents of struggling students.

Please leave a comment below because I’d love to hear what you think!
Thanks again, and good luck!

2 Responses to “How to learn vocabulary / definitions”

March 24, 2014 at 4:55 pm, FRED said:

thanks for your suggestions.
how wod u teach students how to memorize suff like

ohms law:which states that the electric current in a given conductor is directly proportional to the potential difference applied at a constant temperature

newtons laws of motion 1.a particle continues in its state of rest or once moving continuous its motion in a uniform straight line unless acted upon by an external force

2.the rate of change of momentum is directly proportional to the applied force and takes place in the direction of the force

Reply

March 25, 2014 at 9:18 am, Tony Barlow said:

ohms law:which states that the electric current in a given conductor is directly proportional to the potential difference applied at a constant temperature

This is a bunch of meaningless words to most people unless you visualize it. You need to teach your students how to visualize it or they won’t understand it.
What I would do is to find out how you visualize it yourself and tell your students to visualize it the same way.

Before you can visualize and understand it you need to know what the words mean.

Potential Difference can be visualized as water pressure (measured in volts) provided by a battery or mains supply etc. pushing the water(electricity) down the pipe(wire).

Electrical current can be visualized as how much water is going through a pipe. (measured in amps)

Directly proportional can be visualized as: When the pd / voltage/ pressure increases so does the current. (as long as the temp is the same)

1) Tell your students how to visualize it:
“Imagine the potential diff. as pressure, pushing the current down the wire. The more pd (volts) the more current, and the less resistance.” “Imagine this wire next to a thermometer that always shows the same temp”

2) Get them to say the meaning while looking at their mental picture.
“The electrical current in a ……..”

Then the words will have meaning.

————————————

A particle continues in its state of rest or once moving continues its motion in a uniform straight line unless acted upon by an external force

1) “Imagine a particle resting and staying there. Imagine the particle moving in a straight line until something from outside knocks it off the straight line.

2) Say the meaning while looking at your mental picture

————————————————-

the rate of change of momentum is directly proportional to the applied force and takes place in the direction of the force

1) “Imagine an object being pushed one way and then the other with your hand, how the object moves depends on the amount of push (force) and the direction of the push (force) ”

2) Say the meaning while looking at your mental picture ( and actually move your hand)

—————————————————
Im sure you can come up with better mental pictures than me for physics definitions.
1) Get them to make the mental picture
2) Simultaneously saying the meaning and holding the mental picture will neurologically link the two things. So the next time you ask them “What is Ohm’s law?” the mental picture will come back and they will not only remember it they will understand it.

Its no different to how you understand simple meanings:

If I say ‘apple’ to you. A picture of an apple pops into your mind
If I say ‘Ohms law” to you. A picture of that pops into your mind

Just give your students the mental picture first, showing them pictures in a book will help, doing some activity will help, but the goal is to end up with the mental image connected to the sound of the word/s.

Regards, Tony

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