How to Remember Words: 10 Top Tips

  • How to Remember Words.


Before we consider how we remember new words when learning a language, I would like to focus on how we ‘notice’ new words in any foreign language.  We discover new words through our receptive skills; listening and reading.  And whilst we can ‘acquire’ new vocabulary (soak up language like a sponge), the older we get, the more difficult this becomes.  And so acquisition (unconscious) is complemented by what many would argue is the essential conscious act of learning.

Has this ever happened to you?

Read this situation.  You hear an unfamiliar word when listening to a podcast.  You write it in the notes in your phone, and later you check the meaning online.  Suddenly, you hear and read the word everywhere… you start to ‘notice’ it!  This is one of many strange phenomena when learning any language.  Clearly, this word has existed long before you noticed it, but it has suddenly been illuminated and now you see it everywhere!

So, to be proficient in any language which we are consciously learning, we must first become proficient at noticing new words and new language.

Ah yes, I forgot….now to remembering…

  1. 7

Seven is the magic number.  It’s hard to learn more than seven new vocabulary items in one go.  So don’t go overboard and try to learn too many vocabulary items at once.  Be realistic when trying to learn new words.  Remember, it is often quality and not quantity.

  1. Quality

How do you decide if the language you are trying to remember is of good ‘quality’?

Active vocabulary is language which you use when speaking and writing.  Passive vocabulary is language you understand when listening and reading.  Think!  Is this new word or phrase something which you will use (good quality) or is it necessary only to understand it.  Don’t waste your time and efforts trying to remember abstract words which you will never need to use.

  1. Context

Every new word you meet need a context.  This means putting the word into a sentence, however short or long.  This can be mentally in your head, or written down.  Giving a new word a context, or example sentence, will help you remember it and then use it later down the line.  You are more likely to remember a word in a memorable context than in isolation.

  1. Use it!

If you consider a word to be of good quality (you like what it means, how it sounds, you think it is useful), start using it as quickly as possible.  The more you use a word when speaking or writing, the more likely it is to stick (become part of your active vocabulary).

  1. Repetition

There is no doubt that the more you do something, the better you become.  This is true of any type of learning.  Be realistic.  You won’t remember all new words at once.  But constant revision in small doses (a few minutes every day for example) will be enough to help you remember.

  1. Keep learning interesting and fun!

Use fun learning apps, watch movies and youtube channels on topics which interest you, follow social media, listen to podcasts and music, read books or online articles and blogs, make lists and use post-its around your home.

  1. Time of the day

Set a specific time every day to try to remember new words (on the train to work) or learn spontaneously!  We are all different.  Are you a morning person or an evening person?  You know when your brain is most active and when you are most productive.  Use five minutes of your most alert time to read, listen to and repeat new vocabulary.

  1. Everyone learns differently

There have been many studies into different types of learners, and broadly speaking we can all be divided into three categories; auditory (learn by hearing), visual (learn by seeing) and kinaesthetic (learn by touching, moving and doing).  It isn’t this simple though, and it is more likely that we are a combination of all three of these learning styles, and more!  If it helps you to draw a picture of the word, then draw a picture and make flashcards.  If it helps you to repeat the word aloud over and over again, then repeat it.  If it helps you to use post-its and move them around the house, then do this.

  1. Motivation

How much we learn and how quickly we learn all depends on how motivated we are to learn.  Are you learning English because your boss has told you to?  Are you learning English because you feel it is important for your job and your future career?  Whatever you motivation, you must have motivation!  This makes your brain more receptive to learning and will give you the drive and the energy you need to learn.  Remember that some days you will feel more motivated than others.  Be realistic – learning any language is a marathon, not a sprint.

  1. Practice makes perfect

Learning any language is a journey and needs a major investment of your time and often your money.  There are not any quick fixes or miracle learning methodologies to help you speak a language overnight.  It takes motivation, hard work and all the techniques above to help you become the best learner you can be.