Global Lingo Blog

The 1,000 Words Challenge – How to learn foreign words

Are you up for the challenge?

This is part of a campaign launched in the United Kingdom that has only one purpose: to get rid of the image that British people are “lazy linguists”. The campaign is also a response to the continuous decline of students taking up foreign languages to study. We covered the basics of the challenge in this other post.

So, why 1,000 words? This is the minimum requirement to be able to develop basic fluency in a language. Bernadette Holmes from Speak to the Future says: ‘We are not expecting instant fluency. Yet if everyone were capable of at least 1,000 words in a new language, social attitudes and economic prospects would be significantly enhanced.’

Learning a thousand words, foreign ones at that, might seem difficult. However, with proper technique, this can be achieved easily. Here are three techniques that you should use in order to learn those words faster.

1. Making use of Mnemonics to link words

Dr. Michael Gruneberg formalised a technique called “LinkWord” which helps people learn new words by associating them with images. Dr. Gruneberg said that the technique will help people gain basic fluency, the 1,000 words, in just ten hours.

The way it works is quite simple. When you say a word in the language you are studying, try to picture an image of that word.

For example:

An ‘enclosure’ in Spanish is ‘cercado’ – try to imagine a circle, like an enclosure where horses are trained.

The words ‘street’, or ‘lane’ in German is ‘Straße’ – the pronunciation of the word sounds similar to ‘street’ in English, so simply imagine a street as you say the word in your mind.

2. The Town Language Mnemonic

This method combines the Method of Loci with the one above. To go any further you must understand the Method of Loci.

Also known as Memory Palace, this method uses spatial cues or physical locations to remember foreign words. It relies on memorised spatial relationships to establish, order and recollect memorial content.

The Town Language Mnemonic uses the fact that every day items you use in your language can be found in any town or village. For example, you can attribute nouns to different locations within the city, like bread to a bakery and vegetables to a market.

Adjectives should be associated with parks or gardens. Those are the most likely places where you will find things that can be  beautiful, large, small, cold or smelly. So it’s much easier to associate an adjective with items in a park.

Verbs belong in a sports centre. It’s the place where you will find the most running, playing, jumping, sweating and so on. When it comes to an action, a sports centre is the best place for your imagination to run to!

3. Learn the core words

The final technique is to learn the core structure of a language. Tony Buzan mentions in his book, ‘Use your Memory’, that each language has a core of a hundred words. If you learn those words, you will be able to converse in that language at a basic level.

Either of these techniques will help you complete the 1,000 foreign words campaign and help the United Kingdom escape monolingualism. If you are not aware of the language issue within the UK, this post will help you to understand it more fully. Read Language skills in the UK.

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