Wednesday, December 27, 2006
MEMORY SYSTEMS FOR LANGUAGES
When hearing the word 'language', some tend to think only offoreign languages. Seldom do they stop to think that the termincludes their own tongue! The title of this chapter conse-quently refers to English as well as to other languages!As I mentioned in my book Speed Reading vocabulary isconsidered to be the most important single factor not only inthe development of efficient reading but also in academic andbusiness success. This is not surprising when one realises thatthe size of one's vocabulary is usually an indication of thedepth of one's knowledge.Since vocabulary is the basic building block of language, itit desirable and necessary to develop methods of learning andremembering words more easily. One of the better ways ofaccomplishing this aim is to learn the prefixes (letters, syllablesor words recurring before root words) the suffixes (letters,syllables or words recurring at the end of root words) and theroots (words from which others are derived) that occur mostfrequently in the language you are attempting to learn. Acomprehensive list of these appears in the vocabulary chaptersof my book Speed Reading.Here are some more tips on how to improve your wordmemory:1. Browse through a good dictionary, studying the ways inwhich the prefixes, suffixes and roots of the language are used.Whenever possible, use association to strengthen your recall.2. Introduce a fixed number of new words into yourvocabulary everyday. New words are retained only if theprinciple of repetitions as explained earlier, is practised. Useyour new words in context and as many times as possible afteryou have initially learned them.3. Consciously look for new words in the language. Thisdirecting of your attention, known as 'mental set', leaves the'hooks' of your memory more open to catch new linguisticfish!These are general learning aids to assist your memory inacquiring knowledge of a language. They may be applied toEnglish, as a means for improving your present vocabulary, orto any foreign languages you are beginning to learn.Having established a general foundation for learning words,let us be more specific in the remembering ofparticular words.As with other memory systems the key word is association. Inthe context of language-learning it is well to associate sounds,images and similarities, using the fact that certain languagesare grouped in 'families' and have words that are related.To give you an idea of this linking method, I shall considera few words from English, French, Latin and German.In English we want to remember the word 'vertigo' whichmeans dizziness or giddiness, and in which a person feels as ifhe or surrounding objects are turning around. To imprint thisword on the memory we associate the sound of it with thephrase 'where to go?' which is the kind of question you wouldask ifyou felt that all surrounding objects were rotating aboutyou! Two words which many people confuse in the Englishlanguage are: 'acrophobia', which is a morbid fear of heights,and 'agoraphobia' which is a morbid fear of open spaces. Thedistinction can be firmly established if you associate the 'aero'in acrophobia with acrobat (a person who performs at greatheight!) and the 'agora' from agoraphobia with agriculture,bringing to mind images of large flat fields (though the Greekword actually means marketplace!).Foreign languages are more 'approachable' when onerealises that they form groups. Virtually all European lan-guages (with the exception of Finnish, Hungarian and Basque)are part of the Indo-European group, and consequentlycontain a number of words which are similar in both soundand meaning. For example the words for father: German'vater', Latin 'pater', French 'pere', Italian and Spanish'padre'.A knowledge of Latin is of enormous help in understandingall the Romance languages, in which many of the words aresimilar. The Latin word for 'love' is 'amor'. Related to 'love'in the English language is the word 'amorous' which meansinclined to love; in love; and of or pertaining to love—thelinks are obvious. Similarly we have the Latin word for 'god':'Deus'. In English the words Deity and Deify mean respect-ively 'divine status; a god; the Creator' and 'to make a god of.French was derived from the vulgar speech of the Romanlegionaries, who called a head 'testa', a crockery shard, hence'tete', and the shoulder 'spatular', a small spade, hence'epaule', etc. About fifty per cent ofordinary English speech isderived either directly from Latin (+ Greek) or by way ofNorman French, leading to many direct analogies betweenFrench and English.As well as language similarities based on language grouping,foreign words can be remembered in a manner similar to thatexplained for remembering English words. As we are discuss-ing French, the following two examples are appropriate: InFrench the word for 'book' is 'livre'. This can be rememberedmore readily if you think of the first four letters of the word'Library' which is a place where books are classified andstudied. The-French word for 'pen' is 'plume' which inEnglish refers td a bird's feather, especially a large one used forornament. This immediately brings to mind the quill penused widely before the invention ofthe steel nib, fountain penand biro. The link-chain 'plume—feather—quill—pen' willmake the remembering of the French word a simple task.Apart from the Latin, Greek, and French, the rest ofEnglish is largely Anglo-Saxon, going back to German, givingrise to countless words that are virtually the same in Germanand English—glass, grass, will, hand, arm, bank, halt, wolf, etc.while others are closely related, light (licht), night (nacht),book (buch), stick (stock) and follow (folgen).Learning languages, both our own and those of otherpeople's, need not be the frustrating and depressing experienceit so often is. It is simply a matter of organising the informa-tion you have to learn in such a way as to enable your memoryto 'hook on' to every available scrap of information!The methods outlined in this chapter should give you a solidbasis for becoming more proficient in the various languages,and for enjoying the process of becoming more efficient.