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Solving the Problem of a Limited Vocabulary 
  ---財團法人語言訓練測驗中心教學訓練組


A limited vocabulary impairs the ability to communicate. Anyone who has ever tried to learn a second language knows this.  Learners must first learn and then remember vocabulary, and this is where the difficulty lies.  But there are ways to facilitate the memorization of words.  And they’ll even work for busy professionals like you. 

 

Mnemonic Techniques

Mnemonic techniques involve trying to attach the word to something you already know.  Perhaps the word reminds you of a word in your own language or a word you know well in the second language.  You can create a visual picture of what these words represent.  The association doesn’t have to be sensible.  It just has to be novel enough that it creates an impression to make it easier to remember.  For example, if you want to remember the word “dim,” maybe you could picture a “dimly-lit dim-sum restaurant.” 

 

Flashcards

Another strategy to help you remember a new word is to write it on a flashcard.  On one side of the card you could write the word, and on the other side, you could write a sentence using the word, but leave a blank space where the word would be (see Picture 1). 

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Categorizing Flashcards

You should keep all of your flashcards together, and you should organize them systematically so that even their organization will aid your memory.  For example, you could group them by part of speech such as by placing all of the adjectives together.  Or you could make several groups of adjectives: one for adjectives that describe people, one for adjectives that describe things, etc.  

 

Classification Maps

If you don’t want to bother with flashcards, you could just organize words on a paper.  Related words organized on a paper this way are called a classification map.  It is created when you organize vocabulary by dividing words into categories.  You are simply taking a group of related words and breaking them into smaller categories. This will allow you to both understand and remember the words better.  An example of this is as follows:

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You should keep your classification maps on hand and add to them whenever necessary.  As they grow, you’ll probably see different ways to reorganize them to increase their effectiveness and further facilitate your memory.

 

Semantic Maps

To make a semantic map, start in the center of the page with a word or idea, and then write related vocabulary around it in clusters (see Picture 3).  This is similar to a classification map but it is more flexible and can involve categories for rules of usage or whatever information you want.  You should use pictures to represent ideas and different colors to highlight different aspects.  For example, you could use blue for the vocabulary, green for collocations or usage tips, and red for common errors.  Again, you’ll want to keep your semantic maps on hand and add to them or re-do them whenever necessary.

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In conclusion

Remembering vocabulary may seem difficult, but the use of flashcards, mnemonic techniques, classification maps, or semantic maps will help. If you use these strategies, you will improve your vocabulary. Don’t forget the best way to remember a new word is to use it.  Seek out opportunities to do so or create one – even if it means having a conversation with an imaginary friend!  Just find some way – any way – to use it.  Then you’ll remember it forever.

Written by the English Coordinator at the Language Training & Testing Center


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