Learning another language

Flashcards are cards with a word (or phrase) on one side and its translation on the other. You can buy ready-made flashcards, and these can certainly be helpful, particularly if you're inexperienced at learning another language. However, it is more effective if you make them yourself. Not only…

The Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) is the ultimate ancestor of many European and Indian languages. The word "proto" indicates it was spoken thousands of years in the past and we have no direct record of it. What we do have is the clear evidence in its descendant languages, from the…

Learning a new language is made considerably more difficult if that language is written in an unfamiliar script. For some, indeed, that proves too massive a hurdle, and they give up the attempt.

Scripts, like languages, also vary considerably in difficulty. There are two main reasons for…

In the mid-seventies, Raugh and Atkinson had remarkable results using the keyword method to teach Russian vocabulary to college students. While later studies have not tended to find such dramatic results, nevertheless, a large number of studies have demonstrated an advantage in using the keyword…

Vocabulary is a sticking point for many language learners. That’s because words have a certain arbitrary quality that makes them hard to memorize. There are two strategies which are very effective with this task: the keyword mnemonic, and retrieval practice. I have written about these…

How many words do you need to learn?

An analysis of English vocabulary* has found that the first 1000 words account for 84.3% of the words used in conversation, 82.3% of the words encountered in fiction, 75.6% of the words in newspapers, and 73.5% of the words in academic texts. The second 1000…

In my article on using cognates to help you learn vocabulary in another language, I gave the example of trying to learn the German word for important, ‘wichtig’, and how there’s no hook there to help you remember it (which is why so many of us fall back on rote repetition to…

When considering what will be the most effective strategies for you, don't forget the basic principles of memory:

(1) Repetition repetition repetition

The trick is to find a way of repeating that is interesting to you. This is partly governed by level of difficulty (too easy is…

Find out about the pegword mnemonic

To celebrate Māori Language Week here in Aotearoa (New Zealand), I've put together a pegword set in te reo:

  1. tahi — ahi
  2. rua — ua
  3. toru — tūru
  4. whā — taniwha
  5. rima — rama
  6. ono — hono

Research with children has demonstrated that the ability to learn new words is greatly affected by working memory span - specifically, by how much information they can hold in that part of working memory called "phonological short-term memory". The constraining effect of working memory capacity…