spelling strategies

How to Learn and Remember New Words in English by Nick Cowan from superprof

Anyone polishing their language skills deserves plenty of praise, especially if they are learning a new language outside of their language family – Romance, Cyrillic, Semitic and so on.

The English language poses many challenges for both native speakers and English learners. From silent letters to vowel pairs – and, of course, that infernal ‘TH’ sound, the English language can sometimes be very frustrating to the people learning it. Let’s not forget words that are spelt the same and sound the same but have different meanings; they add to the confusion, too!

To make it a little easier for you to learn new words, use them correctly and remember them, we present a few suggestions that you can easily include into your vocabulary learning.

Break New Words into Syllables
A syllable is the smallest unit of sound; they are made up of at least one vowel and one consonant. Some syllables may contain more consonants or more vowels; in fact, all three syllables in the word ‘consonant’ have more than one consonant: con/son/ant.

Children in English-speaking countries use this method to learn new words because it works well and because breaking words into little pieces reduces the anxiety that big words can cause.

Here are basic rules of syllable division:
Separate prefixes and suffixes: re-port, pre-pare, and un-der; go-ing, learn-ed, and un-less
Separate double consonants: of-fend, des-sert, ber-ry, ob-ject
Note: double consonants like ‘th’, ‘sh’, ‘ph’, ‘ch’ and ‘wh’ do not get separated
If the word ends with ‘-ckle’, divide it before the ‘L’: pick-le, tick-le, buck-le, tack-le
Words that end with ‘-le’ and have another consonant before it: ap-ple, ta-ble, tum-ble

Learning syllables is important because you need to know them to say your new words correctly. Besides, learning syllables can help you to remember words better.

Learn the Rules for Syllable Stress

Once you become a master at recognising syllables, you will have to learn how to speak them.

To a certain extent, English is a tonal language – meaning how you speak the word can change its meaning.

Consider ‘ex-port’ (first syllable stress) and ‘ex-port’ (last syllable stress): one is a noun meaning goods being shipped while the other is a verb representing the act of shipping goods.

The rules for syllable stress are pretty easy to learn and, once you get in the habit of applying them, you will find even long words much easier to say. More info here and here at How to Spell click here

Use Mnemonics
A mnemonic is a learning technique to help you remember new information. You can use mnemonics in any field of study; they are particularly useful in learning languages.

One way to create a mnemonic is to imagine a picture related to the word you’re learning.

Let’s say you are learning the word ‘bear’. We know that ‘bear’ is an animal; that word can also mean ‘carry a heavy load’.
Picturing a bear carrying something very heavy would be a great way to remember both meanings of the word.

Many language learners confuse ‘doctor’ with ‘daughter’ because they sound almost the same. You might remember the difference by picturing a daughter dressed as a doctor.

You can also use mnemonics to remember how to spell difficult words. For example, the sentence ‘big elephants can always understand small elephants’ will help you remember how to spell ‘because’. There's more about spelling memory tricks at How to Spell — click here

Use New Words as Soon and as Often as Possible
Of course, the very best way to learn and remember new words is to use them as soon as you learn them.

If you don’t have someone to talk with right then, you can write sentences that include your new words.

Writing freestyle sentences – not ones that you copy from your books, will not only give you the chance to use new words you’ve learned but you can also practice your spelling.

Another great way to learn and remember any word is to discover all of its related words: can it be an adjective? An adverb? A verb? A noun? What are its comparative and superlative forms?

We’ll use ‘friend’ as our example:
plural form: friends
adjectives: friendly, unfriendly, friendless
verb: friend, befriend, unfriend
comparative: more friendly, friendlier
superlative: most friendly, friendliest

Once you’ve found all of your new words’ relatives, you can create sentences for them, too.

Treating new words like friends you have just met – friends you want to know everything about, go everywhere and do everything with will change learning new words from a stress to a pleasure.

Nick Cowan
Outreach Manager at superprof.co.uk The leading web platform that matches tutors with students for a range of subjects including ESL, ESOL, maths, languages, music, sports and arts.