how to memorize new words and their meanings

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Post by KosciaK » Mon Sep 11, 2006 4:02 am

Oh! Now I get what you mean.
I've been told that reading a lot can broaden your vocabulary. While reading you can find new words, new contexts. For me it's better when a new word is heard in a discussion. There's no only text and context but you can hear how it was accented, said, the body language and all these little things that help you better understand speaker intention.
I've noticed (it's not intentional or conscious) that after finding new word or new context of an old word that seems interesting for me I tend to overuse it for some time. Kind of testing it, finding the limits of use, checking others responses to the use of this word. Then I just know in which situations it works best, in how wide or narrow meaning it can be used.

And this "knowing the concept but being unable to find a word" is the most irritating thing in a word. It happens a lot when I'm writing in English (for example here). I know what I want to write but I just got stuck at some point and can't find the right word. I know exactly which word it is (or maybe which words it's not) but can't recall it. So I get the dictionary and... find out that I can't recall this word in Polish too. All the words that comes to my mind (no matter if these are Polish or English) are synonyms but with slightly different meaning and won't communicate the concept the way I intended

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Post by aruffo » Fri May 11, 2007 7:41 am

This must be my trip-old-threads day. I'm taking another look at this thread because it directly touches what I expect to be talking about next on the main site-- word meanings, semantics, and the like. I even found a book, quite by accident, entitled The Psychology of Word Meanings.

One chapter of that book states something I would have agreed with even without the scientific support offered: drawing word meaning from dictionary definitions is the least effective manner of learning, and contextual understanding is the most effective.

By "least effective" the chapter doesn't mean merely that the dictionary definition of a word may be easily forgotten (although that's true), but that a person who learns a dictionary definition would be highly likely to accept a false usage. The authors offered the example "A tree appended a branch." Of course the more appropriate word would be "grew" or even "sprouted", but because "appended" literally means "to add to", someone who knew only the definition would probably accept this peculiar usage as legitimate.

And that last word can be used to underscore almost everything I have to say about reading, writing, and vocabulary. How do I know that the word is "legitimate" and not "legitamite"? Answer: because I've seen it written the first way enough times to know. Although I do believe it's possible for certain bits of information to be learned immediately, those bits click into place because there is a place for them to click into. When language information is not immediately relevant, knowledge of that information develops over time with repeated and perhaps unconscious exposure to it. I'm quite sure that this is why we won't see eradication of the "it's" error in my lifetime; it's used incorrectly so often in common parlance that the error is reinforced as apparently acceptable usage. You can tell someone a zillion times that "it's" is "it is", but this won't make them balk even a microsecond the next time they write the word, because you're just telling them an intellectual rule divorced from their experience of receiving communication. As far as they're concerned, "it's" is the possessive form because that's how they always see it.

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