Friday, January 8, 2010

New Method for Mastering French Vocabulary!

Starting from this week, I am doing a little experiment with a new method of expanding my French vocabulary, using my French CD-Rom dictionary.

I've found this method quite useful and amazing, and so I've decided to share it with my readers.

I call it "the railroad map method."

What I do in this method are as follows:

First, launch the French dictionary "Le nouveau Petit Robert de la langue française" installed on my computer.

Then, randomly pick out a word that I like, and look at the French explanation.

For example, today I picked the word amorphe, and found the French explanation: sans énergie, sans réaction. Furthermore, I found some synonyms of the word amorphe: apathique, atone, inconsistant, mou.

What is amazing about this dictionary is that each of these synonyms comes with its own hyperlink which allows me to click and jump straight to that synonym itself.

What I do in the next step is jump to one of the synonyms (or anonyms sometimes) to find out its meaning, and if this synonym in turn shows its own synonyms, I will jump yet again to find out the meaning of the new synonym, and I will go on and on like this until I reach a dead end.

In the course of jumping from synonym to synonym, I make a point of writing down in my notebook the words that I have learned in the sequence in which I found them.

After doing this for about an hour, my notebook will look like this:

It looks a bit like a railroad map with the name of each station. Each of these words is a synonym of its neighbors to the right and left, and therefore in this chain of words, one word is closely related to the next in terms of its meaning.

What makes this "railroad map" particularly useful is that, it can help you understand and memorize the meaning of these words far more easily than if you pick out the same number of words randomly and try to get them into your head by rote memory.

In fact, moving along the line from one word to another does feel like riding a train, where you see the scenery that is gradually changing from one minute to the next.

In the example shown in the picture above, it starts with amorphe meaning "lacking energy", and along the line you will see words meaning "fading", "flaccid", "smooth", etc, each one with a slightly different meaning from the next. Towards the end of the line, you will see words meaning "disgusting", "stinky", etc, which are totally different from the first word! It's not unlike riding the Orient Express from London to Istanbul.

In the same way as witnessing a gradually changing landscape from a moving train, looking at the "railroad map" and tracing the line of words related to one another will definitely help me retain these new words in my memory. It also feels like reading a story with an evolving plot. Either way, it's a big change from the monotonous memorization of a group of words listed in alphabetical order in a vocabulary textbook.

The only catch with this method is that you need to install this Petit Robert dictionary on your computer (for those of you who are interested, you can get it here at Amazon France), and that your French needs to be at least at an intermediate level in order to comprehend the dictionary explanation shown entirely in French.

I really feel that with this method, the previously daunting task of expanding my French vocabulary has gotten a lot easier, and I am more motivated than ever to study tons of new French words. Hope in the coming weeks I will be able to improve and sophisticate this "railroad map method", so that I can eventually acquire an extensive French vocabulary!

Many thanks for reading this post. Wish you all a wonderful weekend!


Anonymous said...

Hi Uncle Polyglot,

I just found your page through Keith's page, which was found through another, etc. etc... :)

I watched your youtube videos, whatever your methods are they are working very effectively! I think it would be great if you would post about your favorite methods of study. Do you watch a lot of television in your target language, read books for children, use Spaced Repetition software, etc?

Good luck with French!


Uncle Polyglot said...

Hi Matt,

Many thanks for visiting my blog and checking out my YouTube videos!

I also appreciate your kind comment!

The answer to your question is, yes, I do watch a lot of television/DVDs in my target language, and I also listen to a lot of audio podcasts.

Aside from that, I also study French words and expressions the old-fashioned way, i.e., by making flashcards.

As my French is presently at an intermediate level, I am still in the process of expanding my French vocabulary. I hope to be able to read French novels without having to consult the dictionary in the near future.

I'd be thrilled if you can share with me your method of learning foreign languages! If you are running a blog on language learning, please let me know!

Talk to you again soon!

-Uncle Polyglot

Anonymous said...

Hi there, my name is Joel Chua and I'm from MediaCorp Radio. We'll be doing a radio programme on bilingualism next month and I'm looking for panelists on the topic. I was wondering if I could speak to you to explore if you would be suitable and keen on being part of this panel?

please email:

Many thanks!

Tetsu said...

Je viens de trouver ton blog. Je suis content de voir que nous avons beaucoup de points en commun. Au plaisir!