Process for working on vocabulary


1. Look up word and meaning / spelling

In this stage, you are learning and figuring out the basic things relating to the word. You have a word in Dari or Pashto (or whatever language it is) and you want to learn it. So make sure you know the English equivalent and the Pashto. Take a look at the spelling. If you are working from the 625 list, this work will most likely already have been done for you.

2. Check pronunciation and sound it out loud

You can use for this, or maybe you know the word already and know how it sounds. Regardless, make sure you say it out loud and be sure that you don't have any problems making the actual sounds. Really take the time to get to know the sound in your ear, using your mouth and so on. If you are still having trouble with the word, mark it down somewhere as something that you'd like to check out and ask a friend who speaks that language to help you with its pronunciation.

3. Make the sound association

I have described this step in my blogpost in much more detail, so refer to the first section on that link for more on this.

The basic idea, however, is to associate the word in English with the word in the target language. Thus, we made sure that the pronunciation was good in step 2, so think about what this word sounds like in English. Some words will be easier than others to 'convert' into images or small chunks, but it is possible with everything.

In Pashto, for example, the word more means mother in English. So to make an association between the two means finding a way to associate this word (which sounds a bit like the English 'more') with its meaning. Thus maybe (and this is what occurs to me on first attempt) you see a mother with a dozen children, all holding out empty bowls in the kitchen, like in Oliver Twist, all asking "more! more!".

As always, none of this has to make sense, but it does have to be memorable. You really have to imagine the scene, hear the sounds of the children, smell the porridge cooking on the stove, feel the fabric of all their clothes pressed up against one another as they bunch up to reach their mother. (And so on). It is worth taking time to make these associations as sensory as possible, because this is what will make the memory and the word stick in your head. Usually, if you take the time to do it properly (however strange it will seem at the beginning), this will go a long way towards cementing it in your brain.

4. Practice / test yourself with Iverson's list method

This is also described on my site [point two on that page] so refer to this for a full description of the method.

Once you've taken the time to make the sound association, write down the list of words that you're learning that day on the page as described in my blogpost. Do one round of translating them. Then during the day, every so often, do another round, translating the words back and forth etc.

Technically, this step is optional, but it really helps so where possible try to find a way that you can fit this into your schedule.

5. Make Anki cards out of the words

This is described elsewhere, and I will probably demonstrate this to you on skype as well so you can see what the exact process is. [Links to help with this step: 

- How to use Anki -- includes a number of useful videos tailored to vocabulary learning

- The Gallery -- this includes a link to the 'Model Deck' that you will need to install and use for picture flashcards. Email me if you have questions about this.

It incorporates everything we've done so far -- the spelling of the word, the pronunciation (if you're confident, you can click the target-shaped button to record the sound yourself; otherwise use

Use google images with the Pashto/target-language word to find a unique / memorable image.

At the beginning it sometimes helps to add a short reminder of the association / image you conjured up in your head. You can add this in the "Gender, Personal Connection..." field in Anki.

6. Zero out Anki

You should do this every day. Your settings should be setup such that you don't have hundreds of new cards coming at you every day. Cards don't take much time to review (most people can review 8-10 cards per minute on average) so there isn't much excuse for not doing this each day. You can do this first thing in the morning when you get up (a good routine / habit) or just do it piecemeal throughout the day when you can steal a few minutes here or there. Either way, at the end of the day, there should be no numbers listed on your main Anki screen. It should all be zero/blank. If you stick to this, then you are maximising your recall potential, and you are saving yourself time in the long-run. If you aren't regular about it, then you're sort of shooting yourself in the foot. This is a keystone habit for learning vocabulary, particularly at the beginning stages of learning a new language. Stick to it!

7. OPTIONAL: Practice Stories with Pictures Only

If you are studying via the 625 list, you will note that each set of words comes with an associated picture. All the words can be found in that picture. Once you're a little further along, you will start getting to grips with the relevant grammar for your language, and you'll be able to connect the words for each picture into a real story. So this is a final optional way to practice your recall of the words. Either use a blank version of the 625 list (ask me for a copy of this) or just cover up the words (or print it out and cover it up) and try to tell a story using the words you've just learnt. At the beginning your sentences will be very simple ("This is the sun. This is the moon." etc) but soon enough you'll start adding more complexity and feeling more confident about joining the sentences together in more interesting ways. Ultimately, this is how you'll best learn new words in the intermediate level, but it is excellent at cementing new grammar at the early stages as well.


Note: Some people find that they like to separate out the stage where they add words into Anki. (i.e. stage 5). Most of us have one day in the week when there is less going on (a weekend, for example) and so some people block out an hour or two to add enough words that will suffice for the entire coming week. (In the past, I even took 3 full days to add /. make cards for the full 625 words for the Dutch language!). This way, you can separate out the learning part of the process from the slightly more mundane technical process of finding images, adding them into Anki and so on. This is an entirely personal thing, and what works for one person will not work for another. So try it out and see if it works for you.