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Whenever I see a word that I haven't seen before, I make sure to look it up. How can I make sure that I remember it? I suppose one could use spaced repetition. What else could I try?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

This may sound stupid, but if that word has a wikipedia entry, read the whole article about it. You will learn lots of stuff about its's meaning, where it came from, etc. Thereby your brain will create lots of references with different parts of your "knowledge base". The chances are high that you won't forget the word's meaning after that.

Also, you will feel like you wasted a few minutes of your time and learned trivia you will probably never have use for. But it might still come in handy sooner or later.

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This is a really good idea! I'll have to remember it. Seems like a much more interesting way of building up some associations with the word than making up sentences, which is a method I could never get into. If the word doesn't have a wikipedia entry, I suppose just googling it and looking over the results might do something useful as well... Of course, either way, you risk spending the next few hours stuck on wikipedia, but that's life. ;) – weronika Mar 31 '12 at 21:12
This is a great idea. Do you have any tips for increasing my days' 24 hour limit so I can read everything? :D – Jeff Apr 2 '12 at 18:29
Nope, not yet. Though I'm working on it. On a sidenote: Quitting your dayjob to be able to read more Wikipedia articles has a surprisingly negative effect on your life. :D – Morothar Apr 3 '12 at 6:52

The more of your brain you engage in thinking about this word, the better you'll be able to retain it. One way to do that is with imagery: make a sentence with the word that uses as many of the five senses as possible. Using images that relate to things that relate to you (e.g., a location you know well or a character from your favorite movie) would help too. The idea here is to increase the surface area of this memory, so that there are more ways your brain will be able to reach it/recreate it.

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Thanks. Do you have any good examples though? – Casebash Mar 30 '12 at 12:10
you should look up loci memorization – Magpie Dec 10 '12 at 22:51

Why do you want to remember the definition of the word? If English is your native language and you come across a word you that don’t know exactly what it means, does not knowing the exact meaning of a word impact in any significant way on your understanding of what is being said? I imagine that even if you don't know exactly what the word means, you will still be able to discern meaning of the sentence overall. Therefore, you shouldn't be spending any time trying to remember what these words mean. From a productivity point of view, it doesn't make you any more productive to know the exact definition of the word. Any time spent learning the definitions of these words is time that would be better spent on other activities.

In computer programming we have a term "yagni" ("You Ain't Going To Need It"), meaning that you should never spend any time developing features that you don't currently have a need for. I think this translates well into productivity. It is not just about doing things in the best way, it is about choosing the right activites to do in the first place.

If you really do want to remember the definitions of these words, I don't think there is a better alternative to space repetition. That said, I have had mixed results learning English words with spaced repetition (being a native English speaker). I found that while I had no problem recalling the meaning of new words when I came across them, I never used them as part of my spoken or written vocabulary. There is some bridge there between words you know the meaning of and words you actually use yourself. Whatever learning technique you use I think you will come across this problem as well.

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Very good point about the difference between remembering the definition of a word and actually using it, though it's unclear which of these two results the OP is aiming for. – weronika Mar 31 '12 at 21:13
@Brian Answer: So that you can use the word. So that you can recognize it in the future - both it's explicit and implicit meanings. – Jeff Apr 2 '12 at 18:31

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