Remember Foreign Language Vocabulary With Word Associations

What’s one of the easiest ways to remember vocabulary in a foreign language (or in any language for that matter)? One of the best ways to remember difficult words are by making word associations. Essentially what you are doing is looking at the word in the foreign language and coming up with a word (or words) that sounds similar, is easy to remember, and can be linked with the meaning of the target vocabulary. It’s a very useful technique that I’ve learned from the study of mnemonics (memory tricks) and the Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (or TPRS for short). It’s also something that I have been using early on in my French classes as I teach my students how to create more powerful ways of remembering important words and phrases.

Here is how you do it:

  1. The first thing to do is to establish the meaning of the word. Put most simply, you find out what a word means in your language. For example, in French “Je m’appelle” means “My name is” or, more literally, “I myself call”.
  2. The second step is to think of a word or words that are similar to the foreign language word(s). It is most useful to think of something that is a bit strange and/or interesting. The weirder something is the easier it is to remember. (Our brains love things that are strange and/or unique. They stick out from our regular everyday lives.) A few ideas that my students have come up is that “Je” is similar to “Joe”, “m’appelle” is similar to “Maple”, or “map” and “apple”.
  3. The third step is to take the word(s) that you’ve come up with and connect it to the meaning of the words that you’re trying to remember. Using our example, my students decided to remember “My name is Joe Maple” to help them to remember that “Je m’appelle” means “My name is”.

Bonus tips:

  1. To make the memory even stronger come up with an action and/or a gesture to help you to remember the target vocabulary. Our muscles have memory. When you use them it incorporates more of our brain and our bodies all at once.
  2. Also, if you create and/or find an interesting image (with color- color is also more memorable) then it will help you to remember.
  3. Finally, if you create a simple story using the vocabulary it will stick in your mind even better.

I hope that this short post on word associations is useful to you. Bonne chance! (Good luck!)

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