Learn vocabulary in a matter of seconds

Attractive title right? I’m actually serious. Well, a couples of seconds, maybe not, but surely less than a minute! With this method, you can finally study vocabulary quickly

In order to know how to memorize vocabulary, it’s first important to understand how we memorize in the first place. The brain works with associations of ideas: We have to memorize things by first making links with pieces of information that we have already stored.

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Let me give you a concrete example:

The Russian word (with English spelling) to say “person” is “shelobec”. How do I memorize this? It’s simple: shel+o+bec. I have pictured a shelf (just take the last letter off), with a dinosaur egg on it which has the shape of the letter “o”. Why do I imagine a newborn dinosaur (with the beak getting out)? Simply because I pictured the creator of dinosaurs in the movie Jurassic Part. I picture that this man is standing in front of a shelf and is watching the birth of a dinosaur getting out of his egg. The creator is thus the “person”. I studied this word a month ago and haven’t seen it ever since. Nevertheless, I still know it. It took me less than a minute, perhaps 30 seconds, to memorize it.

Let’s have a look at other examples with Polish words, Polish is a language that shares most letters with English and French:

  • The word for “mouse” is “mysz”, which has a similar pronounciation to the word “mouche” in French (“fly” in English). I picture a mouse catching a fly to eat it.
  • The word for “juice” is “sok”, which is spelled the same way as the Dutch word meaning “socket”. Let’s then just think of socket juice (“jus de chaussette” in French)
  • The word for a tomato is “pomidor”. Here I’ve used my knowledge of the French language: I picture a sleeping apple (pomme) which, during his sleep (“je dors”=”I sleep”, the “s” in French isn’t pronounced) turns into a tomato and thus changes colour. By picturing this images and short movies in your head, this word could be easy to memorize (putting words together, putting their meaning together through pictures). As you have noticed, I’ve used many French and Dutch vocab to study these words. The more languages you know, the more vocab you have at your disposal to memorize new words.
  • The word for “bird’ is “ptak”. I picture a bird standing on a branche (“tak” means “branche” in Dutch). Imagine that the branche takes the shape of the letter “p”. Or you can also picture the bird getting smashed by a branche that the bird hasn’t seen coming, and the sound of this smashing sounds like the letter “p”.

Let’s have a look at another example from another language: Spanish!:

  • The word for “sheep” (which you might eat, not the living animal) is “cordero”. I picture a sheep that, right before being killed, gets freed by superman who cuts the rope attaching the sheep (rope is translated as “corde” in French) -> cord + hero (superman is a superhero) = cordero

For those who, like me, use mnemotechnics as shown above, I recommend you make a vocab list in 3 columns: the first one contains the word in the alphabet of the target language; the second one contains the translation; the third one contains the explaination of the mnemonic (example for “mysz”: “une souris attrape une pouche en plein vol” in French).

Writing the explaination will help you remember the word more easily when you’ve forgotten the word and need to study the list again after stopping for some time. It’s extremely useful and takes only a few seconds to remember the word.

For languages for which this technique is not necessary, or when you just need to refresh the words, I would simply make a list with 2 columns. You can even put 4 to 6 columns on the page to have 2 to 3 times more words. Having a list with 3 columns is especially useful for words that are very difficult to remember or languages that don’t have anything to do with your own mother tongue (Chinese, Russian, Hungarian, Polish, …)

Have you found my ideas difficult? That’s just the point! The more the mnemotechnic is strange and complicated, far-fetched, illogic, the better you will remember it because it shocks the brain. Personally, with practice, I can sometimes memorize a word in a matter of seconds. I may happen to forget it, but by studying it again, I remember how I studied it and I thus know it instantly.

Of course, you need some practice to get to this point, and the more languages you know, the more vocab you have at your disposal. I have used French and Dutch and could use other languages to help me. Monolinguals don’t have this advantage yet. Patience, your time will come 😉

For a test on Youtube, I had to memorize 10 words given without any context of link. I had about 5 seconds to memorize each. They were written on the screen and then vanished. Out of 10, I had memorized 9. I couldn’t recall them all now, but if I were to see them again, the story I imagined to remember them would surely partly come back to memory 😉