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Vocabulary: Learning New Words

Know what a mnemonic device is? It's probably the most effective way to learn new vocabulary. Learn all about it here.

Mnemonic Device

What do you think about when you read the following:
  • I'm loving it.
  • Just do it.
  • Got Milk?
Do any of the slogans above contain the company name that they're advertising? So why do we think of the company when we hear the slogan?
(If you haven't heard of any of those catchy advertisement slogans, then maybe you've heard a different one from this list.)

Advertising uses mnemonic devices (slogans) to help people in remembering a company brand. They are using something small (the slogan) and associating it with something large (the company). We want to do the same thing with words: associate something small (a word) with something large (not a word).

So, how do you use a mnemonic device for words?

Let's consider two words that you probably don't know:
  • fracas
  • chicanery
The next thing we need to do is look up the definition of the words. This is where a good dictionary comes in handy.

Which definition do you think belongs to which word? Click the definitions to find out.

a noisy argument or fight, usually involving several people 
the use of complicated plans and clever talk in order to trick people 

Now, here's where the mnemonic device happens. You need to connect a word with the definition by using something personal and memorable. I've drawn a crude illustration below of how these connections might look.

So, let's use the word fracas.

Say you know someone called Frank. Now, Frank and fracas have similar sounds, so that's going to help us in remembering the word. Also, let's say Frank likes to get into fights when he goes out. Now, I have Frank who goes out and causes a fracas. I can then put it together:
My friend Frank usually causes a fracas when he goes out. 
We have now created a mnemonic device: Frank. Ideally, Frank is a friend you see or think about a lot, so when you see Frank you think of fracas, or when you see a fracas, you think of Frank.

What about chicanery

Did you click on the pronunciation? To me, chicanery sounds similar to Sean Connery.

I remember Sean Connery mostly from films like James Bond, Entrapment, and The Rock. In those films, he often uses complicated plans or clever talk to get his way. So, for me, chicanery and Sean Connery are a natural fit.

Remember, a mnemonic device must be personal! You may not have the same thoughts about Sean Connery as I do, and therefore, this particular device wouldn't work for you. It has to be personal to you!

What if I don't have a friend named Frank?

 That's okay! A mnemonic device can be literally anything. However, the more personal and memorable the connection, the more likely you'll remember the word. So, you can even use something ordinary that you see everyday (maybe a crack in the sidewalk or a neighbor or a park) because, like the advertising slogans, all we want to do is think of the word when we see or think about something everyday. If you do that, say goodbye to flashcards!

Final Remarks

Once you have a word and it's definition remembered, then you can begin the process of using it and using it like a native speaker. In order to do that, you'll want to learn all about the word itself, not just its definition. Next week's post will be about how to use words in a natural sounding way.  

In the meantime, feel free to leave your words and mnemonic devices in the comments below!


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