Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Guest Blog Post from Alla Sobirova-- Strategies to Help Learners Memorize Foreign Words With Sound Associations

By Alla Sobirova

Many of you met Alla last year when she was a Guest on our blog, she is back and we are so glad to have her!

In this blogpost, she would like to share some words of wisdom of how to memorize foreign words with sound associations. As you are reading this, please think about the following question: What type of strategies do you use to help learners memorize foreign words?

The method of phonetic (sound) associations (MPA) has emerged because of a variety of languages ​​in the world have words or parts of words that sound alike but have different meanings. Moreover, in many languages ​​there are words that have a common origin, but over time got a different meaning. Most people use this method, not realizing that they are using it.

The first mention of the effectiveness of methods similar to the MFA was already in the literature of the 19th century. In the 70-s of 20th century, a detailed study of associations in the process of mastering the language was conducted by a professor of Stanford University, R. Atkinson. He and his colleagues suggested that a group of students studying Russian language, memorize words by using "Keyword method", while the control group memorized the same words by traditional methods. "Keywords" in Atkinson are the words that are phonetic (sound) associations to the memorized words, similar-sounding words. Numerous experiments of Atkinson and his colleagues proved the high efficiency of this method for memorizing foreign words. The method of phonetic associations as a method for memorizing foreign words becomes more and more popular in the world.

Now let’s look at the details of what exactly a method of sound associations is. To remember a foreign word, you need to find a word that sounds the same or similar in your native language or the language you know well. Then you need to make a small story from the word that sounds similar and translation. For example, for the Russian word лук (which means “a bow” or “an onion”) there is the English word “look".  The story might be: "I cannot look when I cut лук (onion). The story is necessary to help to remember. The word does not need to be identical with the foreign, even partially will suffice. It is important that words in the story were as neutral as possible, without causing vivid images.

With the MPA method you can remember a lot of words in one sitting. And what is the most important; this method will help you get rid of the endless repetition of memorized words. Just one time you need to find the word’s sound association and make up a story. It is important to always say out loud the memorizing word and a sounding similar word. First of all, it must be done to ensure that your memory captures both of them in natural way. Usually it is enough to say both words 2-3.

Here's another example: ARRESTO means “a bus stop” in Italian. The similar-sounding word can be “to arrest”. The story can be this: At the bus stop someone was arrested. It is better not to specify who exactly was arrested not to not to confuse the similar-sounding word with the odd word. In such cases it is possible to use pronouns, and for the revitalization of the plot is good  to imagine that it happened to someone you know at least a little, and even better with yourself. However, if you make the story about yourself: "At the stop I was arrested" - then it would be easy to apply the method of “co-feeling” to improve memory.

Surely, to remember words, sound-similar words and stories you will record on paper. In this case, do not be lazy to underline the to-remember word, its translation, and that part of the sound-similar word that reminds the memorized. To do this, you can use different size, italics, underline, etc. It also contributes to memorize better (due to the interaction of visual and auditory memory).
In general, the best effect is reached when for memorizing MPA and “co-feeling” methods are used together.

Often for memorizing foreign words you have to find not one but two sound-similar words. This is necessary when the word is long enough, and in the native language is not like the word. In this case, a foreign word must be broken into two parts and to find a word which conforms to each of its parts (words should be as short as possible and contain as many the common sounds with memorized one as possible).

It should be noted that this method is called phonetic or sound associations not without reason. Association is necessary to select a sound, not spelling of words (indeed, in many languages, the sound and spelling of words are very different). So first of all, before the selection of harmonies, make sure you pronounce the word correctly. To memorize the spelling of words, there are other methods.

The method of phonetic associations is indispensable in a lack of time: in preparation for the exam, a leisure trip or a business trip, that is, in any situation where within a short period of time to remember many words. With its help it is easy to memorize 30-50 words a day (it's at least 11000 words per year!). At the same time the most important thing is that this method avoids the tedious memorizing (which is simply impossible with traditional methods of learning foreign words) and can even make memorizing foreign words in a fun, creative process.

If you liked this method and you want to practice it, try the following exercise.

Exercise: Here are words in different languages. Find sound associations for them and make stories to remember.

a) There are 8 Italian words. They are read just as written.
Possible associations:
01. an aria from an opera
02. to forget
03.  a bureau
04. in front of
05. golly’s
06. Garry Betty
07. a lamp
08. piano

Please share your strategies with us. 

Alla Sobirova started to teach English on-line after she delivered her baby in 2009 and could not teach English in traditional face-to-face  way. It was a new field for her and she had to read and learn a lot in order to organize oral practice lessons that helped her students.

You can find some examples of my work at www.allasobirova.com.

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