How to learn vocabulary / definitions
April 15th, 2013 by Tony Barlow
Throughout 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.
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.
Pteridophytes = A flowerless and seedless plant
Step 1 – Find a picture of what the word means (even better get an actual pteridophyte).
Step 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
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Thanks again, and good luck!