Monday, July 11, 2005


Learning vocabulary is one of the most important building blocks to learning any new language. The problem arises if you are unaccustomed to memorization. Here are a handful of tips and ideas to help optimize your time spent memorizing vocabulary.

First, be sure to study in a quiet place away from distractions whenever possible. This will allow you to concentrate on the task at hand.

Second, vocalize the vocabulary word and definition.

Now, for some more mechanical advice.

Many people organize their vocabulary in three stacks. First, the stack of words not yet studied (this is usually the vocabulary box from which the words have not yet been pulled). Second a stack of words currently being studied. Third a stack of words known. While this method provides a good starting point, the memorization process can be enhanced by further categorizing the words.

For example, within your "actively studying" stack, the words should be further subdivided. The easiest organization is type of word (i.e. noun, verb, adjective, adverb, other).


Organize nouns by gender (masculine, feminine, and neuter) and declension, even breaking them down further by sub-patterns in the case of alpha declension nouns (alpha, eta and hybrid patterns).


Organize verbs by verb family (e.g. omega, epsilon-omega, and mi verbs).


The additional time this takes will be made up for when you must keep track of all three declensions and all three genders. It also helps when learning paradigms because you can simply go through each paradigm subgroup seprately. Once you are comfortable, you can then begin to mix them.


The Memorization Session

Organize your memorization session so that you are spending no more than 20 minutes working on flashcards at a time. Taking a ten minute break between sessions. Studies show that after 20 minutes, the session is less effective. Further, studies show that recall actually is enhanced during the ten minute break, then begins to decline after that.

During your memorization session, the following procedure can be helpful.

Pick a sub-group from your "working" cards.

Start with no more than five cards from this group. Go through all five cards once, reading the word and its definition aloud. If it's a noun, say the article, the nominative singular and the genative singular, then the definition.

When you return to the first card of the five, begin really attempting to make sure you know the words. Repeat the article, nom. singular, and gen. singular, then attempt to state the definition without flipping the card over. If you are correct, place the card at the back of the stack. If you are incorrect, place the card behind the next card in the stack. That is, go to the next word in the stack but place the word just completed directly behind it so that it will be the next card to work with.

When you feel comfortable with the entire stack of five cards, add one or two additinal cards from the "working" stack to the back of the stack in your hand.

As you add more cards, you can put cards your having trouble with two or three cards back instead of one as outlined above, but do not put them too far back. The idea is that you put them soon enough that you still remember them in your short-term memory when you encounter the card again.

Continue adding cards until you have ten to fifteen cards in your hand or have all of the cards from the subgroup you are working on in your hand. Make sure you are comfortable with all (or nearly all) of the words in your hand before adding more.

If you have ten to fifteen cards in your hand and have not exhausted the subgroup, begin removing cards from your hand when adding new cards. To do this, only add a new card when you come across a word that "you know that you know". Remove the known card from your hand and set it aside (but not in your stack of "known" words).

When you feel that "you know that you know" all of the cards, shuffle the subgroup and work through the entire subgroup two to three times. If you run across a card that you have difficulty with, place it only one or two cards back (similar to above). Otherwise, place cards answered correctly at the back of the stack.

Work through each sub-group individually in this manner.

When you are comfortable with the subgroups, then begin to mix them together and follow the same basic process. There will likely a small handful of cards that you have difficulty with. These can be pulled and can be worked with further, but the majority of the cards can be placed in a "think I know it" stack. This stack should be reviewed at least twice per day for a week before placing cards in the "known" stack.

The entire "known" stack should be reviewed no less than twice per week to keep the vocabulary fresh in your mind. If you find you have difficulty with a couple of words, move them either to the "working" stack or into the "think I know it" stack depending on the amount of work you feel you need to get it down.

Yes, it's a lot of work, but the idea is to not need a lexicon for every other word.

Similar procedures can be used for principle parts and other memory work.

As time permits, I will post more detailed information and background regarding the recommendations above and why these recommendations are made.

May God bless your studies!

Matt D.


At 10:54 PM, Blogger DentM42 said...

Consider grouping cards not just by grammatical and syntactic categories... consider grouping them by semantic categories. For instance, if you have a number of verbs that convey moving from one location to another (e.g., agw, erchomai, elqw), group those together and study them as a group. If you have a number of nouns about nature (e.g., rock, lake, tree) or a number of nouns about types of people (e.g., man, woman, child, girl, boy, etc.) group them together for study purposes. The idea is that each group should have a number of things IN COMMON with other vocabulary words in the group so all you're really memorizing is the DIFFERENCES among them rather than trying to map GREEK --> English Gloss. Louw & Nida's lexicon can be helpful in this regard.


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