I asked you a week ago whether you write a new word many times in order to remember it. Some of you said yes. Years ago I did the same, but then it stopped working. Why? Because writing it many times teaches you to write it. Maybe, and just maybe, sometimes, for some words, remember it. But it does not help you really KNOW it.
What does KNOWING a word mean? To me, it includes the following:
- You know how it looks
- You know how it sounds
- You know what it means
- You know how to use it
And if you write a word many times, you learn how it looks, but none of the others. And, to be honest, these days, with autocorrect and Google, even if you are not 100% sure how it looks, you can still get it right.
So, what do you need to do to really ‘know’ a word?
First of all, do things that will get you to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ new words. Listen to English speakers, read in English. This way you will encounter new words, and will have to learn them. For example, you are reading the news and you see the following sentence: “MPs are preparing to vote on whether to back Theresa May.” (BBC) You are reading the BBC, this is a good beginning. But now you have a problem, you are not sure what “to back” means here. You know that your back is a part of your body, you know that “back” is the opposite of “front”, but in this sentence “back” is a verb, it’s an action. So as a next step, you check the dictionary. I would check at least two if I were you, one that translates it to a language that I speak well, and one that explains it in English and gives examples. So if you are a German speaker, you will discover it means unterstützen, and if you speak Chinese, you will now know it means 支持. But most of the time you cannot use “to back” every time you use “unterstützen” or “支持” in your language, so we need to open an English dictionary and see what it means and how it is used. So I type “back definition” in Google, and I see that as a verb, it means “give financial, material, or moral support to”. That confirms the translation. I can also click on the sound icon to hear the word.
At this point I know how to write it, I know how to say it, and I know what it means. These are three very important steps, but they are not all. An  important one is also to see how to use it. Can I say “I will back you.”? Is that correct? In Chinese you can say it. Can you say it in English? Now you need to read examples. They will help you really understand the word.
Go back to Google, here is the example there: “He had a newspaper empire backing him.” Now scroll down for more, there is the… the Cambridge online dictionary, where I find “back” as a verb and it gives me so much more: “ The management has refused to back our proposals.; This theory needs to be backed up with solid evidence.” And so on.
Now I know how my word looks, how it sounds, what the meaning is and how others use it. At this point you need to remember it. There are many techniques you can use, for example try to picture it. For “to back”, for example, I picture two friends on the beach, sitting on the sand, back to back, leaning against each other. You see, they don’t need a beach chair, because they are supporting each other using their backs. With this mental picture in mind, I now remember the word.
It’s time to use it! Time to make your own sentences. You can either write them or say them, or both. For example, use an application for language learning, write at least 10 sentences with the word and ask native speakers to correct them.
For more tips on how to remember new words and ideas on how to use them, go ahead and send me an email, we will schedule a free trial lesson and talk about all of this and more.
But for now, remember: write the word if you want to learn how to write it. If you really want to KNOW it, check its meaning carefully and use it!

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