Does the following sound familiar?
You are reading an article.
You find a new word.
You check its meaning in your language.
You think it’s interesting and you want to learn it.
You add it to your vocabulary list in your notebook (document, excel sheet etc) with the translation next to it.
We usually collect words this way because we have seen it done this way so many times in school, in textbooks etc.
And, it seems quite an obvious thing to do 🙂
The new word in one column, the translation (meaning) next to it.
How can this be done differently?
If we do a just little bit more when taking vocabulary notes, we can prepare for a better vocabulary learning experience.
The new word will make more sense and will come to mind more naturally next time we want to use it in speaking.
Let’s me explain why, and show you how to do it.
We said two columns for the word list, right? One for the new words in English, the other one for the meanings in L1 (first language).
That’s OK, though I suggest using 3 columns (more on this in another newsletter some other time).
The point I want to make today is this:
If I only write down the new word alone, a couple of problems may arise.
If a word in English has several meanings in my language, which meaning to add in the translations column?
How will I remember how to use this word in context correctly next time I need it?
Let me show you an example and then let’s see a solution.
Suppose we are reading this in an article:
“Household costs have gone up by 15% in the past 6 months”.
Let’s imagine that in this text “household” is a new word.
What do we usually do first? We quickly look the meaning up in a dictionary.
For “household”, the dictionary in Spanish will give us a meaning like: hogar, casa, familia.
There you go. Several meanings, but which one should we write down? All three?
And then, what? Next time I come back to my vocabulary list, how is that going to help me with using this word in context?
1-Minute Tip ⏳
Here’s what you can do to increase vocabulary note taking effectiveness and the chances of remembering the new words easier.
Write down a word combination instead of just one word.
It is very simple! Yet, a lot of people don’t do it this way.
So, in this example, for “household costs”, we’ll do the following:
In the first column, instead of writing down “household” only, we’ll write the combination of the two words, the way we found them in the text: “household costs”.
If we write down “household costs”, not just “household”, we create a more complete learning opportunity because:
it is a common (i.e. useful) word combination
it helps to remember the new word (household) because it is attached to another one that we already know (costs)
it helps to grasp the meaning of household (for example Spanish has various words for it)
next time we want to use the word “household” in context, we can use the complete two-word unit more “automatically”
This means that our speaking will be more fluent.
Learning “household” only as a word apart, and then thinking what other word to say it together with requires more thinking time (in other words, less fluency).
Learning two words that usually go together helps to use them more “automatically”.
To summarize, instead of writing individual isolated words when building your vocabulary list, take note of the combination of words the way you found them in the original text.
You don’t need to invent the word combinations. Just use the combination that you have found in the text, and take that down.
“Household” here was just an example to illustrate the point.
By the way, for “household” there are other frequent combinations of course that we may find:
If “household” is a new word for me, any of these combinations work for the purpose.
It doesn’t matter which one we come across when reading something or when watching a video etc.
I will simply write down “household” in the combination that I have found it.
After all, it takes about the same effort to write down two words as to write down one. Yet, the benefits are multiple.
Hope this tip helps to add a new perspective to your vocabulary building.
Do you struggle with building speaking confidence in English? Do you need help to advance faster?
✍️ DM me on LinkedIn and I’ll get back in 48 hours. We can discuss what you need to work on exactly to remove the roadblocks that are keeping you from advancing your business in English.
As always, thanks for being my reader!
Talk to you next time.
Connect | Gábor Légrádi | MA, RSA/CTEFLA