“I know this word, I know it. объяснять. It means…it means…to explain! That’s it – ‘to explain’.”
Sometimes I got it, sometimes I didn’t.
The frustrating thing is I always recognized the word – as well as many others – but I often couldn’t recall what the darn things meant.
The inability to recall what a foreign word is, for most language learners, one of the most challenging aspects of achieving fluency.
Recognition is easy. Go through a pile of flashcards or a vocabulary list for a couple hours and we can recognize 100s of words.
But functionally, this skill is meaningless. Without recall, recognition is useless.
Which is exactly the problem with most approaches to vocabulary acquisition.
If you have a language textbook, check the order of words. Chances are they give the word or phrase in the target language and THEN translate it into your native one. The same goes for your vocabulary lists or flashcards.
This is training for recognition, not recall. Why? Because as a new language learner we can’t help but translate from our native tongue to our target one when we’re trying to write or speak. Not the other way around. We need to train our minds in the same way we’re going to be using our minds if we want fast, effective skill acquisition.
“Incredibly, almost no textbooks get this ordering right. If you train for recall, you get recognition automatically; if you train for recognition, recall is terrible, or as slow as molasses.
Think I’m exaggerating? How many times have you handled or seen pennies and quarters in your life? Tens of thousands of times? Millions? Try and draw both sides of either from memory. Recognition does not = recall. You have to train specifically for the latter.”
Fortunately, there’s a fairly simple fix for this – change the order of the words and phrases when you’re learning vocabulary – your native tongue then your target.
Also, try out Anki for smart flashcards – the desktop version is free. It’s what I use and recommend for flashcard lovers.
This problem also relates to why I think it’s so important to start speaking from the very start, and that this skill, more than any other, will determine your rate of language acquisition.
Think about every language you’ve ever learned – your ability to speak probably lagged behind every other skill – your ability to recognize words, identify objects, read a paper etc.
The act of training our speech organs to produce sound correctly is hard, partially because our education system emphasizes visual learning so strongly.
And by the way, there is no scientific evidence that there are different learning styles – the only thing that exists are preferences based on what we’re used to – so that’s not an excuse for delaying when we start to speak.
When it comes to new vocabulary, our brains and muscles need to be able to identify and produce the correct sounds. This is the only standard for “knowing” a word that makes any sense. This is what we have to learn in order to use our vocabulary. And it is this training that is most often overlooked.
You don’t know it until you can use it. So start using it immediately.