Readlang Blog

Read for pleasure and super‑fast language acquisition

The Unintuitive Secret to Remembering Words - Don't Try!

February 26, 2014

If you’re stuck looking for the right word, does it drive you crazy? Do you pound your head on the table trying to remember it? Do you swear you’ve learnt this before? If only your brain would work! Just think dammit! Think!

There are two problems with this:

  1. It’s exhausting
  2. It doesn’t work!

Learning a language is a long game, you need to learn thousands of words, so can you really afford to struggle over each one? To expend all that mental energy? Of course not! And the great news is that you don’t need to. Don’t stress, move on, and after seeing it a few times, on different occasions, and ideally in different contexts, it will stick.

I’m not saying you can’t pause a second or two to see if the word comes to you, but don’t struggle or beat yourself up, it’s not worth it.

You’ve surely had the experience of having a word on the tip of your tongue. No matter what you do, it just won’t come. You leave it, and 5 minutes later, your mind wanders and the word comes to you, completely effortlessly.

I wrote this after seeing a number of people, typically beginners, approaching the flashcards in Readlang with the wrong attitude, and beating themselves up for not knowing an answer. The best way is to stay relaxed and not worry when you get a card “wrong”, remember it’s a learning aid, not a test. It’s completely fine and expected to forget things a lot. The only truly “wrong” behaviour is not practising on a daily basis!

How to apply this in different situations:

If you don’t know a word…

…while talking

…while practising with flashcards

And the main thing to remember - don’t try!

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