Memorizing vocabulary, what a pain!

wolf727   Tue Jan 05, 2010 5:46 am GMT
I have been reading the advice given by Tomasz on how to improve vocabulary and his preference for using an English-English Dictionary, i.e. a mono-lingual dictionary.

I agree wholeheartedly that reading is very important. I am studying French. I am trying to work out what is the best way for me to remember all of the words that I do look up whilst reading.

What I have been doing is when reading a novel, for example, I stop to look up a word, I underline it - and I even write the meaning in the margins sometimes - and then I move on until I come up to another word and the process continues.

Later I would write all these words together with the meanings from the dictionary in a Vocabulary notebook. This is where the problem begins.

The problem here is I end up with a lot of pages of words and phrases that I find overwhelming. Overwhelming because there are so many words, sentences and expressions which I copied from the dictionary and I can never manage to remember them.

It is just too dry, boring and difficult for me to remember the many meanings and example phrases. I try to copy it out several times in order to remember them but there is just too many for me to do! I am looking up and adding more words to the Vocab notebook than I remember. So my notebook is getting filled with pages and pages of new words and expressions and I haven't even memorized a page yet!

I have read from other posts that they use a dictionary to look up a word. But are you using, for example, a monolingual or bilingual dictionary?

According to Tomasz, he recommends a monolingual dictionary. But if I use a monolingual dictionary, the meaning of the word isn't going to be always immediatley understood as opposed to a bilingual dictionary. Looking up a word in a monolingual dictionary, I would come across more words that I do not know and would have to spend more time chasing them all over the dictionary to get the meaning of that one word, if I can.

I know it is better this way and you get to know the other words, but, it is really time consuming! I would have to start the whole process again just a few more words down the line! At least with the bilingual dictionary it gives me the English meaning for the word and I instantly know what it means.

My main problem is what to do with the words that I have looked up and underlined? Because the real boring part is trying to remember them! I have tried writing it out in a notebook, but it is just to dry and boring for me and I end up by just repeatedly writing it out and not remembering and it takes a long time.

Any suggestions? What technique do you use when reading a novel or article to remember new words?

P.S. Sorry, I did not mean to write such a lengthy post.
Oh, by the way, how does one register here, into this forum? I haven't come across any facility to register - where is it?
a method   Tue Jan 05, 2010 5:59 am GMT
What I do.

- work on computer - it's faster to type than write, and way easier to look up words in an electronic dictionary
- have a word document opened in the background

when I find a new word:
- write it in the word document about 5 times quickly, together the meaning. ONLY the specific meaning from the context, or if it's an important word then the two or three MAIN meanings, not all 7 or 15 meanings or whatever. Learn them as you go.
- don't revise. wait till you find that same word again, and if you don't remember, repeat the process. if you remember, go on, it worked.
- if you never find that same word again and forget it, it doesn't matter, it means it's not such a common word

It's not a perfect method, it is not the most efficient, but imo it is the best for maximising enjoyment for reading. If you have other intentions, this may not be for you.
wolf727   Tue Jan 05, 2010 6:40 am GMT
"a method",

Thank you very much for your reply. Gosh, that was quick! I have been up all night and I was just going to bed when I saw your message.

Okay, I read quickly your post and I think I understood the technique, I hope. I am going to try it.

I do like the sound of it because it seems more relaxed and easy going, less ponderous and weighty, if you know what I mean by that. Because everytime I look up a word or expression in a French dictionary there are so many subtle meanings attached to it, that it becomes more of a psychological mental block for me.

For example, the verb "vouloir". The meaning of "vouloir" changes when you have "en vouloir", and again the same with "en vouloir à qn", and again with "s'en vouloir (de), and then again with "vouloir de".

So it there are a lot of shades of meaning to remember from just one verb. Psychologically I get depressed before I start.

I tend to be a perfectionist so I end up writing practically all of the different shades of meanings possible given for that one word, like you mentioned above. You're the first to have guessed it. Because I have done that in the past, write about 7 or 15 meanings and expressions for one "bloody" word!

You mentioned writing the new word in a Word document. So, I write it out about 5 times, the new word together with just a few main meanings, and then what? Do I still keep the word there to add to the vocabulary list being formed in the "Word document" or do I cancel it and work on another new word to write out a further five times?

Any thoughts about using a monolingual or bilingual dictionary?

But thanks for your advice. I do like the sound of it - I feel more relaxed with it.
a method   Tue Jan 05, 2010 6:48 am GMT
as for dictionaries, different kinds are good for different things

- MONO - good for a precise definition, complex words, concepts that don't exist in both languages, words with a lot of meanings, etc
- BI - good for words which exist in both languages with a more or less one to one correspondence. why learn that a screw is "a thin metal object with grooves with a flat head on one end blah blah... " when you know what a screw is in your native language and all you need to know is the word.
- BOTH - comparisons are sometimes necessary, eg, just to get a feel of the register of a word , eg in a mono dictionary there are many definitions like "X = a person who behaves foolishly or rudely". Well, that doesn't help much because it could have a strength anywhere from the very mild "goof" to the very strong "cunt", so it's nice to have a reference point in your native language

so use both, where appropriate
wolf727   Tue Jan 05, 2010 7:17 am GMT
Bloody hell! You still there? I want to go to sleep! LOL

You're answer hits it on the head perfectly and I couldn't agree with you more. Especially your explanation of the dictionary - BI - "why learn that a screw is "a thin metal object with grooves with a flat head on one end blah blah... "

Because that is exactly the drawback I found with the - BI - dictionary. I just need a quick answer for the time being.

Question, but why does Tomasz P. Szynalski (for those learning English) emphasize so much on using the monolingual dictionary? It was him that made me feel that I shouldn't be using the bilingual dictionary:

"Why English-English dictionaries are better than bilingual dictionaries:

* English definitions are real English phrases with grammar and words. If you read them regularly, you will automatically memorize the grammar and words.
* English definitions let you learn more. You will often look up a word because it was part of the definition for another word. For example, if you look up the word naughty, you will read:
If you say that a child is naughty, you think that he or she is behaving badly or is disobedient. [Collins COBUILD English Dictionary]

If you don't know the words disobedient and behave, you will have to look them up. So instead of one word, you will have learned three words!"

Laura K. Lawless from the site:

She too did seem to emphasize slightly on a monolingual dictionary.

I too use the largest dictionaires books possible and I have the Petit Robert but really, when I am just going through a novel I just want to know whether that word is a nail and I don't want a long description of it. Not yet anyway.

But I do I understand that it is best to have both for the reasons you described. But I am a little mystified by the fact that Tomasz P. Szynalski will say, no, definitely you have to go get yourself a monolingual dictionary.

Okay, I will have to get some sleep. Thanks for your advice, very sound!
a method   Tue Jan 05, 2010 8:11 am GMT
<<You mentioned writing the new word in a Word document. So, I write it out about 5 times, the new word together with just a few main meanings, and then what? Do I still keep the word there to add to the vocabulary list being formed in the "Word document" or do I cancel it and work on another new word to write out a further five times? >>

I just have one big doc that grows every day, it's like 500 pages by now.

if i come to a word i've already got in the document sometime before, then I:
- if it's a word i've completely forgotten or am still quite unsure then i write it out again
- if i just need a quick refresh or if i just can't quite remember some detail,then youcan just click "search" or scroll up and glance at what you wrote last time, and it may all come back without the need to write it out again

as for what to write, i just write the word and the relevant definition (mono or bilingual, depending), several times to make it stick, a new word on each line, maybe some example sentences thrown in here or there... but each person has their own style, so you can adapt it to whatever seems best

<<"Why English-English dictionaries are better than bilingual dictionaries:

* English definitions are real English phrases with grammar and words. If you read them regularly, you will automatically memorize the grammar and words.
* English definitions let you learn more. You will often look up a word because it was part of the definition for another word. For example, if you look up the word naughty, you will read:
If you say that a child is naughty, you think that he or she is behaving badly or is disobedient. [Collins COBUILD English Dictionary]

hmm, this advice is sound for some people, but for me not so much.

In my opinion, yes , they are real phrases, but I'm reading a book at the moment and there are enough real phrases there to keep my busy all day.
Yes, there is real grammar in the definitions, and it is useful, but again, there is real grammar in the book too. Also it can be distracting to have to look up 3 words instead of 1 if you're trying to make progress in reading something.
In fact, if you're a beginner that can make it almost impossible to use a monolingual dictionary, one word becomes 3, 3 become 9, 9 become 27 and so on.

Of course, this is excellent if your focus is just learning a massive load of words, which some people do and enjoy doing (to each his own), but not if you're trying to read something.
daveyboy   Tue Jan 05, 2010 9:13 am GMT
wolf727.. I have a free software program for you here, its called byki [ Before you know it ] you can download the lite one for free, and maybe later buy the deluxe version. Its a flash card program where you can edit and put in your own words and phrases.. try it ..
wolf727   Tue Jan 05, 2010 5:22 pm GMT
To "a method" thanks for your post. I agree entirely with your assessment - it confirms my own view on the matter. I just needed to make sure and have someone else give me their own thoughts on it.

Thanks for giving me an example of how you use the Word document to build up your vocabulary and how you practise memorizing words.

It was very helpful for me to get your own views on this subject. I am going to try it out because your method seems to appeal to me.

I just realised that perhaps your method doesn't differ too much in essence to what I was doing before, by manually writing out the vocab in a notebook, but, your attitude to it was important to me. Because you say that every time you come up with a new word or a word you forgot, you just re-write it out 5-7 times and then leave it till it comes up again, for example.

It was your loose, relaxed attitude that freed me a bit from the anxiety of looking at all that built-up-vocabulary and worrying about how I was going to remember it all. Instead you just write it out 5 times and then move on untill that word or phrase comes up again.

You were using the Word document and I was using a moleskine notebook, but I think I will try it too with the Word. But at least you showed me what you actually did to try to memorize a word. You wrote it out several times etc and then you moved on. I just wanted to know what technique you used to remember words that you already acquired.

So, I thank you for passing on to me your method - it was very helpful indeed. By the way, if you do reply, I would be interested to know what language you are studying.

I have been studying French for some time now but I will probably need to learn Spanish in the near future, depends if I have to move there or not for business. Personally, I feel more interested in learning German but I do not have the time for it now!

To "daveyboy"

I thank you for your help and for directing me to the site.

I have just looked at it and I'm going to download the free programme to see how it works and see how I get along with it.

Once again, thanks for your help.
wolf727   Tue Jan 05, 2010 5:52 pm GMT
To "daveyboy"

I have been looking through very quickly the byki site. I haven't time right now but I will want to get back to the site again to have a closer look.

My question to you is does the byki programme allow you to add your own list of words AND phrases that you have come across in reading?

I want to be able to add my own input of words and to edit them. I don't want byki to just give me their own simple words like "cat", "bird" etc. I am beyond the simple word stage.

Byki would be interesting to look at if it allows me to add and edit words and phrases I come across in reading. This would be the freedom I need.
daveyboy   Tue Jan 05, 2010 6:19 pm GMT
wolf727, the lite version [ Free version ] comes with a few lists of words and phrases [ not many lists ] they are basic words really. But yes you can put your own words and phrases in the byki program. Its a very good flash card program really.. Try it, have a mess around with it Wolf, let us know what you think... any questions just ask.. cheers.
wolf727   Wed Jan 06, 2010 4:12 am GMT
"daveyboy", thanks for your last post.

Because of you, I looked at the BYKI programme, but it also made me look further. I started doing a lot of surfing on the internet to find out if there were other better programmes. I have been doing a lot of reading on Spaced Repetition Systems.

I have downloaded the lite version (Free version). I understand it is only the free version and only a few lists of words and phrases are available, but I admit that I am not sure about this programme.

The vocabulary is too basic, and I know I would have to pay for the full programme. Yes I can import, with the full programme, my own words and expressions from books as mentioned, but I get the impression it is not really geared to making your own lists. For example, if using your own imported lists then the speech system and other small functions do not operate.

What about SuperMemo, Mnemosyne and Anki? These programmes, if I'm not mistaken, seem to be specifically designed for making your own word lists, adding your own material.

The BYKI programme seems to be specifically designed for pre-made word lists. The pre-made word lists on offer are too simplistic and basic for me, not very good at conveying the nuances of words and grammar.

So if I was going to use the Spaced Repetition System of learning then I would take either the SuperMemo, Mnemosyne or Anki, just for the simple reason that I know that the programme is intended solely for making your own lists and not for pre-made word lists.

I have to say, that I have never even heard of the so-called Spaced Repetition System until just a few hours ago. I have been doing a lot of reading on the Web finding out which programme is best and whether it is even worth doing the SRS.

I was going to follow the technique used by "a method" in his post above. But then you came along and introduced me to the concept of flash card programmes (Spaced Repetition System). Now I am getting a little confused. I am not sure which technique is the best. I am not sure if the SRS (Spaced Repetition System) is just all hype or whether it is really good.

Do you have any thoughts on SuperMemo, Mnemosyne or Anki?

I don't know whether the old fashioned technique of just reading and writing out new words and phrases in a moleskine notebook or typing it into a Word document, reviewing it by repeatedly writing the word out several times with the meaning, as described above in the post above by "a method", is more preferable to SRS or not.
a method   Wed Jan 06, 2010 6:41 am GMT
SRS is good too. I used to use that back in the day and it was useful.

My method described above sort of acts in a similar way, ie, you keep meeting a word at more or less regular intervals until eventually you know it

I personally don't do any direct revision any more, but I do think it is definitely good to do some. A lot depends on your level too. The lower your level the more useful revision is, to get all the foundation words deeply embedded into your mind. Once I started reading more advanced books though I stopped doing that because of time constraints and laziness (it can get boring), and also the more words you know the less urgent the new ones become. But if you're still learning important common words, revision is definitely a good idea.

If you do revision, SRS is your best bet. There are a lot of programs, I don't know the details of which ones are good, although I wouldn't recommend premade lists.

Anyway, try both methods for while and see what one you like best, or mix the two of them.

By the way, I'm learning Italian.

Good luck with your studies.
Timothy   Wed Jan 06, 2010 7:28 am GMT
The "natural" way we learn in life, is by experiential USE of the words and concepts we learn. THAT is how we don't forget them. Set aside your copying-notebook, and try to find opportunities to USE the words you learn, in coversations or better yet in real life interactions. (That is, actually asking for and handling a lugnut wrench or a cup of coffee, as opposed to sitting in a classroom talking about it.)
fraz   Wed Jan 06, 2010 3:36 pm GMT
I wonder how certain words stick instantly in the brain upon first hearing yet others require constsnt revision.
Tom   Wed Jan 06, 2010 5:42 pm GMT

Your problem is EXACTLY the problem SuperMemo and similar software solves. I would suggest you try something like Anki (a free, basic SuperMemo clone).

About the dictionary question:

The simple answer is that when you need to look up a simple word like "nail", it's okay to use a bilingual dictionary. For other words, it is not enough to know the English equivalent because foreign words that appear to mean the same thing are often used in slightly different ways. A good monolingual dictionary will give you example sentences that will show you how to use the word properly. Monolingual dictionaries also tend to be more accurate, have phonetic transcriptions, etc.

If you are reading a book, try not to think that you must memorize every new word. Some words are less useful than others. Sometimes you will be better off learning a word that you came across in your dictionary instead of a rare word from a book. If you end up with too many words to learn, you can either reduce the number of dictionary lookups (e.g. by sticking to only one meaning, as "a method" suggested) or skipping some words in the book.

There isn't a single answer for everyone. Some people like long wordlists (I was addicted to SuperMemo, so I just added every single word I came across -- probably wasn't efficient, but I enjoyed growing my SuperMemo collection so much that it didn't matter). Others will feel that it slows down their reading too much. Remember that only you know what works for you and it is your decision whether you write down a word or not.