Improve Your Vocabulary in Any Foreign Language

Tested tips for learning to remember new words and phrases in any new language.
You must have wondered how some people learn foreign languages so quickly. It is very nice and useful to learn a new language as it opens many new possibilities. However, many people have difficulties in learning new words, especially in a foreign language.

Remembering these words is even more difficult. Acquired vocabulary is practically useless unless the words learned can be recalled and used. Here are some suggestions for learning new foreign language words and retaining them. These suggestions work for any language.

You have to learn to recall words, phrases and structure as well as ascribe meaning before you can become skilful at reproducing language like other users. To do this you need to provide a label, function, association, similarity, difference and multiple meaning for vocabulary words.

Research in how people learn languages, has repeatedly proved the following to be true:

  • You’ll remember something you’ve discovered on your own!
  • Now, how are you going to make that happen?
  • You can use four basic techniques to increase your vocabulary retention.

Discover Significance of New Words

As you see or hear a new word or phrase, imagine it as a challenge, a mystery waiting to be solved. So before running to the dictionary to check the meaning of the exact phrase in your mother tongue

  • Try to discover its meaning from the context – e.g. Underhand. The words Under and Hand suggest something to you. In this way you can work out the meaning of the whole term. But remember to check.
  • Try to guess its meaning from the structure of the word – it may contain familiar elements – e.g. Take the word transnational. If you find out the meaning of the parts national and trans, theycould give you some idea what the word could mean.
  • Try to discover the origin of the word – knowing how the word came into usage can be very helpful for remembering itA little warning here – as soon as you have a theory as to what some particular word, phrase or expression might mean, check from the dictionary or a teacher to make sure you get the right meaning. Phrasal verbs in English are very treacherous and could lead you off into a totally wrong track, so always double-check them.

Make Associations: Relate New Information to Material Already Learned

When you come across a new word while reading, listening or work activities don’t rush straight for the dictionary. If you look up a word from the dictionary and even understand it correctly the information goes to the short-term memory area in your brain. This area is what the name says, short term. If you try to recall that word after a few days, there is a high probability that you cannot remember it. The aim in learning vocabulary is to connect this new word or phrase to your long-term memory. This is best achieved through tiny hooks called associations.

Take the following example. Many people have problems remembering the difference between “borrow” and “lend”. Make a simple association – if you lend money to someone, it is the “end” of your money, as you’ll never see it again. Thus “lend” leads to “end”. If you have created a strong and unique association special for you, there is a very good chance that you will never forget this new word or phrase.

Make Word Lists

Many people have used this technique successfully to increase vocabulary retention and learn new words and phrases.

Compile lists of new words as follows:

  1. Divide a page into two columns and write the foreign language word on one side with a corresponding word in your mother tongue on the other column.
  2. Start a new sheet for each topic area e.g. One sheet for vocabulary related to sports, another for economy etc.
  3. Use color (highlight pens) in your lists: e.g. All verbs in red, nouns in blue, adjectives in green etc., so that when you think of the word later you will remember its colour and this will help you use it correctly. Don’t make a mile long list, but a fairly short one. Then go to the next activity.

Word List Activity

Cover up one column on your list and work your way down testing yourself, first from the foreign language to the definition or the equivalent in your mother tongue and then reverse the process. You can have fun by working with a friend to test each other.

Take words from your list and write 3 different sentences in the target language using each word to illustrate its meaning. Make them humorous or even outright silly if possible. Then read them aloud to get the feel.

Remember a very important rule:

You’ll remember words better from the context you use them in!

If you have a memory association for that particular word, the better are your chances for remembering it through that memory.

After using these techniques, you will start noticing improvement in your vocabulary retention in a matter of weeks. I learnt one of the most challenging languages, Finnish and a very delightful language, Italian in a few months using the above methods.

Fascinating Origin of 15 Chinese Words That Became Part of the English Vocabulary

by Sher D Fly

The history of English language traces back thousands of years ago. The English language has brought in influences of other languages through Britain’s history of world trade, overseas exploration and expansion. One of the many languages that had added the zest to the English vocabulary is Chinese.

This word actually came from a Cantonese words “ko” or knock and “tou” or head. “Kotou” is a Chinese custom of kneeling and touching the forehead to the ground to show great respect or to show obvious deference. During the British trading with the Chinese, somewhere around the 19th century, the word kowtow was usually referred to the act of being submissive, humble and respectful to someone in the local authority.

Originally, this word was from Cantonese word “kap” which means urgent or fast. The word chop-chop now is usually used (normally in British English) as an expression when you want someone to hurry, move quickly and without delay. In actual fact, the root word chop was also used in the word “chopsticks” to refer to the two thin sticks used as eating utensils in many Far Eastern countries.

This word actually came from a Mandarin word “cha” or tea. Char is an old British word to refer to a cup of tea. The word “tea” in modern English was also questionably of Chinese origin. The Dutch, who was the lead importer of tea leaves through the Dutch East India Company during the early 17th century, used the word “thee” which was derived from the Chinese Amoy dialect “t”e’ or Indo-Malay “teh”.

This word actually came from a Cantonese word which originally meant stir fry cooking. Perhaps, influenced by the Chinese immigrants who came to the United States in the late 19th century, the word “chow” has become an American English slang word to refer to food or eat as in “chowing down the bread”. There are also other spin-off words using the root word “chow” in informal English such as chowtime and chowhound.

The word came from Indo-Malay word “kechap” which was derived from Chinese Amoy “ketsiap”, originally to refer to fish sauce condiments. Resulting from influences from Europe and America, ketchup now refers to tomato sauce.

This word was a combination of two Cantonese words, “sam” or three and “baan” or board, which basically refers to a small, flat-bottomed boat, usually propelled by two short oars. The three boards probably refer to the three pieces of planks separating the sections in the boat. This type of boat is usually used in rivers and harbors in the Far East.

Feng shui
This word came from Mandarin words “feng” or wind and “shui” or water. This is actually an ancient Chinese art or method of designing buildings as well as arranging objects in living spaces to ensure positive energy so that it could bring luck, prosperity and happiness to the owner. The art of feng shui became quite popular in the American and European culture since 1990s.

The word came from Chinese Amoi dialect “kam si” for feeling gratitude. The word is now used in informal English to refer to gratuity or present.

Yin Yang
This words were from Mandarin word “yin” or feminine and dark as well as the word “yang” or masculine and bright. It basically refers to the passive and active, principles in nature that in Chinese thought eternally interact and complement each other to achieve a perfect balance.

Chinese dishes – Chop suey, chow mein, dim sum, won ton, tofu
Chinese food has increasingly become popular in the US and Europe and I am pretty sure most of you are familiar with some of these Chinese dishes.

  • Chop suey for instance, came from Cantonese “shap” or miscellaneous and “sui” or pieces, is actually a popular Chinese dish of shredded meat with vegetables, served with rice.
  • Chow mein which came from Cantonese word is a famous Chinese stir fried dish made with meat, vegetables and noodles
  • “Dim sum” or little hearts are deliciously steamed or fried dumplings served in small portion
  • Won ton which means “cloud swallow” in Cantonese is another type of dumplings which looks like little clouds
  • Tofu came from Mandarin “doufu” for bean curd

This word came from Cantonese “wohk” or a round bottomed cooking pot with a long extension (for holding), often used for stir frying. This cooking utensil is often used in China and South East Asia. Nevertheless, wok is now a popular cooking utensil used in many parts of the world, especially for cooking stir fried Chinese dishes.

This word was from a Mandarin word “gonghe” or a cooperative for industrial workers. Somehow, the word was used informally by the American army during the World War II as a motto which basically means “to work together”. It was even adopted as a war film title in 1943. The word now refers to eager or excessively enthusiastic individuals in ironic sense.

The word came from Chinese words “han” or squad and “cho” or chief. During the World War II, British army used this word to refer to the leader of the squad. This word now refers to someone who is in charge of something, a manager or a leader.

Kao lin
This word refers to fine white clay used in making ceramics and medicines especially in treating diarrhea. This word came from the name of a mountain in Gaoling, China whereby such clay was first obtained and exported to Europe in 18th century.

This word was originally taken from the name of a place – Shanghai in China. It was said that this word evolved from the practice of American sea captains who tricked and kidnapped drunk sailors for compulsory service aboard their ships usually bound for China. Now, this word is a slang to refer to the act of inducing or compelling someone to do something by force or fraud.