Our 5 tips to learn – and remember – your vocabulary

Language, translation, or interpretation students and professionals are often faced with the same problem: they love speaking their language, improving their accent and fluency, but hate studying their vocabulary. However, this is a crucial and unavoidable step in the learning process. Moreover, interpreters, on a tight schedule, face time constraints and must “know everything about everything.” If you also don’t know which method to use to learn your vocabulary quickly and effectively, follow our 5 tips.

The flashcard system

For an initial approach to the vocabulary, rely on flashcard programs such as Supermemo or Anki. Based on an algorithm, these apps give you a term to translate and an assessment of your mastery of it (easy, medium, or difficult), before moving on to the next term and returning regularly to the less well-known words.
Advantages: You will find many collaborative glossaries online, allowing you to avoid preparing your own lexicon. This method, if practiced regularly and seriously, allows you to anchor the vocabulary in your long-term memory.

Visual and mnemonic methods

There are a plethora of mnemonic techniques that will allow you to remember almost anything. In reality, the memory capacity of the brain has absolutely no limit, contrary to popular belief on the subject. Making a term more visual, making a joke of it, using it in a particular context, etc., are all different ways to remember it. Do away with endless and boring vocabulary lists, and replace them with colors, new fonts, bold text, underlining, italics, and so on. Avoid lists of more than 5–10 words, rather, regroup them by grammatical category or theme. Above all, do not plan to learn 500 combinations in one afternoon! Try to study in 15 minute increments with breaks.

Write and repeat

Continuing with the theme of unusual ways to soak up vocabulary, write the vocabulary words in all possible and imaginable forms, recite them loudly, yell them, sing them, distort them in all of the ways that you can imagine. Make them silly by pronouncing them with an accent or different intonations. The more you take the word out of its context and the more it makes you laugh, the easier learning will be. If you choose a paper form, write or draw the difficult-to-remember term in large letters and place it in a strategic location so that your gaze falls on it routinely.

Contextualize

Put yourself in the shoes of an interpreter. Just as you can remove a word from its context, you can also immerse yourself fully in it. Are you going to a chemistry conference? Think of yourself as a little chemist, develop speeches filled with technical jargon, use all of this vocabulary…in context. Other tricks: try role-playing games, doing sight translation in the field in question, simulating a conference or finding videos to interpret.

Mind-mapping

In order to put your learning into practice, put all of your knowledge about the field on paper. There are excellent free apps, such as FreeMind, that help you create your own “mind-map.” In other words, a diagram in the form of a tree, map, circle, or other shape, with different branches for different aspects of a particular theme. In addition to allowing you to focus on your preparation, in the case of interpretation, you contextualize your vocabulary and put it into practice once more.
Furthermore, it is estimated that a term must be used seven times before it is effectively inscribed in memory. Finally, nothing beats practice, right?

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