A vocabulary notebook is a small book where you record new words. The best vocabulary notebook is small enough to put in your pocket so you can carry it everywhere, like this.
Remembering new vocabulary is something that many language students find difficult.
To really know a word means that you are able not just to recognise the word, but use it correctly.
But how can you go from recognising and understanding a word to using it well in your English speaking or writing?
You need to form a long-term memory of the word or phrase you’re trying to remember.
When you learn a new word in class or during self-study, it’s in your short-term memory. You are able to recognise and even use the word during your studies and maybe even for a short time afterwards, but then you may forget it.
You need to move the word into your long-term memory. The only way to do this is to see, hear and use the words many times.
When you learn new vocabulary, record it instantly. That means write it down at that moment.
The physical act of writing the word down can help you to remember it later.
So, whether you’re in class, studying at home, or out and about, the best thing to do is record the word when you learn it. Don’t wait until later!
There are four easy steps. The first step is recording words clearly and correctly.
This may sound obvious, but many students find they are unable to read their own notes, or they record and then learn words with incorrect spelling. So, always check how the words are spelt.
So what else do you need to record?
The second step is to record the meaning of the vocabulary.
There are a number of ways to do this, depending on the word or phrase you want to learn.
Let’s use our example, soup. Do you think writing pea or chicken will help you to remember the meaning of this word?
It’s true that pea and chicken are examples of soup, but writing down the meaning like this might not help you to remember what soup means.
However, I’m quite sure most countries have soup, so a translation is a quick and clear way to show the meaning of soup.
I speak Turkish, so I’ll use that. In Turkish the translation for soup is çorba.
Many students also find that drawing pictures helps them to remember words. Put the picture on the right-hand page, for meaning.
For simple words, like soup, recording the translation in your language is okay.
However, many words don’t have a direct translation. For this reason, it’s usually best to record the meaning in English.
But, use your own words; don’t just copy the meaning from a dictionary!
This will make it easier for you to understand and remember the meaning.
Let’s do an example. Do you know the word tasty?
It describes food that has a strong taste or flavour.
We can also say that this is a positive adjective, a little similar to delicious, so we can write a positive symbol next to the meaning.
With adjectives, it is also a good idea to record the opposite.
We can use this sign for opposite: ≠
The opposite of tasty is tasteless. It describes food that has no flavour.
This is a negative adjective, so we can write the negative symbol next to the meaning.
Using a vocabulary notebook is a learning process and should be personal to you, so experiment with different ways of recording meaning. But, however you decide to record the meaning, make sure it will be clear to you when you come back to it.
So, there are four steps to recording vocabulary. Firstly, write the word clearly and correctly.
Secondly, record the meaning.
3. How to Record the Form of New Vocabulary
Ask yourself or your teacher: is the word a noun? A verb? An adjective? An idiom?
Remember that phrases can be nouns or verbs, too, so this is true for both words and phrases.
If it’s a noun, is it countable or uncountable? Make a note so that you understand how to use it. You can record the form in brackets next to the word.
Here, soup is a noun, so you can put an n. after it. It can be countable or uncountable; you can show this by writing C/U.
You can put adj. to show that tasty and tasteless are adjectives.
It’s helpful to use abbreviations to record form. Here are some examples.
(n.) is for noun
(v.) is for verb
(C) means the noun is countable
(U) means the noun is uncountable
(adj.) means adjective
(adv.) means adverb
(mwv) is for multi-word verb
(ID) is for idiom
Abbreviations help you record the form quickly and to use less space in your notebook.
There’s one more thing you should record.
4. How to Record the Pronunciation of New Vocabulary
You’re learning English. That means you know how confusing and irregular English pronunciation can be.
That’s why you should record some details about the pronunciation of the word.
For example, you could write the transcription in phonetics, mark the stressed syllable, mark silent letters or syllables, and highlight any difficult or irregular sounds.
For example, students sometimes confuse the pronunciation of soup with soap. So, the vowel sound here is important.
This is the symbol for the ‘oo’ sound: /ʊː/ You don’t have to use these phonetic symbols, but they can help you to remember the correct pronunciation.
Vowel sounds are a good place to start. You can write /ʊː/ under the letters that make that sound, ‘oo’.
The word tasty has more than one syllable, so you should record the stress in the word.
You can do this by underlining the vowel where the stress is.
In tasty, the stress is on ‘a’. Some students may also find it helpful here to record the vowel sound. The vowel sound is /eɪ/.
In speech, the second ‘t’ in tasteless can be silent. You can show this by writing a small cross under the letter.
So now we have the basic information we need to record.
We’ve written the word clearly and correctly. We’ve checked the spelling, and we’ve also recorded the meaning, form and pronunciation of the words.
You may notice that I have used different colours.
It’s helpful to use colour in your notes and to be consistent. This means always using the same colour for the same thing.
You could use different colours for different parts of speech, as I have done here: my nouns are black and adjectives are red.
You could use different colours for verbs and adverbs too. This helps you understand and remember the form of a word quickly.
Also, using a different colour for your pronunciation notes helps them stand out. I always use green.
Finally, you might want to add more information to your notes later. So, leave some space.
What else might you want to add? You’ll see some ideas later!
5. Remember your Vocabulary by Reviewing and Developing Your Notes
So now you know how to record new vocabulary in your vocabulary notebook.
But that’s not enough: you also need to remember the vocabulary.
When you’re learning English, you can forget around 80% of new vocabulary if you don’t review it.
Reviewing vocabulary means seeing it again and using it. You don’t have to spend a long time each time you review. The most important thing is that you review it many times, over time.
Carrying a vocabulary notebook with you everywhere helps you to do this.
Let’s make a review plan. Imagine that you saw some new vocabulary earlier today. You recorded the words and phrases you want to learn in your notebook.
How should you review the vocabulary?
Research shows that most students forget 80% of what they have learned within 24 hours of a lesson.
So, after your lesson, a short time after you have written down some new vocabulary, take five minutes to look at it again.
The very best time to do this is 10 minutes after, when you still remember most of the lesson. Maybe you are waiting for the bus or having a coffee; you can take your notebook out and review the new vocabulary quickly.
Read through what you have written.
Remember the meaning, the form and the pronunciation.
Say the vocabulary in your head: “Soup is çorba.”
Then, test yourself. You can cover the meaning side of your notebook, look at the new words and see if you can remember the meaning.
Then you can cover the words (on the left) and see if you can remember how to say them from looking at the meaning side of your notebook: “Çorba is soup.”
Focus on the pronunciation.
Then uncover the left side and check the word and the pronunciation.
Later that day, when you have a bit more time, you can sit down and add some information to your notes.
Firstly, you should add collocations if you can find them.
Collocations are examples of words which can be used together.
A good dictionary will give you collocations. Use an English learner’s dictionary, such as Cambridge, Oxford or Macmillan to find the vocabulary.
What about collocations with soup? We often use words for different types of soup. For example:
We can also use things like:
A bowl of soup
A tin of soup
Write the collocations in the space you left under the vocabulary. These will help you to remember the vocabulary in the way that it’s actually used.
Another good tip is to write sentences using your new words.
The best way to do this to help you remember your new vocabulary is to personalise them. This means write a sentence so that it means something to you. For example,
My Mum loves tomato soup, but I hate it.
So at the end of day 1, you’ve found some new vocabulary, recorded the meaning, the form and the pronunciation.
You’ve reviewed it by looking at it again as soon as possible after you first saw it.
Then you’ve reviewed it again, by looking up the word in a dictionary and adding collocations and a personalised sentence.
Congratulations! You now have enough information in your notebook to start using it to really expand your vocabulary.
Thanks very much for watching!
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