|Pages from the popular Japanese comic Card Captor Sakura translated into Chinese.|
Last month, I finished teaching a summer Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) course. At the end of the course, I asked students if they had any general questions for me regarding English learning. Some asked pretty much the question many other English language learners I meet in my daily life ask:
"How should I study vocabulary? Should I memorize? I heard memorization is the best method."
Indeed, in China and other Asian countries, rote memorization is used not only to cram for tests, but to tackle any content thrown at students in the variety of classes they take. I believe there is a time and place for rote memorization (i.e., math formulas), but if you want language to be memorable, memorization is the wrong road to take.
As an English teacher who loves to use the principals of cognitive linguistics or logic to tackle language, I believe vocabulary, grammar, or any other facet of language is only retained when it's contextualized, and/or when we know the etymology or background. Whether you're learning English, or Chinese and Japanese in my case, this rings true. I remember words and phrases from memorable conversations or interesting books. Naturally, when words and phrases are heard or read in context, they make more sense.
I'll make a post about listening to Chinese in the future; this one concerns Chinese reading. (I don't know enough Japanese yet to read books, only short comics and signs!) Again, no matter the language you're learning, I think these tips will help you.
Record five unknown vocabulary words per page
Recently, an employee at my local Walmart (yes, they're here in China!) struck up a conversation with me. He asked the typical memorization question, and I told him a better way to brush up on English is to read and write down about five words per page that you don't understand to check the definition later.
"But what if there's more than five words I don't understand on a page?" he asked.
I replied, "Ignore them!"