Language Information

Learning a Foreign Language: Learn from the Blind

In a previous article, you read that to establih your own lists was the best way to learn vocabulary as fast as possible. Let's study what an effective list looks like.
Among prejudices about languages, there is the following: you need to establish huge lists in order to acquire as many words as possible.
The most effective list contains 5 to 6 words at a time. Yes! Your larger list contains 6 words. Are you still afraid of the task? I'm sure you can deal with 6 words at a time. If you could draw your memory, you would draw a two room flat. The first room, your instant memory, is large enough for 6 items. Your deep memory, the second room, has no limit, but it can receive no more than 6 items at a time and wants you to confirm your order. What happens when you fight against Nature? If you go on solliciting your instant memory and try to add a new item when there is no room left, it will make room for this new item (your memory is obedient, from a certain point of view) by pushing out something else. The newcomer is not added, it replaces the older in the queue. If you are lucky, the previous 6 items in your deep memory had been stored when you tried to add one and the pushed-out word enters your deep memory. More often, as you have experienced, it disappears. That's the reason why the memory seems a bit temperamental as long as you don't know how it works.

If you are determined to learn a foreign language, you can't rely on luck to enrich your vocabulary. Don't fight against Nature, use it. Take advantage of this human feature instead of struggling with it. You have got six-item boxes, but the number of boxes is unlimited, and anyway, long lists are boring.
Fill a box, send it, confirm your order! again and again. It is the fastest and best way to enrich your vocabulary. Do you recognize the "first five minute factor"? When you begin a novel, when you start watching a movie, you meet the characters. Honestly, how often do you have to rewind the tape to encounter them a second time? Never. Neither need you to re-read the first chapter of a book. Though I admit I have some trouble with Dostoievski's characters.) Make the first five minute factor the slave of your memory.

  • Check 6 words in a dictionary.
  • Learn them. Each time it is possible, learn words in association (see part II): table/chair, son/daughter, inside/outside, high/low etc. Make associations that are meaningful for you. I think easy to learn "son" and "daughter" but you may feel easier to learn "son" and "boy". Any association that works for you is a good one.
  • Take a break in order to empty your immediate memory. (For me, singing a verse is enough.) Let the new words "sleep" for an hour while you fill other boxes. At the end of the session, revise everything.
  • The day after, revise the whole list again, carefully, box by box, before filling a new one.
  • It seems slow to learn that way? It is not. Remember the waste of time it has been to learn and re-learn the same words in your school years, and still not to know them. Put this method on trial while waiting for the next issue:
    why and how to become a kind of ventriloquist.

    Gabrielle Guichard, a French teacher who can be reached on and listened to on

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