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Studying vocabulary is like drinking ice water.

Posted by nial December 23, 2008 in the Group General Discussion .

Tags: vocabulary, study methods, memorization, tips

I don't know if anyone will read this, but it's an analogy I've frequently used when describing vocabulary learning; a glass of ice water.

First, think of your brain as the glass.  It's an empty glass until you start to drop in ice cubes.  The ice cubes are vocabulary.  Now, over time the ice cubes will melt into water... we can think of the water as learned vocabulary.  Now, if you want to learn the vocabulary, you need to wait for the new vocab words to melt before you can drink it.  What this means is you need time for each word to melt... that is familiarity.  Only by spending time with words, using them and allowing them to sink in, do we eventually learn them.

Now, a glass is a container and can only hold a finite amount of liquid.  So, to, is our brain.  You can't simply throw in 900 new words, or in the case of our analogy... toss 900 ice cubes into the glass.  If you do that, only a handful will even make it in.  So, we have to go slowly, 慢慢来, in order for our words to 'melt'.  If you toss in more words while you're still learning others, then your glass is going to overflow and you're going to lose vocabulary.  The only thing you can do to learn faster, or make the cubes melt quicker, is to use the words in a variety of ways... be that in speaking, writing or in listening.  Anything but rote memorization.  The size of everyone's glass is different, of course.  Some can only handle 1 new word a week, some 1 a day, and some 30 a day.

I submit that learning vocabulary is a process, one that must be adhered to to ensure long-term retention.  I think we can all agree that short-term vocabulary retention is a real thing.  We've all probably had an event, test orsituation to prepare for in Chinese and have crammed some last-minute vocabulary.  Chances are, you forgot them.  But chances also are that if you used that vocabulary, you had a higher chance of retaining it.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that there's no quick way to learn vocabulary, just better ways.  There are exceptions of course --I call them robots -- those who can memorize vocabulary after the first time they hear it.  If there was a way to become one of these, I already would have!

Here's hoping your glasses are full this Holiday season :)

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