Context is best

Do you find it natural to memorise words or phrasal verbs in the form of a list? And most importantly, do you succeed at commiting that knowledge to your long-term memory?

This traditional learning style may work for certain people or with certain areas of vocabulary, such as the irregular verb list but as a rule of thumb, I am inclined to say that CONTEXT IS BEST. Even in the case of the irregular verbs.

Let me illustrate this with a practical example. I am teaching the irregular verbs to a group of twelve-year-olds. We attempt to learn five of them in every lesson but as it happens, they don’t really know the meaning of some of  them. In my day, we would have been asked to memorise them anyway, just by repeating the words, parrot-like and we did learn them but were we able to use them? Nope! So what was the point really? We passed exams but we couldn’t build sentences with those verbs that we had so methodically learnt by heart.

Now, back to the present day.  Many of us teachers try to take a more hands-on approach to learning, which works better in so many ways.

Say we are learning Throw:

  • What can you throw?  A snowball at someone, a stone in the river, a ball up in the air,…
  • And the past rhymes with you?
  • Let’s give an example of something You threw yesterday, last week… 

What I advocate for, is the same philosopy during self-study sessions.  Learning in the context of an example, a conversation, a film, a song, to name but a few.

I hinted at this in my post about learning vocabulary but will go into a bit more detail now by sharing some ideas that I hope, resonate with you.

Associate words to people you learnt them from

I have been unconsciously doing this all my life and there are a number or terms that carry the signature of the person who I first heard them from, teachers, foreign friends,, etc.

Examples of these are: quaint, a mishmash, cabin fever, wee as in small, skint, Bob’s your uncle, rambling, etc

Exercise idea: list people you have had conversations with in English and note down words you associate with them.  In doing so, you will internalise them.

Ask yourself if the term you are learning makes sense in your life. If that is the case, adopt it by creating a personalised example in your mind and more importantly, put it in circulation as soon as possible.

The recently coined term “doggolingo” describes special language used on social media sites to refer to our beloved four-legged friends. Having one lying on the sofa right behind me, I should get familiar with those and use them in my conversations about doggies.

Record sentences or groups of words (rather than isolated words)

That will be of invaluable help to commit them to memory.  For instance, instead of learning the word “Fate” you can take it a step further and learn “A twist of fate”

And even better, jot down a sentence next to the expression.

“A twist of fate consigned his poems to oblivion. ”

More ideas to come…

Leave a Reply