Hello my fellow English language fanatics! 😉
I’ve been publishing videos and articles on this blog for years on end, and if you’ve been following my website for some time you’ll know that my main focus is spoken English development because I write for those foreigners who are struggling to speak fluently while being quite good at other aspects of their English.
One of the main aspects of oral fluency development is phraseology acquisition – or if put in simple terms – building your vocabulary of English word combinations and phrases (why am I not talking about individual English words? Read THIS article to find out why!).
Spaced repetition is by far the most effective way of learning those phrases, and it’s based on the following simple principles:
- You repeat a phrase a number of times until it sticks with you and you can repeat it automatically;
- You review that phrase later on that day, then the following day, and then in a few days’ time.
Simple as that! 😉
That’s what I’ve been doing to build my own English phraseology, and that’s what all my customers are doing when improving their English with help of the English Harmony System.
One closely related subject that I haven’t touched upon on my blog, however, is different memorization techniques that you might use to memorize your English phraseology even faster and more efficiently, and that’s exactly what I’m going to look at in this article!
SIDENOTE: please bear in mind that I’m not going to look at individual English word memorization techniques in this article because by far the best way to acquire new English vocab is by learning it in the CONTEXT which essentially means memorizing entire phrases and sentences is pretty much the only way forward!
Start from the End and Stack the Words Up!
This cool phraseology memorization technique was brought to my attention by Aaron from PhraseMix.com, and HERE you can read the article on his website where he describes how the technique works.
Stacking upon words from the end of a phrase doesn’t really clash with the traditional old-school spaced repetition method – no matter what way you memorize the English phrase or sentence, you still have to repeat it a good few number of times until it gets imprinted into your mind.
What this method does, however, is – it makes it easier to memorize a longer sentence which otherwise would probably require a number of failed attempts before you could memorize the entire sentence EXACTLY the way it’s worded.
Let’s take, for example, the following American English phrase:
Now, if you read the sentence from the start and memorize it that way, it might take you a bit longer than if you utilize this “start from the end” technique:
- Learn the bit ALL OVER IT first;
- Then add the word WRITTEN to it and repeat it: WRITTEN ALL OVER IT;
- Add the next word WRONG and repeat the longer sentence again: WRONG WRITTEN ALL OVER IT;
- Finally add the last two words onto it and repeat the entire sentence – IT HAS WRONG WRITTEN ALL OVER IT.
I don’t really know what it is, but memorizing an English phrase from the end works, so we should definitely thank Aaron for writing about it on his website!
Put the Phrase into a Song and Sing It!
I was so excited about the previous English phrase memorization technique that I e-mailed all my mailing list subscribers telling them to try it out.
I got a lot of positive feedback confirming the efficiency of the “start from the end” technique, and I also got responses from some people saying it doesn’t really work for them.
Fair enough – each to their own, as they say! 🙂
But here’s what one of my English Harmony System’s customers – Andres from Chile – had to say in connection with memorizing English phrases:
Robby, I would like to share with you my own method for memorizing English phrases. I call it “music memo”. It consists of going over a particular English sentence slowly and using a melody of one of my favorite songs. I repeat it just two or three times and after that I repeat it at a normal speed without mistakes and hesitation. Even works over your program!
Now, that was something new to me! 😀
Well, not that I hadn’t thought about something remotely similar in the past – at one stage I even considered creating an English fluency improving program based on singing along popular songs and learning the respective song lyrics.
It’s just that this particular approach of putting a totally DIFFERENT English phrase (something that’s not part of the original song lyrics!) into a song you like is a whole new ballgame!
It puts a totally different spin on the old “sing-along and learn song lyrics” English learning method, and I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Andres for bringing this method to my attention – and who knows, maybe you’ll also find his method very useful when learning new English phraseology?
English Vocabulary and Phraseology Memorization ISN’T the Same!
Those of you who may be wondering why I don’t mention various English vocabulary memorization techniques involving different number, letter and image related associations (here’s a great website featuring most popular memorization techniques – check it out if you’re interested!) in this article, let me point out to you, my friend, that memorizing a new English vocabulary word and an English phrase isn’t the same thing.
When you memorize a completely new English word, for example, you may indeed use some imagery to make it easier for you to remember it.
Let’s say, for example, if you’ve come across this new English word PETRIFIED and you find it hard to remember it, you may indeed play around with it to create some visual association which might help you remember it easier.
A good example of such association would be imagining a very, very scared boy named PETeR IF he dIED. Once you get that image in your head, you won’t have big difficulties remembering that word PETRIFIED and its meaning “very, very scared”.
How to memorize English words you already KNOW in a specific SEQUENCE!
So basically the common vocabulary memorization techniques don’t really apply here anymore because instead of learning a brand new word you merely have to learn a word sequence consisting of words you’re familiar with, and that’s when the spaced repetition technique is hands down the best technique to get the job done.
Yes, you may put a different spin on it – by learning the phrase from the end or putting it into a song of your choice, but the main principle remains the same no matter what:
You have to REPEAT the sentence or the phrase until you can say it out loud AUTOMATICALLY and without much thinking!
How (not) to use a Dictionary!
Luke came up with very good question in the comments:
When I come across a new word I look it up in the dictionary and say it aloud repeatedly to drill it into my head. However, most of times, when I come across it again the next few pages, I can’t remember its meaning and I have to search that word in the dictionary again, and what put me off mostly is that it can happen many times (I’m talking about the same word!!). I think this issue is the “bottleneck” of my whole English learning process. Do you feel to give me any other advice on this my problem? Cheers, Luke.
So, speaking of using a dictionary to look up new English words when reading – it’s of the utmost importance NOT to use your native language dictionary! You may learn meaning of a new word via your native tongue all you like, and you may repeat it dozens of times, yet when you come across it again in the book it’s going to be fairly difficult for your brain to INSTINCTIVELY infer its meaning.
When you read, all words have to work in context; meanings of other words are revealed THROUGH WORDS they’re standing next to in the text, so if you take a word just on its own and look it up in a dictionary it doesn’t create any contextual links in your brain!
That’s why it’s so difficult to utilize such vocabulary acquired via the traditional memorization, and what I warmly suggest you do instead is – change the way you see and perceive English words when reading.
You don’t even have to know the exact meaning of new English words. The more you’re trying to DEFINE what a specific word means, the more overwhelmed you may start feeling with all that new vocab being drilled into your brain. Instead try to FEEL how the new word links with other words and what it MIGHT mean.
Try to develop your INTUITION when it comes to acquiring passive reading vocabulary, and while it may sound a bit odd, here’s how it happens:
* The more you’re trying to define some word, the more it may evade you;
* The less you’re trying to define it, the easier it becomes for you to FEEL the word in a sentence!
Let’s have a look at the following English word:
Now, let me be clear on one thing – I haven’t got a clue what it means. I wouldn’t be able to define it, and I only have a VAGUE FEELING as to what it may mean.
I’ll look it up on Google now, and see what words “harrowing” can go together:
Harrowing experience. Now, all of a sudden I FEEL what it means. It means “dreadful, shocking experience”. How do I know it? Well, I must have come across this word a few times in a context describing something shocking, but I never tried to define the actual word.
Basically what was imprinted in my mind was the FEELING associated with the word rather than some definition!
So, this is how I believe English vocabulary is acquired in the most natural way – through FEELING it rather than by trying to define the exact meanings on new words etc.
Sure enough, I’m not trying to say dictionaries are unnecessary and you never have to look up new words. All I’m saying is that when you read, you have to develop your ability to instinctively feel new words and what they MIGHT mean, and then every next time you come across them – just go with that feeling.
If you’re trying to capture the EXACT meaning of those words, it’s going to spoil your reading experience.
Also, it’s to be noted many foreigners have to tendency to question their instincts and double and triple check whether they got the meaning of a new word right.
I’d say – don’t question yourself!
Learn to trust your “gut feeling“, and even if you get some words wrong – there’s nothing wrong with that! It’s not as if you can’t “unlearn” meaning of some word you got wrong by guessing what it might mean – it happens to me all the time when I read, but it doesn’t mean at all that I would somehow limit by potential as an English learner. Sooner or later I’ll figure out what that word means even if I guessed its meaning wrong in the first instance, so basically the bottom line is:
- Use dictionary sparingly
- Develop your instincts in terms of guessing meaning of new words!
English phrases and expressions from this article worth memorizing:
For years on end – year after year, for a good number of years.
If put in simple terms – if said in a simplified way.
Closely related – often followed by words topic or subject; this is how native speakers describe very related concepts.
Brought to my attention – when someone points something out to you, it’s said that it’s been brought to your attention.
Each to their own – this American English idiom means that everybody has their own preferences, basically each person likes something different.
A whole new ballgame – this sports related idiom means that the subject you’re touching upon is something completely different from what you were talking about previously.
When it comes to – just another way of saying “in relation to” or “speaking of…”
More often than not – another way of saying “normally” or “most commonly”.
Hands down – an English idiom meaning that something was done very, very easily or that the concept you’re discussing, for example, is by far the most effective way of doing the particular thing.
P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!
P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!