Saturday, 28 February 2015

Snoozing or Capturing, Learning and Using?

As a linguist student studying foreign languages (English and German), I used to learn loads of words and phrases. I remember having lots of notebooks, notepads, separate sheets of paper of all colours and sizes, sticky notes everywhere: endless lists of vocabulary I needed to learn. Not high tech stuff really but it worked, I learnt and used this vocabulary, learnt and understood it but also learnt and forgot it.

Looking back though I realise it was not only time consuming but also not the most effective method as the amount of learnt and forgotten and learnt but not used vocabulary was larger than that of learnt and used one.

All those notebooks, notepads, sheets of paper, etc. were like a big vocabulary cemetery, where words and phrases were buried and forgotten or at best visited sometimes and recalled but never out of the ground...

And it's not that I didn't need those words and phrases! I was sometimes straining to recall 'that expression' that would nail it but no, it's gone and you cannot just ask some one to hang on there while you have a look at your notes to find it, can you?

Later I moved to the country where the English language I learnt as a student is spoken and it started being a matter of survival LOL. Most people here are polite and helpful, they don't rush you either as they understand you are a foreigner. But, well, at the end of the day it's life, you snooze you lose...And what's more you get tired of not being able to express whatever you want to surprise the world around you with or of not being able to say it smoothly and gracefully like you do do it in your mother tongue!

Some people might say that it's all a temporary problem, you do pick up a lot of words and phrases from all around: English speaking friends and family, TV, papers, at the office, etc.

Well, I agree that it's true to some extent and you do get more fluent and savvy and even elaborate with your language at times but it takes quite some time and unfortunately missed opportunities and even failures. So, personally I prefer investing some time and making a conscious effort to master my language skills.

Actually, it's fun and I enjoy it! I'm a linguist after all! But there's again vocabulary I need to learn so that I could not only be effective but also smooth and graceful in getting that message across. And tbh it's not much fun getting back to the good (?) old lists of vocabulary. Especially if you realise you are just going to build another vocabulary cemetery.

So, that's where the study tool vocBlocks comes in nicely: you capture the vocabulary you need, learn it and use it.


Say you're watching a movie and pick up a word you just love and would like to use. You take your phone, open vocBlocks in your browser and type in the word. The transcription and translation are already there for you so you just save the entry and get on with the movie.

Or you are on your way to work (that is supposing you are not driving but using public transport). You hear a conversation of your fellow passengers (can't help it when they are so loud, can you? No eavesdropping encouraged here :) so you take out your phone and pop in the phrase you've heard and want to throw into a conversation with your colleagues later on, type in translation, save and go on gazing nonchalantly at the sheep outside.


Easy bit as well!

Say it's lunchtime in your office and you are checking your personal emails. Ta-da! There's a vocBlocks reminder email! Time to learn some vocabulary ;) You click the button in the email which takes you to Memoriser and you start doing the exercises to learn, say, human body parts in English. (It's one of the Ready vocBlocks we put together for the site users btw.) The exercises start with multiple choice questions, word-translation direction so that you could soon start recognising these words in speech, books and articles you read!

But you obviously need to use these words yourself not just recognise them. And vocBlocks will help you with that too! The learning stage finishes off with free type, translation-word exercises which will help you transfer these words and phrases to your active vocabulary.

Each time you learn a word with Memoriser, there is a picture and sound to help you remember it. So, all this vocabulary you need to learn comes alive and vivid in your mind with the image and sound! Which means no more dead vocabulary buried in the paper cemetery!

In a nutshell here's how vocBlocks works:

1. A word or phrase is freshly extracted from its context (e. g. conversation) and put into one of the topical vocabulary blocks;

2. This word or phrase is learnt with the help of exercises which eventually take it from your passive vocabulary to active one;

3. Backed by the image and sound the word or phrase is alive and vivid in your mind and once a context occurs which is similar to the one you took it from originally, you use it easily and spontaneously! Simples!

P.S. It's actually difficult not to remember words and phrases learnt using vocBlocks thanks to the spaced repetition effect it uses, see the next post for details.

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