A thought on learning vocabulary

Learning vocabulary is a part of learning any language, some people hate it some love it. I think that I can say for myself that I like it, but it does frustrate me whenever I am not able to learn a word even though I have seen or heard it a few times.

To learn vocabulary I make flashcards using Anki, what I like about Anki is the complex algorithms it has to optimize the learning curve of the vocabulary that’s being acquired. Although it did take a while for me to really understand the algorithm and to know how to optimize it. I must say that I am still learning, because I think that the learning curve can always get better optimized.

Basically the goal is to have the program show you a word, the translation of which doesn’t come to your mind directly, but comes to mind after some serious attempts to remember the word. If then, you succeed in remembering the word, the brain will mark that word as ‘”important” and it will stay in the longterm memory. This is the desired process.

I noticed for myself that writing down new vocabulary in syllables helps me to remember the words better on short term. Also I started adding in some example phrases, which provide extra neuro associations for the brain to have more “grip” on the word. But I don’t do this in the beginning stage of learning a new language, because I see these words so often that I don’t need extra associations to remember a word.

All this made me think, isn’t there a better way to learn vocabulary ? After some thinking the answer I came up with is: No, there isn’t. I solved this problem by really looking at the core fundamentals of how vocabulary is learned. You learn vocabulary by looking at a word, and in some way you manage to remember it. That’s it. That’s why flashcard are irreplaceable. The only thing that will change is the optimization of the flashcards. The way at which they will get presented to the user and the intervals will get better optimized. Flashcard would get obsolete if all the words were in some kind of a way constructed from a limited set of building blocks. Which, for some words, really is the case. Think of the word “sunrise”. All you need to know are the words “sun” and “rise”. But “sun” and “rise” in their turn are not derived from anything. “Sun” is related to “light” and “temperature” but as we obviously see, these words have morphologically nothing in common. That’s why “sun”, “light” and “temperature” all need to be learned separately as one flashcard per word. Some words just have to be learned the way they are. These words themselves can work as building blocks for other words but these words themselves don’t consist of any building blocks. That’s why I am pretty sure that I will never see a different way of learning vocabulary for the rest of my life unless people succeed at programming the brain as a computer where they just copy and paste the vocabulary into the brain. But I am pretty sure that I will never be a witness of that, if it’s even possible at all.

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