Short Lists, Sessions and Contextualization
Let’s expand on this maxim, starting with what I mean by short lists. The average person can learn three lists of eight words each, in one day, more easily than if all 24 words were on one list. In fact, if a student had twenty-four words to learn, I would probably recommend making four lists of six words each. They can be written on a folder paper, a 3X5 card, anything portable.
What about short, intense and frequent sessions? I tell students to study their lists five times a day. I tell them there are only two times when I insist they study them: at night before turning out the lights and in the morning before getting out of bed. They can pick any other three times. These sessions should be no more than fifteen minutes long.
As for method, they must learn from English to Spanish, in order to develop an active vocabulary, not merely a passive, or recognition vocabulary.
Finally, contextualization is also important. If anyone wants to retain a word in long-term memory, they can’t just learn it as an isolated item. If I want to remember that an apple is una manzana in Spanish, and that manzana also means a city block (in Spain), I might want to use visualization, even a strange image, to help fix these meanings in memory. For instance, I might repeat the words una manzana aloud as I visualize a city map with an apple in the middle of a city block. Another way to contextualize otherwise almost meaningless vocabulary is to use the new words in a very simple sentence or sentences, using vocabulary you already know. For instance, I might say Como una manzana (I eat an apple), even imagining the taste and smell of an apple.
If learners take just a few seconds to contextualize new words by using them with already familiar material, they will make the word meaningful, that is, bring it to life and greatly increase the likelihood that they will retain them.