Dos and Don’ts on Learning Words


Our memory is a unique phenomenon. It can store the amount of knowledge contained in millions of books. However, we can be lost in a situation where we need to remember a certain amount of lexical units. What is the best way to do it? Let’s try to figure it out. Here are a few misconceptions about learning words:

1_TtOvpMaSdeWTJO2LKR8rJg1/ To learn as much as possible.

Be patient. Bad news is that the human brain can only hold 5-9 units of new information at a time. Good news: an information unit can refer not only to one word but to a group of words of the same subject matter (e.g. the word aircraft, or several words describing aircraft parts).

To consolidate information units, it is recommended to analyze them.

For example, if you have to learn seemingly unrelated words, you can:

– group antonyms (safe – dangerous) or synonyms (dangerous- hazardous);

– group the words with similar meanings (damage: cracked, bent, dented);

– group the words by parts of speech (verbs, nouns, adjectives);

– group the words logically (write a story containing all the new words).


2/ To learn once and for all

No way. Unfortunately, we start forgetting as soon as we learned something and most intensely in the first hours. Just think about it: 60% of the information leaves our memory within the first hour, and by the end of the 10th day there is only 20% of the memorized left. Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem: the more we repeat the information, the better it is fixed in our memory. To commit something to memory for a long time you will need to refer to the material at least 4 times:

  • immediately after learning;
  • 20-30 minutes later (this is the time when information is transferred from short-term memory to long-term memory);
  • the next day;
  • in 1-2 weeks.

It is worth reminding that repetition must be active. This means it’s not enough to have a look at words you learnt, you’ll have to work on them.

3/ It’s not possible to learn it all

Yes, it is. Half of our success is based on our willingness to remember the information.

You may not know that Hideaki Tomoeri, the Japanese, was able to remember the number Pi with accuracy to 40,000 decimal places. Why – we do not know, but this fact only emphasizes the boundless horizons of human memory. And why are you worse than this recognized Japanese?

Set a clear goal and time limit to learn something you need. Also tell yourself that you need to remember it all your life. Don’t be afraid of the information volume as fear can block your brain. Don’t worry, our memory can go a long way!

4/ Learning words is useless.

Partly. You can know a lot of words, but not be able to use them in speech. However, in tight deadline, especially when learning a specific language domain, such as aviation English, we may need to boost our vocabulary quickly. In this situation, learning words is no longer a whim of a teacher.

Here are some learning tips:

– do not learn words separately, learn them in phrases/in context (reliable and powerful aircraft);

– make up sentences with the most difficult words;

– try to mentally model situations that would reflect the meaning of the words and phrases you learn (for example, if you need to learn words associated with aircraft, you can imagine a preflight workaround procedure).

We often remember better and longer when we understand the contest.

 5/ I read the words every day, but don’t remember them.

It’s not that simple. To remember information, your brain must be in good shape. How can you motivate it? Instead of passive reading of words, try to memorize them actively. Here are some more learning tips:

– Traditional cards with words (English word on one side, translation on the other). They are suitable for most people and are convenient because they can be used anywhere, including transport. If you don’t want to make cards, you can install the app on your phone.

– Associations. This technique has proved to be effective. Try to find associations for difficult words. They may be strange and illogical at times (for example, the verb ignite can be associated with the name Ignat), but as soon as they work, you still can use them.

– Visualization. This technique allows you to make the word three-dimensional. Find images or photos on topics of interest. Test yourself with pictures. When you encounter an object in real life, you will know what to call it.

Let’s sum it up!

If you approach the problem of remembering information positively, it will no longer be a problem. Before learning, review the list of words or phrases calmly, evaluate the amount of information to remember. Encourage yourself with positive intention and confidence. And don’t forget to praise yourself when you managed it. Compile logical lists of words, try to understand the information, and learn it using various techniques (cards, associations, etc).

NEVER learn the words if you are not sure in pronunciation.

Check the transcription with the dictionary or listen to the pronunciation of the word in the online translator. Then repeat the words / phrases again, do the same 20 minutes later, the next day and a week or two later. It is not a bad idea to repeat the words before going to sleep. It is scientifically proven that information is most easily transferred to long-term memory when we are asleep.

Remember, nothing is impossible.

Author: Olga Skomorokhova, teacher, PhD, CU Aviation Training Center