Learn new words easily

With his talk at TED, Matt Cutts inspired the likes of Jacob Cass and Jesse Gardner (among many others) to try new things by setting up new challenges every day for thirty days. According to Matt, such everyday adventures make life more memorable. They boost your self-confidence and enable you to do anything.

One of the things Jesse planned for the month of December 2011 was to learn one new word a day for thirty days. Here, I present a couple techniques for you to succeed, should you decide copying Jesse’s challenge is for you.

Associations

Say you come across a couple of words that sound almost the same, but mean totally different things. This happens very often, when you are learning words in a foreign language. What’s the best way to learn them? Make use of your imagination! Try and ask this question, “When I say the words in another language I know, what associations are popping in my head?”

In the Armenian language, for example, the words for fish, snow and egg sound almost the same: ձուկ [dzuk], ձյուն [dzyun] and ձու [dzu]. Here’s how I remembered them: dzyun ends with the letter N, which is contained by only one of the three given words in English, namely, sNow. There were two words left. Fish are usually larger than eggs, so the word is also larger, dzuk is fish and an dzu is left for the word egg.

The ideas can obviously be very far-fetched. But remember – just because it may not work for someone doesn’t mean it should’t work for you. You may be the only person in the world who gets the association. And that’s totally fine! It’s your thirty-day challenge, not others’.

Chunking

At school, we got exercises where you had to spell very long words. Many memory games use telephone numbers as material for you to remember a long row of decimals. And just like the game authors suggest you break the numbers up, I suggest you do the same with long words.

There’s a muscle called sternocleidomastoideus in Latin. If you are unfamiliar with human anatomy, it’s a paired muscle on the left and right side of your neck. It does a good job helping you flex and rotate your head. The first time you see the word, you might even have a hard time pronouncing it. So, in order to remember it, I broke it in chunks and here’s the approximate span of my reasoning:

Stern means firm, strict or stiff, which makes me think of a neck, too.

Клей [kley] means glue in Russian (my first language).

Дома [doma] means at home in Russian.

Сто [sto] means hundred in Russian.

So, I get this word sterno-clei-doma-sto-ideus all broken up. And when I think of a hundred ideas that are firmly glued together at home, my neck starts hurting. Indeed, both of my sternocleidomastoideii are in pain.

You would probably use this word close to never in a liftetime, but if you do and know how to spell it, geeky linguistic bonus points fly instantly your way from yours truly.

You might think there are words that are hard to remember and you would be right. But there are no words, I assure you, that are impossible to remember. It just takes some time and creativity.

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