Language Learning Tip #03

Problem  (and it’s a big one!)

“I can’t remember my vocabulary words.”



There is more and more study being done in cognitive science and memory these days.  One of the things that is being learned about is the role of emotions and chemicals like adrenaline to deeply etch memories into the brain.  Scientists are even developing drugs to enhance memory and, more controversially, drugs to help one forget.  One thing that is becoming more clear is that when language utterances are attached to emotion, they can become so deeply etched into the memory as to become almost unforgettable.

Teachers have long known that drama which connects with people emotionally is an effective way to promote rapid second language acquisition.  Mothers know this almost instinctively as they exaggerate their intonation in their baby talk.  Dramatic language teachers are more effective, and phrases said in humorous, exaggerated, or unusual ways stick in the mind easily.  One GAP MSA teacher observed that with the old Al-Kitaab videos of Maha’s family all the students knew a particular word because it was once said by a character in an exaggerated way.  In contrast, the new generation of students using the new edition and new actors struggles to remember that very same word because it is not delivered dramatically.

OK, Tim, so this is sort of interesting, but what can I do with this information?

1) Memorizing a vocabulary list has very little emotion attached to it, but you can add emotion by imagining a dramatic situation in which you could use the word.

2) Put the word in a meaningful sentence, but not in a boring sentence.  Strange sentences usually stick in the mind better.

3) Say difficult words aloud in various ways — angry, romantically, fearfully, etc.  It’s probably best to do this alone so no one will hear you and think you’ve lost your mind.


A cute and clever video that illustrates Tips #3 – #6


Note:  Drama and emotion are just one way to help your memory.  In future messages, I will address other ideas for solving the same problem.

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