I'm struggling with vocabulary.

linck5 br Brazil

First of all sorry for the long post. I don't know what it is today that I felt like writing haha

But tldr: I'm struggling with vocabulary, how do you do to memorize new words?

I'm native brazilian, and I'm studying japanese. As you can see I speak english so you would think I already went through the process of learning vocabulary once, so I should know how it works. The thing is I feel it took me a very long time to actually learn english, considering how fast most other people I know learned it, and it being so close to portuguese as it is. And even in english, vocabulary has always been my biggest problem. It has been something like five years already since I started to be able to actually watch movies in english more or less comfortably. And I still consider my vocabulary to be very pour. And the thing with english is that it comes from the same place as portuguese, so there are a lot of similarities in the vocabulary. Most of the more complicated and unusual words are kind of the same in both languages, so I basically get them for free. Now japanese is all different. There are no similarities at all, and the words all sound the same because the sounds are more limited. So I'm in trouble. But at least... at least there is the kanji that helps, because most of them have a set amount of readings and meanings, so I think if I have a good enough base and know most of the common kanji, I will be able to figure out most of the unusual words that I came across. So I guess I'm thankful that kanji exists. I don't know how I would do it if I had to learn a language that is just represented by sounds like english, but have no similarities with my language at all. So I'm glad I have that. That, and the katakana words that come from english. But moving on...

As for japanese, it's already 1 year and 6 months since I started learning, but I didn't study very hard. So when I read or hear content in japanese, I get most of the grammar and structure and all, but the thing that I never get is vocabulary. The average sentence in japanese I read, I will probably understand 20% of the words that are nouns, verbs and adjectives, but I usually understand everything that surrounds them, the structure, the inflections and things like that. And I don't consider myself as someone who focus too much on grammar. So I think I really have a problem with vocabulary.

When I listen and read a new word, I can look up the meaning, understand what it means in it's context, but literally 5 seconds later, I forgot how to read the word ( the kanji reading ), and in 10 seconds, I already forgot the meaning. I can increase these times by "insisting" a bit more on that word, like repeating it to myself, writing it down remembering other words that use the same kanji and things like that, but I'ts never enough, the moment I wake up the next day, there is no trace of it in my mind. If I go through a text with 30 sentences, and wake up the next day and try to remember what did I learn from that text yesterday, I will maybe remember one word out of 20 new words in that text, that I spent an hour reading, and reinforce some words that I already knew, and that's it.

Now, I use spaced repetition as well, I spend somewhere around 10min reviewing cards everyday, and if I were to put these words that I easily forget as new cards, of course I would remember them. But how could I possibly do that with 10k or more common words that exist? In 3 months doing that I would easily be spending my whole day reviewing cards, and I can't even endure 20min of doing that. And also with SRS I feel like after a certain point reviewing a card over and over, it gets less and less effective. At some point I have read that card so much, that I'm reading it but my mind is somewhere else, not catching any of the actual meaning of it anymore.

Of course there are a lot of methods I can use to fixate words in my head: looking for more examples, writing it down, flashcards, mnemonics and so on, but whatever I need to do, the problem I have with it is how am I supposed to do that with each one of the 10k plus words that I need to be comfortable with the language?

So I don't know if there is some issue with the way my mind works, If I'm just too lazy and I don't study enough, or what it is, but something seems to be wrong with my ability to learn vocabulary, and I need to figure out what it is.

So I would like to ask for your help Steve, and from the community here that I see is always willing to help people and engage in discussions.

Can you give me some insight on how you learn vocabulary? Give me some tips? Ease my concerns?

July 2017
  • raro28 mx Mexico

    Wow man!, I was about to give you the same standard advice "SRS all the way!, read something interesting" but after 15 years I guess you have been through all that. I've been on this ride for about four years, three of those years were spent on Anki, every day I did like 300 repetitions for about one hour. The results were not as advertised, I got tired, I had to quit Anki, I started to accept the fact that I can not perfectly memorize all those words. Aiming for 100% retention got in the way of the learning (enjoying) process.

    Having past the anxiety of not doing my reps I started to read here at lingq, then I bought some mangas, imported texts from lifehacker, subtitles and audio from youtube, etc. Guess what? I still fail to recognize even those words that were perfectly tested on Anki. But I don't care!

    The most important thing in MY relationship with the Japanese language, or any other language for that matter, is how I handle the following situation:

    Do I reasonably understand what I'm reading/listening? If yes, MOVE ON,

    else,

    Do I reasonably understand the definition/explanation in Japanese(or whatever) of the term/phrase that I didn't quite catch? If yes, read the definition/explanation, re-read the context, and MOVE ON,

    else,

    use another definition in another language and MOVE ON.

    rinse and repeat

    How I learn vocabulary? I used Anki in the past, now I just read, read, read an create Lingqs in Japanese then I let my brain do the "learning".

    July 2017
    • linck5 br Brazil

      Oh I actually wrote "1.5", not "15". I think it was kind of misleading. My bad. I edited it.

      Well yeah I also used to spend much more time on anki, but not surprisingly, I grew tired of that until I couldn't do it anymore. Some people have the discipline, the endurance, or maybe they truly enjoy or at least don't mind the process I suppose, but I think it's not for everybody.

      And this is far from being the only thing that I bailed out halfway through. I think I was setting the goal too high or expecting too much from myself. Now I tend to not commit as much, and be more realistic about what I can do. So I try to vary my method a little bit more to keep things fresh. Sometimes I read some articles on NHK News, sometimes some anime on animelon, sometimes some video lessons on youtube and so on. I think it's working better this way.

      But I can't say I'm satisfied with my progress. I feel like much of my work goes to waste. So I want to improve on that.

      You seem like you endured much more than I did on anki. Three years is a lot, that sounds good. How well worth it do you consider these 1 hour a day for 3 years were?

      July 2017
      • raro28 mx Mexico

        hmmm I should get my eyes checked again, I swear I read 15 years!

        "Sometimes I read some articles on NHK News, sometimes some anime on animelon, sometimes some video lessons on youtube and so on. I think it's working better this way."

        THIS.

        I think it works better for me too.

        hmmm, now for the Anki thing. I wouldn't say it was worthless, but I did waste time. Maybe the major benefit was that I can guess the meaning of new words and even the readings of new kanji and get those "aha!" moments pretty often, all without having that much experience with native material. Were 3 years necessary? I'm afraid not :(

        "I feel like much of my work goes to waste. "

        Yeah, I've felt that too. But in my not so humble opinion it has to do with the goal, the expectation and the method.

        My goal was to sear 10k words into my brain so I could easily read without needing a dictionary, using only raw memorization. (Yes, the goal was not to read first, I got it all backwards!)

        I lowered my expectations, defined a simple goal, got a bit more pessimistic and switched methods. I mean "Read a book in Japanese" is a high enough goal for me and I'm not in a hurry to achieve it this year.

        Since I've only read ラブひな and 聲の形 I can only recommend those. 聲の形 is easer to read than ラブひな. 聲の形 is on the net so you should try it. And don't be so harsh on your self.

        July 2017
  • EnglishFishWish gb United Kingdom

    Do you think it is an issue with Japanese vocab, or with all new words/numbers/texts? I mean, could it be an issue with your memory, rather than just about recalling words? I take B-vitamins for my memory, mental health, and all-round health and body function. I also take fish oil. Low levels of vitamins and minerals cause various problems, including memory ones.

    I say this because it sounds like you have tried hard at times with Japanese. Your English is excellent, by the way. Judging from that, I think that perhaps you are correct in thinking that something is strange with your difficulty with recall when it comes to Japanese.

    You can also try using mnemonics. I have no idea about Japanese at all, and have not tried using mnemonics with that kind of a language, but, perhaps you can make that work? :)

    July 2017
    • linck5 br Brazil

      I have tried to use mnemonics in the past but maybe not enough or not in the right way. Maybe I should give it another chance. Maybe just by forcing myself to at least try to make some correlations with things and sounds in my mind, every time I see a new word, that would be an improvement. I'll try that.

      Maybe the problem is exactly what goes on on my mind after I spot a new word for the first time.

      I don't think there is any real issue with my body health of lack of nutrients. I would say I have a very healthy diet, I don't eat much junk food, and I do eat fish at least once a week. But who knows.

      I do think that I have a below average memory. But not that much, and it has a lot to do with the kind of thing you need to memorize so it's sometimes hard to tell.

      July 2017
      • EnglishFishWish gb United Kingdom

        Hello again. :) You can try singing your new vocabulary. You know that we remember melodies/songs much better than just random words. When we read, we see the context, but we may not always remember the context. We tend to remember really emotional, or melodic moments/events. I've tried this when studying for exams, and it does work. It's a bit unusual, but I have an excellent memory usually for melodies, so it helped me.

        I have never ever tried to learn Japanese, so I don't find it easy to understand all the different quirks of it.

        When I need to make a shopping list, I use a form of mnemonics. I exaggerate a story, make it really absurd/weird, and I can then remember the items on the shopping list. I like memory exercises in general, and usually try to make my memory work harder for me. If I need to buy e.g. eggs, butter, chicken, soap and green beans, I might make up a story in my head like: Humpty Dumpty (he's an egg, basically) was taking a bubble bath(soap) but the rooster(chicken) disturbed him. This made him angry, so he ran to the kitchen and grabbed some butter beans (butter + green beans) and threw them at the rooster!

        Also, there is a form of learning called kinesthetic learning. Remember when we were children, I'm sure we all learned songs about brushing our teeth, and we did the actions at the same time? Well, for some words, we can match an action to the word. Muscle memory is brilliant, and often we can easily tie the idea/word to an action. We had a course where we were taught some vocabulary in a completely new language, using kinesthetic learning only, no speech from the teacher at all. It was really brilliant, providing it was for nouns and certain verbs. It obviously doesn't work so well for function words e.g. prepositions, articles etc., and it's not great with learning tenses, but for many words, it can make your life much easier. :) This form of learning also relies on the use of imagination, just with added use of our physical body too. It was extremely enjoyable, everyone in the class was happy and laughing, and we seemed to learn the vocabulary easily. :)

        July 2017
        • linck5 br Brazil

          Wow I have never heard of this "kinesthetic learning", I'll look into it. Singing might also work.

          Yeah I feel like I should do something when I encounter a new word, not just read the reading and the meaning and move one. Something that helps fixating the word but it's at the same time quick and doesn't take much mental energy.

          Thanks!

          July 2017
  • Sypher us United States

    Hi, i'm new here, and have been studying Italian for a couple years on my own, on and off, and started Korean the same way about a year ago. I've used Anki, but it's not something that works on its own.

    This site is amazing, and I love the idea of LingQs. What I'm doing (and may work great) is using a combination of this site and Anki. Reading and seeing words you don't know in context is how I learn, so I take the LingQs and add them to an Anki deck. Even after I've removed the LingQ on here, as known, it'll still be in my Anki deck, because it's a word I didn't know only a week ago, or for however long.

    Italian is much easier for me to handle, because it's so close to English. But like you, I was struggling with Korean vocabulary. This method is really helping me so far, so maybe give it a shot :)

    July 2017
    • linck5 br Brazil

      Yeah korean vocabulary must be really hard, I would certainly have a lot of problems with it. It's like thousands and thousands of words that you have no clue about, you can make no correlation with anything whatsoever, there is no base, nothing. At least this is what I think with my limited knowledge about how korean works. Seems pretty scary to me.

      It's weird that at least in my experience, I don't see much people complaining about vocabulary. They certainly complain about grammar, pronunciation, dialects and things like that. But vocabulary? I don't know about you guys but I don't see much, I might be mistaken, so this is something that worries me, like I must be doing something really wrong if I'm the only one.

      I haven't been using LingQ in the past months. But I was planing to go back to it. I think I got a bit frustrated that it doesn't work with japanese very well and some other things, but I think if I leave these things aside it's still and excellent tool that I can take a lot of advantage of. So I need to get rid of this shameful word count with the number "499" on it =D

      July 2017
      • raro28 mx Mexico

        So just a word of caution, trying to increase the "Known words" count just for the sake of it may improve your motivation at first, but it might end up adding unnecessary pressure/anxiety if you are not careful. Recently, I had to add some filters to hide those numbers from my screen 'till the self inflicted pressure disappears.

        July 2017
        • linck5 br Brazil

          Oh thanks, good advice.

          July 2017
  • Ylva fi Finland

    People have already given some good suggestions, and I guess I have nothing revolutionary to add, so I'll just answer the question about how I learn vocabulary.

    At the moment my language learning, which consists mainly of maintaining and improving my Swedish and English skills, is mostly about going through texts, preferably interesting ones, like news articles and whatnot, and marking words and expressions that I either don't know or recognise but can't produce, and adding them to my Memrise course for those things. Much or exactly like LingQ, but I don't rely on LingQ alone, but rather do it wherever, when I'm watching TV for example.

    Often I'm lazy with this, but I try my best to include some context with the word I'm trying to learn. I have photographic memory, so oftentimes I find myself simply associating the word with something I see, instead of a translation. I also associate words with feelings, memories and the such.

    I also strive to use the "not so sure if I'll remember this" words in conversation as soon and as much as possible.

    July 2017
    • linck5 br Brazil

      Hmm yeah maybe I have such a hard time remembering words because I fail to create some sort of connection with the word. Thanks!

      July 2017
  • ftornay es Spain

    People don't usually complain about learning vocabulary, mostly about pronunciation or grammar?

    Maybe, but that doesn't mean we find it easy. Probably we've accepted it's hard and there are no shortcuts so we ask advice about what we think can be solved more easily.

    Vocabulary's the most important and most difficult part of learning a language. That's a given and it's not easy for anyone. We all read words, look them up and then forget them a few seconds later, especially in the beginning of our learning.

    My impression is that you're trying too hard and you're feeling too anxious about the process.

    First things first, your written English is very good, which shows that you've been able to master a foreign language, that's no small feat and it shows that you're more than able to learn languages. Forget about how long you feel it took and how it compares to other people's progress. There are lots of factors involved there and most have nothing to do with your capacity.

    As for Japanese, a year and a half is not a very long time to learn such a different language. My advice for you is to relax and trust both yourself and the Lingq (input) method.

    More specifically, forget about trying to memorize every new word you encounter, forget about testing your memory after reading the word. Although flashcard reviewing can help some people, I'd even advise you to stop flashcarding at least for a while, so you can change your mindset about language learning as memorizing word lists.

    Just concentrate on the task at hand. Your task is to understand the text you're reading. Nothing more, nothing less. The more it feels as if you only cared for the text and not for the language, the better. Imagine that you have to decipher the text for some reason other than learning the language, maybe it contains the instructions for finding a treasure. As a matter of fact, the more it's true that you care about the text, the better.

    You just go on and try to understand the text, you read and use whatever character or word you kind of can understand. Whatever you don't understand you click on it, read the hint and lingq it. Once you understand a sentence, that's it, you let the memory of the meaning of individual words fade away. You just remember the meaning of the sentence/paragraph. You don't test your memory or worry about being able to remember the words (much less in isolation).

    Later you listen to the text and, again, try to extract as much information from it as possible, by remembering what you understood by reading plus any words you can vaguely recognize.

    You repeat this a few times, not too many, your goal is not to learn the text by heart. Repeat the listening more times than the reading, then move on to a new text, always trying to choose the most interesting one that you can possibly tackle.

    Don't second-guess yourself, just trust the process and enjoy the texts/audio. You'll learn over time, at your own pace, as you encounter words/phrases again and again in different contexts. It will happen, you can't avoid it. It's how your brain works

    I wish you success

    July 2017
    • linck5 br Brazil

      Thank you!

      Though as much as I understand that re-reading / listening to the content I'm consuming after I'm done is effective for memorization, I often can't bother doing it. It's kind of tiring for me, but I try to do it sometimes.

      For me the easiest thing is to do like you said, just read, look up words, understand, and move on. With the sole purpose of understanding the thing I'm consuming. This is good because it doesn't require that much motivation and will-power, as it's not something that is too tiring and stressful to do. So a big part of my study is like that. But I feel that the more you suffer to actively learn the language, the more you get from it. I think people that have more discipline, motivation and will-power will go the more hardcore route and learn more actively, and thus faster. But I think I should know my limits and not try to be one of them.

      July 2017
  • Dimethylamine us United States

    I know this sounds like bashing your head against a wall, but the cliche advice is as follows: read more. I saw your stats said that you're at 10,000 words of reading which isn't a whole lot. Japanese might be different as far as word density goes but 10,000 still isn't a whole lot.

    I do different forms of reading, intensive and extensive. Intensive, I focus on most of the words and try figure them out. This is slow, but it gets my brain going. In extensive reading, I simply gaze over the words and don't focus on each one, still guessing through context, but if I don't remember, I'll just move on.

    July 2017
    • linck5 br Brazil

      You must have mistaken me for @raro28. I have less than 500 words on lingq. I haven't used it that much. I have been mostly studying in other ways.

      This separation of intensive and extensive is interesting. What would you say is the advantage of doing each type?

      July 2017
      • Dimethylamine us United States

        Nope, I am not. I'm talking about your statistics, which in my opinion is more tell tale than words known.

        Intensive is good for fine details and extensive is for pure exposure and volume.

        July 2017
        • Ylva fi Finland

          Do the overall statistics somehow portray your "road to fluency", or what is the purpose of the goal values?

          July 2017
          • Dimethylamine us United States

            The Words known counter is not used equally amongst users. I see a lot of people here with say 25,000 known words and they only have done around 50 hours of listening and 30,000 words of reading. Then again, some people do work outside of LingQ, so who knows? According to people like Stephen Krashin and Bernd Kamps from the Word Brain, you need a lot more than that to be proficient.

            I try not to be a slave to statistics, but I think going off of listening, reading, and speaking is better than words known. Some people here don't mark words as known until they can use them in conversation, whereas on the other side of the spectrum, people mark words as known when they've simply seen them. I don't think any philosophy is wrong, but there's just a lot of room for ambiguity, which is why I mostly ignore 'words known.'

            July 2017
        • linck5 br Brazil

          Ah I see what you mean now. "Words of reading" is all the words that I read and are not blue anymore right? Indeed I have 10k, which is very surprising.

          Ok and when would I prefer "pure exposure and volume" over "fine details"? I would assume both are important and the former would me more to fixate words I have already been exposed to, and the latter would be for learning new words. But I would like to hear your opinion. What balance of them would you consider good? Like 80% extensive and 20% intensive?

          July 2017
          • Dimethylamine us United States

            I honestly wish I knew the answer. I've found intensive reading is good for reviewing old lessons and reading easy lessons, whereas if I did this with long and new lessons, it would take me more time than it should.

            For your case, I would do more extensive reading for the vocabulary exposure. Intensive reading is too slow for this. If you're having trouble remembering vocabulary, I found re reading lessons with intensive reading to be helpful. A lot of people here swear by flash cards, but I myself haven't caught on!

            I found lots of repetition made remembering words easy as well. Depending on the authors, a lot of LingQ lessons repeat their vocabulary.

            July 2017