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Why is it so hard to memorize new words?

on Mar 16by Marie

Memorizing new terms seems a difficult task for many reasons. In general, the brain tends to select the information that it receives, discarding what it considers unnecessary. Imagine remembering every single detail that enters your brain: you would remember thousands of words effortlessly, but would also be paying a terrible price: your brain would be constantly fighting against a permanent, unwanted and annoying interference of useless information. Fortunately, our brain works on its own rhythm and it “self-regulates” when it comes to organizing information.

So, forgetting information is actually a good thing. The goal is to help the brain to remember the information that we consider important. Language learners want to remember as many words as possible and they often cannot. They come to the conclusion that they simply do not have a good memory and thus language learning is not for them. This is another myth that must be dispelled.

Whatever its limitations, the brain possesses an extraordinary ability to learn and retain information. The secret is to how to really use it.

Memory Quiz

How can we improve our capacity of retaining new words?

The process of acquiring new information can be generally divided into 3 categories: decoding, storage and retrieval. When the brain receives new information, it decodes it and then stores it. The stored information can then be retrieved in the future. If we cannot recall something (the so called “knowledge-gap”), something went wrong during one of these phases.

There are several types of memory: short and long-term memory, sensory memory etc. The latter receives information through the stimulation of the senses such as sight, touch, smell. The short-term memory, also called working memory, retains small amounts of information for short periods of time. We use it when we do mental calculations, remember a password, a code or a phone number. If we want to store a word, we have to put it into our long-term memory. How can we do it efficiently?

Memory is like a muscle, it atrophies if it does not work. Each capacity/faculty that is neglected tends to weaken and eventually disappear. So it must be constantly stimulated. The best way to do it is to repeat continuously. If you want your memory to work well, make it work a little bit everyday. The repetition of an operation has a cumulative effect whose main goal is that of forcing information into our brain without us making deliberate efforts.

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