How to Make Vocab Stick and Stop Memorizing Words

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Learn the best way to make vocabulary stick so that you never forget a vocab word again! Instead of memorizing words I teach you the steps to internalizing words. Memorization does not allow you to truly learn new words. On the other hand, internalizing new words allows them to become digested and thus a part of you!

You’re learning all these new words and phrases but as soon as you want to use them, POOF! They disappear! Does this sound like you? You’re not alone!

While a kid might absorb new words as easily as a sponge absorbs liquid, it can take an adult language learner hundreds of times before the word gets digested. And that’s due to a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Simply put, our brains are more “plastic” when we’re younger, making it easier to learn new things. It doesn’t mean that adults can’t learn new things, it might just take a bit more time. We can discuss that more another time.

In today’s lesson, I’m teaching you how to make vocabulary stick so you can use it and not lose it. Let’s get into it.

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If you think that the key to vocabulary building is memorization, I’ve got news for you. It’s not.

Rather than memorizing, you need to internalize.

Let’s talk about this very important distinction for a moment. Memorizing is about committing something to memory without truly learning it. Memorization can be fleeting, meaning that it might be on your mind for a short period of time but can easily be forgotten at the drop of a hat.

On the other hand, internalizing is when you really learn something. It’s been digested and now is part of you. It’s something that you don’t have trouble recalling and can remember it with little or no effort.

Internalizing words/expressions/phrases allows us to build and retain our vocabulary.

The first step is to make a note of any new words or phrases. You need to see it and use it often enough that it begins to become top of mind.

Then you need to make an effort to practice it. That’s step two. I want you ro practice the newly acquired vocab in the real world. I’m underlining the importance of real world practice, because you want to be able to use this vocabulary when you’re out and about…that’s when it counts, that’s when it matters.

Step three is to test your understanding of correct usage by paying attention to the reactions of the Native Speakers you use this vocabulary around. Essentially, this is an implicit way of getting corrective feedback. You might even be so bold and ask for explicit correct feedback by saying, “did I use that expression correctly” or “is this the right context for that word?”

Step four is to use the newly acquired vocabulary, which you’re beginning to internalize now that you’ve tested it in the real world and received some feedback - explicit or implicit - in different contexts. So use the words in new settings, situations, and communication contexts. Think about how you can use the expressions and phrases in both casual and formal situations.

And last but not least, step five is to use the same word in different sentences. You might be tempted to use the word in the same sentence across contexts, but I highly encourage you to branch out a little bit. Get creative with constructing different sentences and making them different. This will enable you to truly internalize the words because oftentimes vocabulary words are polysemous, meaning they have more than one meaning and are appropriate for different sentences.

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So these are five steps to keep in mind on your journey to internalizing the vocabulary. This is how you’re going to get the vocabulary to stick and get soaked up by the sponge that is our brain.

Remember, start with a few words a week and build up to more and more. Be sure not to overload yourself with brand-new vocabulary too frequently. Internalize a handful of words to begin and you can always add more. Just be sure to keep using the words you’ve internalized thus far so that you can keep those muscles strong!

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To sum up, we discussed ….

Making notes of words we’d like to add to our vocabulary and then get into the practice of internalizing these words in four easy steps. 

Practice the words, phrases, collocations, and expressions in the real world.

  • Test the meaning by paying attention to the reaction of the listeners, and getting corrective feedback, overt and covert 
  • Use it across different communication contexts and in different settings 
  • Use the same word in different sentences
  • Rinse and repeat these steps once you are ready to acquire and internalize new vocabulary!

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Alright Advanced English learners, thanks for joining me in this lesson.

The full transcript of this lesson can be found on our blog, so be sure to check out advanced english dot co forward slash blog. If you’re listening to this lesson and love our podcast, be sure to leave us a 5 star review, that really helps us out! See you in the next one where we’ll continue advancing your English together! Until then, keep up the awesome work.