Have you flipped through a vocabulary book, hoping that one day you will memorize all those words? Or created a stack of index cards?

These methods may work when preparing for a vocabulary quiz, but it won’t teach you how to use the word. If you want to be able to effectively use the word in your own speech and writing, here’s what you do.

Create your own example sentences.

Use your existing knowledge to create a sentence with the target vocabulary.

The key to making your own example sentence is to use your existing knowledge.

Rather than trying to memorize a set of completely new sentences, it’ll be more effective to associate and visualize what you’re trying to memorize. A study shows that having many strong pathways (also called synapses) between your neurons matters far more to your memory than the actual number of neurons. Memorize by making more connections and learn through context, don’t just do rote memorization.

Don’t make a sentence like this

Let’s say you are learning the word “resign” (which means to leave a job). You may come up with a sentence like this.

“I’m sorry, but I must resign.”

You could have easily replaced the word “resign” with a word like “vomit” and made a perfectly grammatical sentence. This sentence does not have enough contexts for you to figure out what the word actually means.

A Better Way

Even if you forget the exact definition of the word, you should still be able to guess what it means by the context. That’s why you should create an example sentence using what you already know.

“President Nixon resigned from the office following the Watergate scandal.”

This sentence has clue words to hint at the meaning of the word “resign”. The word from the office shows that there has been a change in Nixon’s social status, and the word following shows when it happened. If you know a few things about former president Nixon, then this sentence is a non-brainer. You don’t always have to make a sentence based the US history if that’s not your cup of tea. Here are some ideas for you to derive the context for your example sentence.

Getting context ideas

The best way to make a word stick is to associate them with what you already know, and to things that matter to you personally. You are likely to remember if it’s relevant to you. We remember what we care, and we forget or ignore anything that’s irrelevant to us. Use this

to your advantage by incorporating new vocabulary in sentences you make. When you are learning to use the word, recall the sentence. Don’t just utter the word in repetition.

We can associate words with our experiences.

  • Things that we are familiar with
  • Things that we are impressed with (anything with an element of surprise, uniqueness,shock, or humor)
  • Things that changed us (positively or negatively)

So next time you pick up a vocabulary book, instead of flipping through pages of words, pick a few that you know you will use, and create your sentences based on your real life experiences or imagine something so ridiculous that you’ll never forget.

Example:

I grew up watching Batman and I am trying to learn the meaning of “secret identity.”

“Most heroes like Batman and Superman have a secret identity. They will not reveal who they really are to the public.”

Ask a native to look at your sentence. Most of the time, they’ll be happy to help you.

Create an example sentence based on what you already know and things that you personally care about.

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    About Josh

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    언어와 문화 학습을 좋아하는 일본계 미국인 Josh 입니다. 영어와 일본어를 하고 제3개국어인 한국어는 20대에 배웠습니다. 통번역사, 프로젝트매니저, 마케터로서의 경험을 바탕으로 여러분이 스마트하게 보일 수 있는 영어 스피킹 노하우를 공유하고 있습니다. 비즈니스 영어와 발음과 엑센트에 관한 강좌를 실시하고 있습니다.

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