Having a solid vocabulary is an indispensable tool for success for any person in their academic or professional career. Undoubtedly, the best way to increase your vocab would be to read challenging literature, but let’s face it: in today’s world sometimes it’s hard to find the time or the patience. Sadly, with the huge internet boom many people have replaced their time reading real “vocab-building” literature, with surfing the internet. While your average individual might end up reading the same quantity of words, the quality of the material read leaves a lot to be desired, as most websites aren’t thinking in terms of reading difficulty or vocabulary-building and usually won’t quite challenge a third-grader.
Vocab-building then has to be pursued as a goal on its own, because out of everything that students learn in school nowadays, their vocabulary probably has the most long term consequences and could in fact lead to them being accepted (or rejected) for a job even thirty years down the line. Vocab-building is almost a lifestyle choice: you need to be looking for new words, you must do just a little bit on a daily basis, and with today’s reliance on technology this actually becomes easier than most would think.
Today we will look at how to fit one vocab-building tool into your life – flash cards! They will help you enrich your language, do well on standardized tests and inevitably impress others! The tips that follow can be applied to not only vocab building, but to basically any form of learning that requires memorization from math concepts to the periodic table.
The best way to learn new words is to make flash cards out of them. Even just the act of physically writing the word down yourself, helps to commit it to memory. You can even buy readymade flash cards from most bookstores nowadays. The following tips apply to both your own, or ones that you bought.
1. Personalize them
Physical flash cards work better, just because you can personalize them. Flashcards that just have a word on the front and a definition on the back are never going to be as useful as ones that have the word on the front and a personal memory trigger at the back. For example:
a. Use mnemonics
Think of things that could help you remember the word. It could be ‘sounds like’, for example, maybe to memorize ‘ostentatious’, you write down ‘Austin Powers’ on the back, because Austin Powers is ‘loud and obnoxious’ and that could help you remember the original word. Creating a unique link will help you remember what the word meant if you ever encounter it in the real world.
b. Draw a picture
A little drawing on the back goes a long way to help you remember what the word was about, especially if the drawing involves the word itself. So for example for “bellicose”, you could draw a guy with a big ‘belly’ waving a big gun around, to show that he is “warlike”.
c. Create real world context
You could link a word on a flashcard to someone in the real world. For example, for ‘truculent’, I could write down my friend Jim’s name on the back, because Jim is always ‘ready to fight’.
2. Organize them
With flashcards a good idea is to break them up into sub-groups depending on how well you know the words. So, for example:
Group 1 would be words that you know, you are comfortable with, you can define, you can use in a sentence—these are the words you know.
Group 2 would be words that you’ve seen before but are not quite comfortable defining, or you can’t exactly use them in a sentence—you sort of know them.
Group 3 would be words that you’ve never seen before; you’re looking at them and thinking “wow, that’s English?”—you don’t know them.
Your goal is to convert the 3’s into 2’s, and the 2’s into 1’s.
3. Words you just can’t remember
You will probably come up against words that you just can’t seem to remember. For these words it’s a good idea to make multiple copies of the flashcard using all the memory devices you can think of and put them in places that you frequent, for example your bathroom mirror, your fridge door, on top of your laptop. You can master these through plain repetition.
4. Make them a daily part of your life
a. Take your flash cards everywhere!
Keep a stack of them in your pocket at all times. So if you are waiting in line at the cafeteria, or for the bus, you can whip out your flashcards and flip through a few of them.
b. Add a few new cards everyday
Find and identify good sources for new words, these could be online “word-of-the-day” lists (e.g. m-w.com, dictionary.com), magazines, articles, books (specifically vocab books like Word Smart). Get a few of them in flash card form everyday.
Remember the quest for a strong vocabulary has to become a lifestyle, and always always always look up every word you don’t understand. If you put it off, you’ll never do it.