Wednesday, 27 July 2011

What to do with words that elude you

This may sound flimsy to a native speaker but there are words in English which do not stick around no matter how hard you try memorizing them.

Let me give you an example. Here are a couple of words which took years to settle down in my memory - procrastinate and serendipity.
Procrastinate has always sounded ominous and evil to me and for a long while my brain could not accept its simple and mundane meaning. I could not believe it is such an insipid word.

Serendipity is a word which up to now has not found a verbal equivalent in my native language. Well, even the English cannot define it properly, they need to use a sentence to reveal the essence of this cunning word. Serendipity, for me, is a whole paragraph, not a word.
There are words which sound plain ludicrous like pundit, and again I took pains to learn its meaning but I still find it funny, probably because it reminds a Latvian word pundurītis which means a dwarf, gnome.
Guru is not much better though.

Students encounter the same problems. Difficult words (gosh, most of them are difficult!) are a challenge to everyone and a perpetual cause of failed tests and bad marks.

Here is a method I used with my 16 year old students last year. They approved of it and we decided to use it next year again.
We picked the most difficult words that we came across at the lessons and placed them in certain spots around the classroom. Thus we placed according to on the green plant that grows in the front right corner of the classroom. We put the word diligent on the window-sill. We sat the word consequently on the OHP and every time I asked them the word (or they chose to use it) they would look up at the ceiling and remember it. Surprisingly, it was great fun and it helped too.
One guy was especially good at this game. He proved to me and his classmates that he could recall most of the complicated words correctly because he had placed them all around the room and he just had to take a look at the spot and the word would come to him.
This should work perfectly for visual learners but I am not so sure about the others.

How do you deal with difficult words?


Lauren said...

That is a really interesting approach to memorization. I think some studies have shown that it's easier to memorize a list of words if you visualize them placed along a familiar path (such as your route from home to school). Then you can "walk" through the path and retrieve the words. Similar idea. Thanks!

Baiba Svenca said...

Great idea, Lauren - to place the words along one's road to school! Need to tell this to my students :)

teacherjo said...

It's called the Memory Palace Technique - as used by Hannibal Lecter in the novel.

Baiba Svenca said...

Thanks teacherjo, I had no idea! Hannibal Lecter must have been the best teacher among the cannibals :-)