Thursday, April 27, 2017

My Method For Learning New Words

Hi everyone,

As of today, I've reached the three-quarter mark in the study of my French dictionary.  In today's post I would like to write about how I actually go about studying new words from this dictionary and share my thoughts on memorizing and forgetting new words.

It might come as a surprise to some of you, but I don't use flashcards to memorize new words.

What I do is to simply highlight the words that I want to learn, look at their meanings, and if the explanations are unclear or ambiguous, consult my other dictionaries until the meanings become clear to me. Afterward I glance through the highlighted words page by page on my Kindle.

As simple as it may be, that's all I do in my daily learning routine.

(Above photo from my Japanese blog post dated August 12, 2008)

I used to be a huge fan of flashcards and created tens of thousands of them before, but I discontinued making flashcards (both physical ones and virtual ones using the Anki software) for the following reasons:

  • They are too time-consuming to create, easily taking up 1 to 2 hours if not more to create 40 to 50 cards per day, and that doesn't even include the time required for actual memorization;
  • They give you a sense of obligation and urgency in such a way that, when you see a stack of cards in front of you, you kind of feel obligated to memorize each and every one of them perfectly before moving on to a new set of cards, leaving you feeling sated and exhausted at the end of each study session. 
With my current learning method, I simply glance through the highlighted words without forcing myself to memorize them. I make a point of going through all the words that I have learned during the past three days. Learning new words and reviewing the past three days' worth of highlighted words takes me roughly 90 minutes per day.

A few years ago I would have regarded this method with deep suspicion as being unreliable, but now I find it to be just as effective in terms of committing the words to memory.

The inevitable fact is that I forget tons of words that I learn every single day, but this occurs regardless of whether I create flashcards or not. The important thing is that nowadays I hold a more zen attitude regarding the words that I forget, in the sense that I do not fret about the forgetting per se, but instead view it as a natural and necessary occurrence in the learning process.

As I wrote in my previous blog post, I try to retain my newly acquired knowledge of French vocabulary by reading French novels. If I come across a newly-learned word in a novel, it can help me consolidate my knowledge of that word, but those words that seldom appear in books will eventually pass into oblivion.

If you ask me, this is really the way it should be, as frequently used words should be given priority in memorizing over arcane and obscure words that hardly appear in conversations or novels.

So, these are some of my thoughts as regards learning new words in a foreign language. I hope you have found it somewhat useful or intriguing.

Will update you again whenever I get hit with a new idea.

Wish you a good evening. :-)

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