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Memory Methods for Second Language Learning

written by: Bright Hub Education Writer • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 1/30/2013

Anyone can create flash-cards for new vocabulary: The trick is getting those words into memory effectively. Here's how it's done, in a nutshell.

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    Memory Madness

    In the Second Language learner's odyssey from newbie to gnostic, you as a learner are confronted by masses of new. New words, new phrases, new word-order and, well, just a lot of new-new-new! It can be overwhelming, especially as you strive to make sense of it. Remember this phrase: MAKE SENSE of it.

    A new word in your Second Language is just a noise at first. The challenge you want to meet here is moving or transforming that new, meaningless sound (noise, gurgle? grunt? hiccup?) into a sensible mental reality in which it makes sense. This means you have attached sensible meaning and sensible imagery (in your mind) to that new sound, word, or expression.

    Such transformation not only makes the noise into a word, but also allows you hooks with which to connect it mentally to other meanings, images, feelings and senses. The more senses you can engage, the easier it will be to recall meaning in real-time conversation.

    Memory Methods include applying Images (and sound), creating mental images, using action and reviewing well.

    Let's bite into these one at a time, shall we?

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    Memory Techniques, Real-Time

    Applying images is a two-fold process, in which I apply first to the SOUND of the word and then find an image for the MEANING of the word. For example, the word brotpai in Thai means safe, or safely. I first visualized an image of a hand, carrying a PIE... then I connected the image of safely. "He brotpai, safely!"

    Your conscious mind may balk, with a sneer something like, "Oh, that is so childish!" but believe me, your subconscious mind loves wordplay like that, loves jokes and loves bizarre imagery, even risque or 'dirty'... the more warped and exaggerated the imagery, the easier it is to remember! Conversely, trying to memorize a list of words without some kind of imagery or memory-hooks is extremely difficult.

    After applying images, use semantic mapping, where you plot the word on an imaginary map (or a pencil-and-paper map) of the word by function. Write the word by hand a few times. Savor its meaning. This is your life, not some tedious chore to be finished as quickly as possible in order to get to your life. Map out meanings on your rose-strewn path to second language mastery. They smell divine!

    Use keywords for memory. Find synonyms, similars, antonyms, homonyms. Play with these words until the meaning starts acquiring some meaning, to you. That meaning will seep quickly into your subconscious, recalled at will.

    Finally, I use marks, symbols and writing to represent sounds in my memory. After playing the image game (attach an image to the sound and then another image to the meaning) it is easy to represent these sounds to myself in my memory. And with a little practice, you can, too!

    Next I use action to make the new word or phrase sensible: use physical response or gesture to sense its sensation. Get into it!

    Finally, I review my new words, with structured reviewing that helps me taste, smell and otherwise sense my new vocabulary in a sensible, meaningful way. It is low-hanging fruit, ripe and delicious with meaning! Enjoy!

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