Learning Words by sound clusters

Now this idea is either going to work really well for you, or you’ll find it confuses the heck out of you and you never try it again!  But it works for me, so I’ll share it.

The idea is that trying to memorize one new word in isolation is difficult.  This goes back to the idea that some of those amazing memory record holders use – you know the ones who do things like memorize the order of packs of playing cards, etc.  A common trick from them is to build a story which you can visualize, which connects one item to the next and then build a chain of words.

That plainly doesn’t work straight away when you don’t know the words in the first place, so I build little clusters of words which have similarities in their Polish word and then link them together with mental pictures.  I write each group of words on a post-it note with a little stick drawing to help me get started.

Example 1

Kosz (basket), Koszt (cost), Kostować (to cost), Koszula (shirt)

My image is a basket full of shirts, with price tags

This helps me with that feeling of having the right word on the tip of my tongue, but not quite being able to get started.  Once I have a few letters, the rest flows straight out.  So by tying the four words together in my memory, I can remember that the word I need is like ‘basket’, or like ‘cost’ and I find I can recall much faster.

Once you’re comfortable with the cluster of words, then you can start to build out from it with words which aren’t quite so close, but still worth building a mental bridge to.

Example 2

Kość (bone), Kościół (church)

So now, my mental image expands to have some bones sat in the basket on top of the shirts and the setting is now a church.

You might find that adding in more words which have similar roots like this will confuse you and you end up spelling them wrong, but I find that as long as I give myself time to learn the new cluster of words separately from the first group I don’t have that problem.

Example 3

Gość (guest), Gościć (to have a guest), Dość (enough)

This might be one step too far, but once I’ve linked the words which have a common root, I like to find other words with common parts of the word.  In this case, Gość because it’s so close to Kość.  My picture then expands to me handing the basket to a person who in my mind is my guest.  Then the question of how many bones?  Just enough..

The connections might be tenuous, but often the stranger connections or links are actually the ones which become easier to recall, so aim for something striking, colourful or just plain silly.

I’d be interested to know if anyone else finds this approach useful.  I’ve built up a vocab of about 500-600 words in the last few months that I can reliably recall & this has been one of my primary techniques, so it works for me.  I’m sure it’ll work for some other people too, but I’m also sure that some will find it more confusing than helpful!  Good luck and please let me know if this is useful for you and I might post some of my word cluster maps.

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