Why am I so crap at word cards?
So here I am blogging about word cards, see here, and how good they are for vocabulary learning, but my previous attempts to learn Korean and Malay vocabulary with word cards failed miserably. Why do I think it will be any better with Arabic?
Learning new vocabulary with word cards is great because it:
- Randomises the word order during memorisation exercises
- Creates a mental connection between word and meaning (rather than between word and place on a list)
- Allows for known and unknown words to be easily separated into different places for memory and recall exercises
- Gives a clear visual update of which words are still unknown
- Can easily be added to / subtracted from
Where did it all go so wrong?
To start with, I fixated on the type of word cards I wanted. They had to be these special ones that were only stocked at certain shops and they were the type that attached to a flip-ring. I also liked to use a certain grade black marker pen to write the target words, and then a biro to write the English meaning on the other side. It was beginning to get ridiculous and I spent more time producing the cards than I did trying to learn the words. When I did make progress with learning new words, the thought of having to make new word cards just seemed too time consuming and difficult. So I stopped learning new words with word cards.
Not using word cards wouldn’t be so bad if I had some other effective learning strategies in place, but I didn’t.
I learn most of my second language vocabulary from trying to decode road and building signs or advertising and shop signs. It works for me, but it is a slow process. Jumping in to conversations with the few words that you do know is also a good way to expose yourself to commonly used words, but I’m more inclined to keep quiet if I don’t understand the language going on around me.
Reading stories written for children learning to read was also a good way to meet lots of commonly used words in the target language, but again I decided to make a production out of it (lists and definitions of new words, special pen to re-write story from memory, word frequency rankings, special notebook required etc.). I should have just read the books, rather than made it into something even more time consuming.
So how’s it going with Arabic word cards?
I’ve got a list of 35 words I’m learning and a lot of them are cognates, the kind of words that sound the same in lots of different languages (ice cream / aiskreem, that kind of thing). I’ve been looking at my word cards for two days and I can remember the meanings of all the Arabic words. Having a lot of same sounding words makes it easier, about half of the new words are cognates. I still cannot remember all the words if I try to match the new Arabic word to the English meaning. For example, if I see the word ‘sakhen’ I know it means hot, but if I see the word ‘hot’ I know it begins with ‘s’, but I have to feel around to try and find it ‘sakhar’? But I’m getting there.
Previous attempts became more like craft projects than vocabulary projects. This time I am using tables in Microsoft Word and a printer instead of fancy card and marker pens. It is easy to update lists with new words and print them out. I cut out the strips and fold them to have an English side and an Arabic side. I write the Arabic words with Romanised letters; I’ll worry about reading and writing Arabic another time, right now I’m focusing on the word sounds and their meanings.
Here is a summary of the TOP 5 TIPS for using word cards effectively.
How does your Top Five look?