Tips for Learning Spanish - Studying Vocabulary
by Brad Blanchard
This technique is one I use myself when studying languages, and one that I recommend to my students. Without any exceptions, the students have reported that it is an effective way to learn vocabulary. I'm going to describe it here in terms of learning Spanish vocabulary, but it will work with any language. I'm going to call it - for lack of any better name - 'The Two Column Technique'.
You won't need a computer for this unless, of course, you want to type out and print your word lists. Otherwise, you will need two tools: a pen or a pencil, and a piece of paper or a notebook. My personal choice is a piece of paper since I can size the columns so that I can fold the piece of paper and carry it around with me in my pocket. I personally prefer this system since - and I don't know about the rest of you - I find studying vocabulary to be somewhat tedious and tiresome. In spite of that, I realize that it is something that has to be done, so I do it with a similar attitude that I employ when washing the dishes: I don't particularly like washing them, but they aren't going to wash themselves and the job has got to be done, so I just go ahead and do it.
I prefer the piece of paper to the notebook so that I can take advantage of what I call 'dead time' by pulling out the paper and get some memorization done. By 'dead time', I mean moments like waiting in the doctor's office; waiting for a class to begin; waiting for that film to begin on TV 10 minutes from now; using those last 5 minutes before I turn off the light to go to sleep...in other words, any time which isn't productive and I can't do anything else (the moments of waiting for something), or squeezing in a few extra minutes where I hadn't previously seen any free time (the going to sleep scenario). One key issue here is that it does not have to be a long time. As a matter of fact, in my experience it seems that 5 minutes 3 times a day is much more productive than 30 minutes once a day.
OK, now for the technique itself: put the words you want to learn into two columns, the English words on one side and the Spanish words on the other:
Make sure that there is enough space between them so that you can cover up one of the columns with your hand or a piece of paper. It doesn't matter how long your list it, but be sure to work with about 10 words at a time. Experiment with different numbers until you find the one right for you. The important thing is to work on a reduced number of words until you learn them, and then start on the next 10 (or whatever number you choose) new words. DO NOT try to work on 15 - 20 words at a time - you will go much slower. Then follow steps one and two listed below:
As stated at the beginning, I'm describing this for someone learning Spanish. So you will want to start your memorization the easy way: Cover up the English words so that you are looking only at the Spanish words, and say the English words out loud. If you can't remember one, uncover the English column and have a look and repeat the English word out loud several times before covering up the column again. When you can say all 10 words practically without hesitation, go on to Step Two:
Do just the opposite: cover up the column with the Spanish vocabulary, look at the English words and say the Spanish words out loud. This is much more challenging! But when you've got them down using step two, you'll tend to remember them. Do this until you've got all ten new words, and move on to the next batch.
An Even Better System
Of course, our Spanish Whiz program is designed to help you learn Spanish vocabulary quickly and is a lot more fun than the piece of paper or the notebook. You can apply the same principles described above: make your own Personal List of the vocabulary that you want to learn and then use it in the Spanish Whiz interface to first learn the words in Spanish to English mode, and then in English to Spanish mode. Then you can use the program to print out your word lists and carry them with you whever you go. Please follow the links on this page for more information.
Computer programs to learn Spanish: www.braser.com