How to Remember and Recall Your New Words.

Three weeks ago I asked you about your learning styles. You can read that post here if you missed it. Last week I recommended four websites to you, three of which will help you to expand your vocabulary. This week I am going to let you in on (Phrasal Verbs explained at the end) a couple of secrets for remembering those new words that you have been learning.

left_right_brainWhen I started learning Czech I just couldn’t remember new words unless I used them very often. Living in Cambridge in the UK I didn’t have that much opportunity other than with my girlfriend and a couple of her friends. Our brief conversations, if you can call them that, were merely pleasantries, Dobry Den, Ahoj, Jak se máš etc.

I did find a very helpful application called BYKI which uses flashcards and sound to assist in your learning, English one side, Czech the other with a picture if it was a noun. I soon started to show off how many new words I thought I had learned. My first words were as a child would learn, colours and animals. I was particularly good at birds, go on, test me! Sokol, orel, labut I have recently found out that this type of application is called a “Spaced Repetition System” and is quite effective. However, I soon learnt all the words in the programme (there weren’t so many for the Czech language). My motivation to learn stopped and I learnt almost nothing new until we decided to move here. Check out Anki, my new favourite flashcard software.

Listen, Lisen, Listen

ear-clip-art-McLLy6RXiSince I moved to the Czech Republic I have found it increasingly easy to remember new words as I am surrounded by the language and hear it constantly. This repetition of hearing sounds has clearly helped my understanding of the language but as I said last week I still learn very passively. You, on the other hand, probably live in the Czech Republic so you don’t have that luxury. What you need to do is listen to English songs, watch films, tv channels and series in English. Of course you are learning and practising regularly from books, reading and in conversation with me or your other English teacher (aren’t you?) so a good system for memorizing your new vocabulary is a must.

Use Your Memory

Many years ago I read a book called ‘Use Your Memory’ from the author Tony Buzan. You may know of him because he invented Mind Maps, the system of drawing brain like pictures to aid memory recall. His book has many fantastic ideas with memory techniques from 2000 years ago like the Roman Room to modern inventions like his Mind Maps. One of my favourites is to make a visual story from the words in your imagination. This works fine for remembering a list of words in your own language however it needs some adjusting to work for foreign languages, in your case English. Enter ‘Mnemonics‘. (Pronounced – nemoniks)

lightbulbMnemonics are memory techniques to help you remember large pieces of information. There are many types of mnemonics including, rhymes and songs to remember things but my favourite style of mnemonic is the image mnemonic (number 7 in the list if you follow this link). You invent a colourful, exciting image, or better still video, in your mind using the two words you need to attach together. For example if you want to learn the English word for ‘konvice’ which is ‘kettle’, you could think up an image in your mind of a konvice v Barceloně. Barcelona is in Catalonia which in both English and Czech (Katálonie) sounds similar enough to kettle for you to remember.

When I was learning the months of the year in Czech I used mnemonics to remember some of the months with great success. Some words were a little difficult to imagine so I used another technique of word association. If your images are clear enough in your mind it might only take a few seconds per word to fix in your brain. It’s also great fun and very creative. The simple idea behind it is that you are attaching the new word to something your brain already remembers. Buzan calls these ‘hooks’ on which you can ‘hang’ your new words to remember. Here’s how I learnt the months of the year in Czech.months

  • January = Leden – Sound like the English word lead (olovo)
  • February = Únor – Uno is one but this is the second month.
  • March = Březen – Brrrrrrr (the sound we make to mean it cold) I imagined a Buddhist Zen monk sitting in the snow shivering.
  • April = Duben – my associated word was ‘doobie’ (adults can look that one up)
  • May = Květen – I already knew flowers in Czech and in May there are flowers right?!
  • June = Červen – Because I knew ‘red’ it was simple, and May’s flowers in my image were red which led me straight to June.
  • July = Červenec – Just add th ‘ec’
  • August = Srpen – Sounds like serpent ( a mythical snake-like creature) at my birthday party (the 20th!)
  • September = Září – The Russian Tsar going back to school.
  • October = Říjen – I had a Nazi officer interrogating me saying ‘Zee end is near’
  • November = Listopad – I already knew the Czech words for leaf and fall so it was simple. I also thought about making my Christmas list.
  • December = Prosinec – Robert Prosinečki (ex Croation international footballer) standing next to a Christmas tree.

What Now? Leave a comment.

Of course, if your English vocabulary is already pretty large you could try using English words to make the associations, it really doesn’t matter whether the hook word is English or Czech as you long as it just that, a hook. If this is you, have a look at this great mnemonic dictionary for some ideas of how to remember new words.

Have fun with this and leave me one example in the comments below of a mnemonic or word association you use.


Phrasal Verbs Used

  • Let you in on – to allow someone to know or share (something secret or confidential).
  • Show off – make a deliberate or pretentious display of one’s abilities or accomplishments.
  • Found out – to get information about something because you want to know more about it, or to ​learn a fact or piece of information for the first ​time
  • Think up – to devise or contrive by thinking
  • look that one up – to search for something in a book or online