Language learning is primarily a question of memory, and then, of practice. Memory, unless you are an exception, comes through repeated contact with a certain element of the target language, be it vocabulary, irregular verb forms, whatever. Not often do we learn anything with just one exposure to it. Imagine what happens with someone’s telephone number. Unless you write it down, you are not likely to remember it when you need it. However, once you have heard the number five or six times, you begin to remember the number. In time, things sink in through repetition, although some effort always helps. The same happens with birthdays, meetings, anniversaries, or social events. If we don’t write them down, we probably won’t be there when the date comes.
Language teaching methods are often structured to present new material once in every new chapter, without recognizing the importance of repetition, which allows us to “digest” what we have temporarily learned. New vocabulary is presented to the learner on a “one-off basis” – new chapter, new vocabulary, but probably never seen again. If we want and need to be able to use this newly acquired vocabulary someday in a spontaneous conversation, it will take more the one exposure to it.
How can we provoke Memory?
If someone tells you to “get out of bed” in a foreign language, you may know intuitively what they are saying, but you won’t be able to repeat it yourself to someone the next day. However, if you are told to get out of bed every day, within four or five days, you will remember how to say it yourself. Why? Just a question of exposure/frequency.
Somehow, we have to create a way to provoke repeated exposure ourselves. My suggestion is: Post it and see!
Almost everyone has or knows of Post-it papers, both large and small. They are used to help us remember things, and that is just what they can do for you. Get into the habit of putting ten or fifteen postits around the house each week. Even just a new vocabulary word is enough. Then, over the week, read them as many times as you pass by them. You will be amazed. After just one week, you will have expanded your vocabulary by ten or fifteen words. It may not sound like much, but over time, it quickly adds up. Once you have taken one week’s postits down, in order to put up the next week’s postits, don’t throw them away. Stick them on the pages of a notebook. A little review from time to time will keep them all in your active/accessible memory bank.