Tips for Learning New Vocabulary Words

The Ten Commandments for Learning Vocabulary Words


Memorizing new words presents a challenge for most of us, but fortunately there are ways to tackle this difficult task. From extensive reading and writing to flash cards and word games, you'll find a number of approaches to consider. However, most of these will take more than two minutes of your time. If your objective is to check off words from your new vocabulary list in quick fashion, then you'll need to use a technique that lends itself to such speed. In such cases, keyword mnemonics may just be the best choice. It's quick and fun and most importantly, effective. Let's further examine this remarkable memory trick.

Keyword mnemonics manages to link the new or unfamiliar with that which we already know. This association helps create definitive context for the new word, thereby making it easier for us to remember it given that we already know part of it.

The "key" is choosing a word or words that sound similar to the new word. The final piece of the technique is to then illustrate this in a picture or image in relation to the new word's definition. For example, "fjord" is "a long, narrow arm of the sea bordered by cliffs." To remember this, a student may chose to link "fjord" to "Ford" and then picture a Ford truck stuck in a body of water or a fjord.

Vocabulary cartoons are prime examples of keyword mnemonics and you can definitely create your own. Once you get the hang of it, you'll start making associations with greater skill and more rapidity. If you want to memorize new words in under two minutes, keyword mnemonics could indeed be the answer. If you can master it, two minutes per word, you'll memorize 30 in an hour. Here are the basic steps:

1. Choose a word/words you know that sound similar to the new word. For example: Fjord and Ford.

2. Relate the unknown and known words to a picture or image; i.e. a cartoon.

3. Test the effectiveness. Does the picture capture the new word's definition?

Based on these steps, here are a few examples of what a keyword mnemonic might look like for the words: barrister, fathom, and stolid. Note: For many, the more silly or outrageous the image, the more easily it can be remembered.

New word: Barrister
Definition: A British lawyer.
Keyword: bear stir
Image: A bear in a powdered wig stirring a drink in a courtroom.

New word: Fathom
Definition: To comprehend, understand.
Keyword: fat thumb
Image: A man with a huge, cartoonish "fat thumb," looking very confused.


New word: Stolid
Definition: Expressing little sensibility, unemotional.
Keyword: stole it
Image: A thief casually walking away with a bag of loot from a safe shaped like an igloo.

It's true that vocabulary lists can be overwhelming, with some being over 1,000 words long. Preparation for vocabulary tests will vary from student to student, but when time is of the essence, a try at keyword mnemonics may prove beneficial to most. If you want to learn new words in under two minutes flat, this is the technique that enables you to make the leap from the unfamiliar to the familiar fairly quickly.