“Help, I learn words all the time, but then I forget them after a few days. What can I do?” I always receive messages of this kind and I understand them, because being able to remember the meanings of all the words we find and look for on the vocabulary is not easy! Indeed! It’s easier to remember how to use the subjunctive in Italian… and that says a lot! If you are finding difficulty in memorising, keep reading, I’ll recommend you some tricks!
Tricks to learn faster
There are some tricks to memorize more words in a short time. Watch out! I want to make it clear that these tricks do not work wonders, in the sense that you will not learn 200 words in one night, but surely they will be a great help, especially (and this is fundamental!) if you will be constant in applying them! Having said that, let’s see what they are!
Basics are important
Not even a native speaker knows every word of his own language, also because he does not use them all in his daily contexts. The words that are most often used form the so-called basic vocabulary, which will be your weapon to move fearlessly through the maze of a language. The basic vocabulary of Italian has been defined byTullio De Mauro, a famous Italian linguist. Today it has about 7500 words.
If you want to learn all those basic Italian words, you can buy Tullio De Mauro’s book on Amazon. Otherwise, you can create your own list of common words, the ones you use most often in your language, and convert it into Italian. And then you can learn that list… with the suggestions down below!
6 methods to remember better
1 – Semantic groups
A great way to quickly learn a large number of words is to learn for semantic families. A semantic family is a set of words derived from a word of origin with which they share the root. So if you know a word of origin, you can learn the others related to it, because by now you already know the root! For example, if you already know the word “book”, you can start from that and discover and learn others such as “library”, “bookstore”, “bookmark”, “bookcase”, and so on. This mechanism is not limited to nouns, but can also reveal verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Take for example the word “color”: from this you can get words such as “color”, “colorificio”, “coloring”, “coloring”, “colored” etc.
2 – Homonymy between words
When you meet the namesakes, you must not be discouraged, but you must take advantage of them! The thought that a word can have more meaning puts us in front of another level of difficulty in the language, but in reality it is something from which we can learn even more. If you are learning the vocabulary of fruits and vegetables, for example, you will find that the term “pesca” (peach) can mean both the fruit and the activity of those who go fishing in lakes or rivers.
Be careful! Very often Italians use the strategy of the accents to distinguish the meanings of the homonyms: pèsca (fruit), pésca (activity). Again, the mentality is everything: you don’t have to think “Ah this Italian, with all these words that are the same but different”, but rather “Oh, cool! With one word, I can say two different things! Convenient!”
3 – Ah help from the Web
An image is worth a thousand words. Therefore… Exploit them! Thanks to the Internet we have the opportunity to search for thousands and thousands of images. And these can help you learn new words, because that’s how you’re going to use visual memory, which is very effective. So my advice is: every time you learn a new word, write it on your browser, go to the “images” section and scroll through.
You’ll end up making associations between words and images and maybe you can learn other meanings of the same word, that you still don’t know. For example, one of the Italian symbols abroad is the Vespa, the famous Piaggio’s scooter. What you may not know is that “vespa” is also the name of an insect in Italian, so by looking for the word you will find not only images of engines, but also of the animal, and then you will learn both meanings in a blink!
4 – Word assosiation
Another great way to remember words is to associate them with similar ones in other languages, your native language or other languages you know. Many languages have common vocabulary characteristics. An example are the words that in Italian end in -zione: determinazione (determination), collezione (collection), superstizione (superstition), etc. These words, except in some cases, will sound more or less the same in other languages as well. For example, “determinazione” in English becomes determination, in Spanish determinación and so on. The same applies to medical terms: antibiotico “antibiotic”, vaccino “vaccine”, sedativo “sedative”, dermatologia “dermatology” and so on. See? You know a lot more words than you think!
Be careful with the false friends! There are a lot of false people, but I’m talking about words here. I have just finished saying that languages often share words, but it takes caution, because these similarities can also deceive, as in the case of false friends. If there are words that have very similar sounds and the same meaning, there are also words, between the various languages, that sound or are written in the same way, but have completely different meanings! For example, if you ask for a “phon” in Italy you will be given a hair dryer, not a phone. Another example is the Spanish carta, which does not mean “paper”, but “letter”.
5 – Linkin knowledge
Once you learn a new word, you can immediately learn an expression, even idiomatic, containing that word. The ideal would be to do it with some expression that you find amusing, or that you know you will use very often. So you will have much more chance not only to remember the original meaning of the word, but also to remember a new expression: in short, take 2, pay 1! For example, you have just learned the meaning of the word “pane” (bread). Well, look for expressions that contain the word and find: “buono come il pane” (good as gold), which is used to indicate a kind, generous, kind-hearted person. Another example: learn the word “tram”, then learn the expression: “Attaccati al tram!” (come on, dude/go screw yourself!) which is an invitation to the other person to make do, which is to solve the problem on your own.
6 – Use it or lose it
The English say it: if you do not use them, you will end up losing them, so: use them! Use immediately the words you have just learned. This is a great way to memorize the terms, because then your brain will get used to the word, otherwise, if much time passes from the first moment you read it, to the moment you need it, it will be difficult or even impossible to remember it. Try, during the day when you learn it, to repeat it again and again, after a few minutes, and then a few hours. And continue to do so, even in the following days. And then… use it!
With these tips the vocabulary of your language of study will seem much less scary and easier to deal with, so, what are you waiting for? Start exploiting them now and you’ll be one step closer to an excellent level of language proficiency!
Then if you want to know how to overcome the fear of speaking, discover the 3 strategies to learn to speak (almost) without worries.