How to make sure you remember new words in English

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Read the article below

Have you heard of the Vocabulary Graveyard?

It’s the place where words go to die.

Many years ago, one of my teaching mentors told me why I should make sure my students reviewed new words and phrases.

If they don’t review these new words, they end up in the vocabulary graveyard!

When we learn something new, we are likely to forget it unless we keep on using it.

Use it or lose it

What do you do when you learn new words or phrases in English? How do you make sure this new language is stored in your long-term memory and doesn’t end up in the vocabulary graveyard?

Read on to discover a simple strategy for really learning new language

When you come across a new word, you can increase your chances of remembering it – and store it in your long-term memory – by using your mobile phone.

Step 1: Check the word in a dictionary app on your phone

Here’s what I recommend for fans of British English! This is the initial learning part. Make sure you check word type (noun, verb etc.) and make a note of the meaning. Read the example sentence which shows how the word is used in context and refer back to the text you read in which you first saw the word.

Step 2: Make it personal

We remember words much better when we relate them to our own life. Dictionary definitions and example sentences are fine, but they are not written especially for you. Adapt them using references to your own life and you are more likely to remember them.

Step 3: When you are happy with your example sentence, read it aloud a couple of times and try to remember it

Say it aloud, talk to yourself. After a couple of repetitions, you’ll remember it and won’t need to check what you wrote.  Even better, teach the word to a friend and make sure you ask them to teach it back to you!

Step 4: Then, record yourself defining the word with your example sentence on your mobile

I’ve just learnt the word ……

This is a verb / noun / adjective which means………

It has a similar meaning to

Here is an example of how it is used

Say your example sentence here

Listen back to the recording immediately. Wait a couple of minutes then write the word, the definition and the example sentence on a piece of paper or repeat it verbally.

Step 5: After an hour, listen back to the recording again (repeat to remember)

Listen again over the next 24 hours. Wait a day then listen again. Leave it for a couple of days then listen again. Wait a week before going back to it. Again, practising with a friend will maximise your chances of storing it in your long-term memory.

This is a really simple way to maximise your chance of actually learning new vocabulary in English.

There are 3 main reasons why this strategy works:

1. Personalisation of new language makes it more memorable

2. In everyday communication, we often use all 4 skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) which research suggests increases the chances of long-term memory storage.

3. Spaced repetition is a learning technique in which we learn new information by reviewing it but we extend the gaps between each review. For example, we review something after 2 hrs, then 10 hrs, then 2 days, then 10 days etc. This seems to be an extremely effective way to learn and many learning applications, such as Duolingo, use this technique.

As John Medina, author of Brain Rules puts it: Repeat to remember and Remember to Repeat.

I’d love to hear what you think. What do you do when you want to really learn new words? Let’s share our ideas.





4 thoughts on “How to make sure you remember new words in English

  1. Good advice! I am already using most of the tips you suggest and they are very useful! The issue is that you spend much time doing that. For that, what I do is to write all new words and when I have time, I do all the process.


  2. Thank you sir
    it’s very useful idea to remember new words and phrases. . actually I’m in lower intermediate level but I hope I will be able to speak well and I don’t like to end up new words in the graveyard vocabulary.. so I’m going to follow you..Thank you very much


    • You’re very welcome Afsal. You have a positive attitude to learning English so I’m sure you will take your English to the next level very soon.


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