How to Learn Vocabulary, Definitions & Spelling: memory techniques, enrich your knowledge & your writing
Memory is a funny thing; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but usually once you have ‘rehearsed’ an item of information, that is, gone over it several times or used it in different ways, then that item will slip from short-term to long-term memory and you’ll be able to recall it most of the time. In the very long-term it might take a bit of head scratching but it will come back to you.
Learning to Dance
Example of Mulit-sensory Reinforcement
For example, learning to dance the waltz:
Wonderful for multli-sensory opportunities, any dance involves
- visual learning - you can see others dance, practise following others’ examples,
- kinesthetic learning - a repeated beat and a sequence to follow, repeatedly,
- auditory learning - the music has a rhythm and a melody which supports the movements in order,
- oral learning - you can count out loud the 1, 2, 3; 1, 2, 3 etc., each step going with a number, 1 back, 2 side, 3 together, and your teacher will repeat instructions,
- tactile learning - you’re dancing with a partner which offers most help to the woman as she’s guided by the partner; also your feet are moving in the same sequence time after time so you can ‘feel’ if you make a mistake.
A sequence such as a dance is automatically repeated many times, so the information is reinforced more and more each time.
How can we Help Memory?
Memory needs some help. Well, mine does anyway. Not only does it need reinforcing to push it into the ‘long-term’ file but it helps to give it some ‘hooks’, some clues to remind it about each item.
Think of it like recalling someone’s name; you can see the face which brings the memory closer but you can’t quite pull out the name. If you start thinking about where you saw that person or what was happening that day, who else was there, then you are much more likely to have the name pop into your head.
Multi-sensory clues help our memory when it’s not working at its best for us. Indeed, both initial learning and subsequent memory function better if you have visual, tactile, auditory and oral reinforcement, not to mention the sense of smell or some connected movement (kinesthetics).
Ok, now let’s have a look at some interesting words. Below are some which have cropped up recently in my work, so I’ll start with them. You will come across many others and these particular words might not be useful for you, however you can apply similar techniques to help you remember any word, its meaning and its spelling and thence enrich your vocabulary and writing.
Who is This?
Words to Conjure Up
Words are a bit like tricks. If you’re good at them you can entertain and amaze with your knowledge. Beware though! Do not fall into the trap of using complicated words when you can use more direct ones as you might find that you lose your reader through grandiosity or sheer lack of understanding.
These are words which you might encounter and therefore need to know. If you then choose to use them in particular circumstances, that’s a good idea - you then need to remember the correct meaning and the correct spelling if using them in writing.
Some of my examples will show vowels (a,e,i,o,u) with a straight line above them, some with a small up-ended curve above them.
A long line indicates a long vowel, as in these words: cāving, lēver, mītred, dōtage, fūme.
A short curve indicates a short vowel, as in these: măp, děntist, thĭnned, cŏttage, nŭtter.
Sometimes, you find vowels ‘fused’ together, like æ and œ; these are called diphthongs (pronounced ‘diff-thongs’) or sliding vowels and are long vowel digraphs (two letters), pronounced variably as ā or ē or even ī. Sorry! That’s English for you. Don’t knife me, I’m only the courier.
Ok, let’s have a look at a few words.
Fillip: a boost, good feelling, spur
fĭllĭp - this can be remembered with ‘flip’; it gives you a good feeling, you do a flip, up and over with joy!
In Britain we have flip-flops to wear in the summer. Others call them thongs or jandals. Laughing gives you a boost, a good feeling, so bearing in mind the flip-flops, here’s a joke to help you remember fillip:
What do you call a Frenchman wearing sandals? Fil-lip Fel-lop! Good, eh? Ok, I can hear you groaning but it might help some remember. (Just in case you didn’t get it, Philippe is a common French name.)
Spelling: Listen to the ‘beats’ (syllables) of the word - fil / lip. There are 2 syllables, split at the middle, double letter. Learn each syllable at a time, then put them together.
Another way of remembering the meaning is to think of ‘fills your lips’, that is, makes you smile.
onomatopoeic: describing a word which sounds like its meaning; for example 'smash!' 'giggle', 'bang'...., usually words associated with sounds, sometimes with movements, like 'wriggling'.
Ironically, the word ‘onomatopœic’ does not give you a clue as to its meaning!
First, say the word to yourself, or aloud if you’re alone or not bothered if people give you sideways looks. How many beats (syllables) does it have?
ŏn-ō-măt-ō-pœ-ĭc = 6 syllables
The word contains a diphthong, or gliding vowel, /o/ and /e/ squashed together, though now both letters are usually written separately. Unusual features such as this, however, can make it easier to remember.
There is nothing to stop you writing it either way; you can show off your knowledge by using the written diphthong! There is usually a function which allows you to type it that way too. Mine is under ‘special characters - Accented Latin’.
Learn the spelling of each syllable at a time, gradually building up to the full six.
on-o ...... mat-o ...... pœ (said as ‘pea’) ..... ic
Write each syllable in a different colour of your choice.
Use capitals for the starting letter of each syllable (just remember not to do that normallly!). Say it out loud as you write it, even say it to a little tune, varying the rhythm, such as;
Caps, Colour & Rhythm
Try it! Might be another case of doing it on your own, unless you want to appear totally whacky - your choice.
Magic, pelagic, Atlantis
Pelagic: of or relating to the open sea
Pelagic fish are fish inhabiting the upper layers of the open sea.
From this come words like:
- pelagian: oceanic - marine
- archipelago: a large group of islands in a sea, for example the Aegean archipelago, containing a large number of scattered islands
How many syllables?
pe-la-gic = 3 syllables
This is spelt just about how it sounds (phonetic), as long as you remember that /g/ in front of /i/ usually has a /j/ sound.
How can we remember the word? Rhymes with ‘magic’ + the mysterious, magical island of Atlantis - ‘magic pelagic Atlantis’
You’re doing well so far. I like to teach words in groups of five, so two more to go.
Rambunctious: noisy & lacking in restraint or discipline
The first two syllables remind us of ‘bull in a china shop’ -type words. To ‘ram’ is to bash into things, ‘bunc’ sounds like bump, or ‘bunk up’ (squash up), so together they imply the word’s meaning.
ram-bunc-tious = 3 syllables
Again this is phonetic for the first two syllables. The ending is a common pattern to learn.
This would be a good one to learn using an illustration. A picture of a ram, head down, ready to smash its way through a pile of wood or china or the like, then underneath put the syllables, spread out, each in a separate colour.
Misanthrope: someone who dislikes people in general
mĭs-ăn-thrōpe = 3 syllables
Ok, what do you think? A picture of a girl, entitled ‘Mis An’,(no, not me, I like people -mostly!), in coloured syllables as usual. A few other stick-people around her (you don’t have to be an artist).
Underneath write ‘thrope’ in big letters. ‘Thrope’ sounds like ‘throw up’ indicating her distaste; the picture should therefore indicate that action upon the others around her! The more outrageous or disgusting your reminder, the more likely you are to remember it, so there are very few boundaries.
Alternatively, you could have ‘Mis Anth’ with a ‘rope’ round someone’s throat!
With these illustrative memory prods, it's always best to make up your own; it involves your own ideas, your own actions, always much more memorable than when done by someone else. Have a go now!
You get the picture.
Just for Fun
Here are a few words which have gone out of use. I think they could do with a revival. So let's have a look at some fun words that come from old English/British, taken from http://www.rd.com/funny-stuff/funny-words-to-improve-your-vocabulary/
- twitter-light: twilight
- quagswag: the act of shaking to and fro (I love this one!)
- illecebrous: alluring, enticing, attractive (orig. Latin)
- hoddypeak: a fool, simpleton, blockhead
- brannigan: a drinking bout, spree, binge (1920s)
- perissology: the use of superfluous verbiage (or talking too much!) (orig. Greek)
- yemeles: careless, heedless, negligent (doesn’t take ‘yeme’, or care)
- aglifft: frightened, alarmed
- widdendream: a state of mental disturbance or confusion (Scottish) (another one that appeals to me - I wonder why?!)
How about using some of those in your writing? I dare you!