Most European Portuguese vocabulary programs have you memorise random, unrelated words. And why not, words are just a bunch of letter combinations right? Not to the brain!
Years of careful and repeated research has clearly shown that you are better off trying to memorise words that are somewhat related.
Backing my claims
To borrow an exercise created by vocabulary expert Kevin Flanigan, read aloud the words below and then answer the question that follows as quickly as possible. Ready? Go!
Silk, Silk Silk
Silk. Silk, Silk
Silk, Silk, Silk
Silk, Silk Silk
Q: What do cows drink?
Did you by any chance answer “Milk”?
If you did, you would, as you’ve probably realised by now, be wrong. Cow’s give milk, they don’t drink it.
So why did you say “milk”? The answer lies in the way our brain works. Contrary to what many say, it’s modes operandi is not akin to a computer that just stores characters. Our brain can be likened more to a pattern detecting machine.
So when I had you repeat “Silk”, I was actually priming your brain to think of words that are spelled and pronounced similarly, such as “milk”. Also, when I mentioned “Cow”, unconsciously, your brain activated related words in meaning, possibly “plains”, “grass”, “farm”, “cheese” and of course, “milk”.
Indeed, a pattern detecting machine.
What it means for European Portuguese language learners
I loath the word “miscellaneous”! One, because I never know how to spell it and two, because of what it stands for: that disorganised shelf, where all the objects that are too niche in functionality end up. This is the shelf that I struggle to find objects that I know are there. Why? No categorisation.
It’s so much easier to find an object when it is stored in a shelf that is properly categorised.
Our brain, it seems, functions the same way. So it would be advantageous to take this into consideration when trying to memorise European Portuguese vocabulary.
In practice: Instead of creating blocks of flashcards with random words for example, organise them into strings of concepts. For example, have a block for things in the kitchen, one for positive traits of personality, another for transportation methods, and so on.
Apply this technique, known as semantic chunking, not just to flashcard exercises, but to any vocabulary related program, such as your words notebook (check this article).
Here at Portuguese With Carla, we always take this into account when helping European Portuguese learners. It’s a no brainer. Once you grasp it’s benefits and start applying this technique to your study habits, you’ll notice an increase in vocabulary retention, and your exercises will also become more engaging.
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