Since your long-term memory is like a neurological filing cabinet, sorted into themes and related topics, it makes sense to store words in your notes as you store them in your brain – according to topics. Meaning is the basis of long-term memory, so learning vocabulary based on a specific context helps you to remember it.
The exercise below, however, is just a starting point. Making lists of related words and phrases is useful, but you also need to process them in an active, challenging way.
I find that it helps me to list related vocabulary under nouns, adjectives/adverbs, verbs, phrases and sentences. There are good reasons for doing this with German:
- You need to be able to recall a noun’s gender and plural. That’s why a separate list of nouns makes sense.
- Phrases are handy because you often don’t want to spend time mid-sentence agonizing over grammar – learning a chunk is just easier.
- For instance, to say „on weekends“ in German requires the dative plural. Who wants to prop halfway through a sentence to figure out that you need the plural dative „the“ (den)? It’s easier just to learn the chunk, „an den Wochenenden“ (on weekends).
- Another example is „in den Schulferien“ (in the school holidays). With a chunk like that you can say, „Was machst du in den Schulferien?“ (What are you doing in the school holidays?) – without suffering from the anxiety of concocting a dative plural on the spot.
- I think it makes sense to write down some useful sentences too. This will help you to get a feel for how the language works. It’s also a more natural way of learning vocabulary than looking up every single word in a dictionary.
- The aim is to be able to start guessing words from their context, which is a normal, organic way of learning a language.
- After all, none of us learned our mother tongue by looking up dictionaries. We just figured out most of the words over time, based on how people used them.
The file below is a very simple example of how to make up a set of related words under a topic and list them systematically. The topic is „Die Schule“. I’m also including a blank form that you can download and use for a topic of your own, for instance, Books, Computers, Friendship, Leisure, Clothing, etc. The list of possibilities is endless.
Click here to download this example:
Click here to download a blank for your own use – or draw up your own:
This is by no means the only way to remember vocabulary. Eventually I shall add other suggestions that might help as well.