Don't waste your vocabulary!

What do you do with all of that vocabulary that you've learned in class?

If you're like most students, you probably have at least two or three notebooks full of words and notes that you may not have looked at since you finished that class. This is a shame because classes are the perfect place to observe and ask questions about how vocabulary works. But if you don't look at your notes or take the time to review what you've done, then it's all for nothing. It's as if you never went to class. And if you're planning on taking an exam like the First Certificate, it means that you may not be able to use a very important part of your vocabulary during the exam.

You have a better chance of remembering your vocabulary if you do the following things:

1. Record new words and expressions in the context you learned them. Let's say you're doing an FCE class on science. You know that the names of the fields (like biology and psychiatry) are almost the same as they are in Spanish. But you also learn new groups of words and expressions, like to conduct research/an experiment, to record and process data...

Take a piece of paper and draw a circle in the middle. In the middle of the circle, write the name of the context: SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY. Then take your pen/pencil and divide the page into different sections: one section might be for the names of laboratory equipment (gauges, test tubes, Bunsen burners, computers), another for the names of people who work in science and technology (laboratory assistants, laboratory technicians, analysts, engineers) and the places where they work (to work in the field, to conduct research on-site....). Keep this sheet with you all the way through the year, and any time you read or hear a new word or expression that talks about science and technology, add it to the list. It seems like a lot of work, but it isn't. It only takes thirty seconds for each new piece of vocabulary. It's really a much more efficient way of practising new words and expressions.

2. What does it sound like? Most students don't have a problem remembering new vocabulary if it's only one syllable. Words that are longer than one syllable can sometimes be difficult, especially if the word isn't made up of words that you already know (copy·right, for example.)

To make sure you can remember how to say the word properly (and that you will understand the word the next time someone uses it in a conversation), make a note of what the word sounds like. Write the accented syllable in capital (CA-pi-tal) letters, and use shorter words that sound like words that you already know.

Here are some examples, using words that I did yesterday in a class in a law firm:

PIRACY: PIE-ra-see

You will find it easier to pronounce and hear the word if you understand how it's said in English.

3. Who does what? Verbs are the basis of language: Every language in the world has them. But can you remember which verbs are only for people and which ones are only for things, for example?

Let's take another example from yesterday's class: to counterfeit (COUNT-ur-fit). This is a word that can work as a noun, a verb and as an adjective, but it's very specific to copyright law and piracy. "Falsify", which is close to the word Spanish, won't work: it's too general.

So, to make the word easier to remember and use, let's give it context by using it in specific examples.

Verb: The Guardia Civil arrested a gang that counterfeited €50 bills.
Adjective: I saw a man selling counterfeit CDs in the Metro yesterday.
Noun: Is that a real Prada handbag? -- No, it's a counterfeit (=copy).

Observe the examples: In each case, the subject is a person, and the direct object - the information that you need to complete the idea of the verb - is a thing. It's always a think. You can't falsify or make copies of a person or an animal, and it would be difficult to do it to an idea or concept. This is important to remember, because it helps eliminate any possibilities that are not correct or may give a different meaning to the verb.

(I know, this is a really obvious example, but it becomes more important when you have to learn problem verbs like GET or phrasal verbs like MAKE OVER that may have more than one meaning, depending on whether the direct object is a person, a think or an idea.)

REMEMBER: Your teacher can give you all the new vocabulary that you want, but it's the responsibility of EACH STUDENT to find a way to remember and use the language!!!

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