How to Memorize Vocabulary

Meet Benji "The Dog is on the Table!" Brooks

Benji is our Class Mascot. He loves to study his dictionary.

But many people believe that learning vocabulary = memorization = hard work.

Here are some great tools to help you really absorb, not just memorize, new words. These tools are fun. Use them to help you, and practice often!

Using these tools, you will
  • Create associations
  • Make an interactive environment
  • Practice your techniques

Part 1 of 3: Creating Associations

  1. 1
    Create word associations.  Associations can help you memorize new words. Absurd, vivid, or crazy associations will help you remember your new vocabulary.
    • Associate new words with words in your language. If a new word is similar to a word in your language, create a mental image association. For example, the French word “vin,” or wine, sounds similar to the English word “van,” so you can make a visual association of a van full of wine to help you remember.
    • Word associations also help if you are learning a new word in your own language. For example, in English the beginning of the word “curtail,” which means to cut short, is similar to the beginning of the word “curtain,” so you can make a mental association of curtains cut too short to help you remember “curtail.”
    • When creating word associations, visualize the image vividly and review it mentally three or four times a day until the association is fixed in your memory.
  2. 2
    Use mnemonics. A variation on the “similar word association” technique, mnemonic techniques use patterns to help your memory.
    • For example, the word “abrogate,” which means to deny or cancel, can be divided into a pattern of images based on the series of letters that make up the word. So, you might divide “abrogate” into “a”+”bro”+”gate” and then visualize a bro (ther) standing at your gate while you "deny" him entrance.
    • Like word associations, mnemonic techniques work best when they connect new ideas to ideas you already know well.
  3. 3
    Be as creative as possible. It’s easier to remember unusual or bizarre things and not banal ones, so get creative with your associations.
    • For example, the term “banal” means “boring or uninteresting,” so to help you remember it, you could imagine a banana peel (because the beginning of “banal” resembles the beginning of “banana”) floating in a canal (because “canal” is like “banal”). A banana peel floating in a canal is a vivid image and it is also banal, so you associate “banal” with the definition “boring or uninteresting.”

Part 2 of 3: Making an Interactive Learning Environment

  1. 1
    Integrate the new words into your environment. Post sticky notes or put large pieces of paper in places you go, like the bathroom or kitchen. Add new words and their definitions to the paper as you learn them. That way you will frequently see them during the day.
    • Include a definition of the word if it's difficult to remember.
    • You can also draw a small picture to show the meaning of the word and help you make the association.
    • Try writing words for everyday objects like "mirror" and "table" on sticky notes. Put the sticky notes on the objects to fix the association between the word and the object.
  2. 2
    Make the new words part of your life. Writing new words into sentences that are relevant to your life can help you build strong associations.
    • For example, if you want to learn to use the word “azure,” which is a kind of deep blue color, write it in different sentences that connect to your situation or where you are: “My new shampoo bottle is a strong azure colour” or “the sky this summer is a very vivid azure.”
  3. 3
    Turn learning into a game. The more fun you make vocabulary learning, the more you will practice.
    • There are many vocabulary-learning games online. To see examples of learning apps for tablets and smartphones, go here. For a listing of web-browser based games, go here. For a review of various vocabulary-learning software options, go here.
    • If you prefer a game you can play offline, see EdHelper’s Board Game Generator or this word bingo creator.
  4. 4
    Make a visual record of your work. This technique will be very helpful to you if you are a visual learner.
    • Create a vocabulary journal or notebook and add new words plus definitions. Write them frequently to fix them in your memory.
    • Create stories using the new words. You can write stories that include the new words, or you can try to write a story using only the new vocabulary words.
    • Draw pictures to explain the meaning of new words to accompany their definitions. Create a visual story if you like to express yourself artistically.

Part 3 of 3: Practicing Your Techniques

  1. 1
    Find the methods that work best for you. You may need to try different learning techniques before you find those that work best for you.
  2. 2
    Practice with flashcards. One of the most traditional techniques, flashcards are a simple but powerful tool for vocabulary practice.
    • Write each new word you learn on a small card or piece of paper, then write the definition on the back.
    • Use the flashcards various times every day, trying to remember the definition before checking on the back.
    • There are a variety of flashcard apps available for tablets and smartphones that make flashcards even more portable and accessible. Go here for a short list of Android apps or here for a list of Apple apps.
  3. 3
    Expose yourself to new words. Read texts at every level in the target language. Reading and looking up--and writing down!--new words at the same time is an excellent way of developing  vocabulary.
    • If you are trying to improve your vocabulary in your native language, for example, to university level, read academic articles, The New YorkerThe New York Times, etc.
    • If you are trying to learn a new language, read texts at your present skill level. So, if you are just beginning to learn, read books for young children to help you learn the basics. If you are at an intermediate level, read books for young adults, etc.
    • Reading a book you are know in your native language that has been translated into your target language can be a fun and effective way to practice your vocabulary and language ability.
  4. 4
    Test yourself. Giving yourself frequent vocabulary tests will help you work with words that are a special challenge.
    • A number of websites offer online vocabulary quizzes to help you practice. There are some like this that allow you to select your level, quiz length, and vocabulary word category, and others like this that allow you to create custom quizzes using the specific list of words you provide.
  5. 5
    Use your new words as often as possible. Use new vocabulary in your daily conversation, in your writing, and at any other opportunity you have. The more you use the new words, the more completely you will understand and remember them.
Adapted from