How to remember Words?

How to remember vocabulary? How to memorize words? or, How to build vacabulary?

These are the very questions that virtually haunt the minds of lacs of students who aspire to crack competitive exams. Many a student I have come across try to remember words by mugging up vocabulary lists. They generally translate the words in their mother tongue next to each word. Then these very students come up to me and say “My memory is pathetic, I can’t seem to remember the words.” I just ask a simple question, “Have you tried learning the words before you actually tried remembering them?” 9 out of 10 times, the answer comes in a ‘No’.

Don’t misunderstand me. It is not your fault that you are using the wrong tool or method. If you look in most language learning books, exercises, language classes you will find that it is even recommended that you should learn your vocabulary using lists. In fact, why not work at memorizing 10, 20 words a day in that way! Well, many people do that and most with poor results. So what is a good method? To answer this, let’s correct the question first that should be-

How to learn vocabulary?
To understand that, we need to have a fundamental understanding how our brain works. I will not be talking here about the neurons, the synapses etc. Instead I will be reflecting here on commonsense understandings we can all come to, based on our experiences. You will find that there is in fact a lot of research to support what I am about to share.

Try answering the questions below:

# What’s your cellphone brand?
# What’s your best friend’s name?
# Who’s your favourite movie star?

Think, what difficulty you faced while answering these questions? or Did you face any difficulty at all? The answer is ‘No’. And moreover, you made no real effort to memorize the answers.

Now, another set of questions for you:

# What does ‘Annihilate’ mean?
# What does ‘Belligerent’ mean?
# What does ‘Parsimonious’ mean?

Got the answers? Maximum of you I believe would say ‘No’. Why???

Here is a very important key that is overlooked. Memory works best when we deal with things that are important to us, there and then. The second thing to note is that there were links made to our life, to what was already in our brain. From all the research we know that memory works best when the new item creates a deep image with what we already know. So the more the images, or the links, the more likely that we are going to recall the item and the more personal and immediate are the images or the links, the more chance we are going to remember it.

So let’s give you an example. For argument’s sake, say you want to learn the meaning of “Belligerent”. Note, I didn’t say memorise. Well, when we search for the meaning of the word, we get it as ‘Aggressive and Hostile’ or ‘Someone who’s inclined to fight’.

You see the word ‘Belligerent’ in a good dictionary and you will immediately know the meaning, but how will you retain the meaning of that word or how will you avoid forgetting it or how will you put it into your working memory.

Now, think of an image of a person in your family or in neighbourhood who’s aggressive and always ready to fight.


The above image shows Mark and John who are always ready to fight with each other at work. No matter how futile the matter is, they are always up for a quarrel.

Let’s take another example and that’s too in our own Indian context.


Are you able to recall the face here in the picture? Yes, she is Dolly Bindra who played a belligerent and cacophonous lady in a famous Indian reality show ‘Big-Boss Season 4’. She has been loud-mouthed and was the cause of many fights throughout her stay at the show.

In a way, you can say

Mark = John = Dolly Bindra = Belligerent

The trick is to put the ‘word’ into your life, into sentences in the language you are learning. If you use your mother tongue, you will be asking your brain to do gymnastics of the kind that are difficult. Remembering words in two languages at the time you are speaking one is difficult, and this is because different languages occupy different parts of the brain. So when you speak one, stay in the one you are speaking.

Ideally write 3 sentences, each of which are personal, the more feeling, or memories they evoke in themselves the better they will be.

# My new neighbour, Mr. Gupta is quite belligerent and short-tempered.

# Bosses at workplaces are often belligerent, tend to pick faults when there are actually none.

# It’s a good idea to avoid hardcore Pakistani Cricket fans after their team loses — they tend to be belligerent.

This process might seem complex or cumbersome at first and it really is for a time. But once you get the hang of it, you will learn to do it so fast that you will be hardly aware that you are doing it.

Another reason why this method works well, is that you have impelled your brain to get the new words involved in your life. And at the same time, you have been forced to make sentences, hence you have made linguistic contexts in terms of images for the new words. Can you see now why it is much more likely that once you have done this, you will never forget the word in question, or if you do, it will only be a temporary lapse. And because you have placed it into a linguistic context, you have also strengthened the language you are learning at the same time. Now isn’t that a bonus?

There are clearly other issues in how to remember vocabulary in an effective way but this technique I have just shown you will improve your vocabulary learning skills a great deal if you utilize the technique and keep practising it.

Keep learning! 🙂
Love, Shreshtha P.


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