Sticky vocabulary!!

"You know what I mean... it's a... you know... it's kind of a thingy that...."

True story: When I started learning Spanish years ago, I could not remember the difference between techo (ceiling) and suelo (floor). No word of a lie. Now, if you're an English speaker living in Canada, those words are probably not very important to your daily life, but just knowing that you're having problems can make you feel frustrated (and make you wonder if you're suffering some kind of mental problems!)

Have you got vocabulary that won't stay in your brain? Try these four tricks:

a) Use sticky notes. They don't have to be fancy, really colourful or cut into unusual shapes (though it's a nice touch...). If you want, you can recycle old pieces of office paper and adhesive tape. Then, put the note on the article in question (see photo) or somewhere where you're going to see it quite frequently. Repeat the word. Use it in a sentence. Once you know that you know the word - what it means, how to pronounce it, how to describe it - throw the note away or store it in your notebook (to test yourself later.)

b) Write it out..again and again and again and again.... We described this technique back in August, when we were talking about motivation, but it's worth repeating over and over: the more times you use it, the easier it'll be to remember it. This is something they do in English-speaking public schools (at least they do in Canada!) when students have problems remembering how to spell: if you get a word wrong on a spelling test, you have to write the correct spelling twenty-five to fifty times. Why? Because it WORKS!

c) Break longer words into smaller pieces. Think about the base form of a word (REG-ju-lar), then add the suffixes and prefixes on individually. (Don't forget that suffixes and prefixes can change the meaning of a word, but only certain suffixes change the stress in a word: for example, 'REG-ju-lar but reg ju 'LA tion.)

d) Work with the sound, not the spelling. Irregular past simple words like thought, bought and taught are tough for Spanish speakers of English because, to the eyes of Spanish speakers, there's little connection between the spelling and the pronunciation of the word. Some students find it useful to make a list of words with similar sounds, because they know that there's a limited number of combinations of sounds in English. So a student who wants to remember those three irregular verbs might make a list that looks like this: caught, taught, not, slot, ought, bought, daughter, flop, knot, because the /au/ sound is more common than the spelling.

e) Think in pictures. If you're not a big American football fan, the idea of to tackle something probably isn't an idea or a saying you use a lot. But if I give you a picture like this, and ask you how to tackle your vocabulary, you get the sense: to attack, to confront; not to hide or to avoid. Students who like to think in images find that this is a useful method.

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