Recently, a student told me that he was trying his best to “cram” vocabulary but was not really succeeding. He further asked me how he could increase his word-power. Here are my observations regarding this problem:
Vocabulary should never be crammed. It cannot be learnt consciously. While learning a language, you shouldn’t be conscious that you are trying to learn a language. What is learnt consciously is soon forgotten. A child learns his mother-tongue without making any effort. He does not even know that nature is teaching him language. Your job should only be to read as much as you can in an easy and comfortable state of mind. Don’t make it a duty. Stop reading when you start feeling bored, tired or sleepy. One can never learn when one’s mind is disturbed or agitated. Fear is also an enemy of learning. If you suffer from the examination phobia, or any other phobia for that matter, try to get rid of that first. Even a genuine worry is a serious impediment to learning. Worry is a destroyer of energy. A relaxed frame of mind is a prerequisite to any meaningful learning. Regarding the preparation of an examination, just forget about the examination while preparing for it. Don’t make success in an examination the main object of studies; it should be a secondary aim. Those who have great achievements to their credit always concentrated wholeheartedly on the struggle they were making for a cause, not bothering much about the ultimate end of their struggle. Everything is not in our hands. We have simply to struggle, leaving its result to destiny, to God, to be more precise.
Victory or defeat, it’s in the hands of fate (none of our business). Our job is to face the odds.
Coming back to the problem under discussion, I would now like to say a thing or two about consulting a dictionary. When you are reading, don’t make frequent use of the dictionary. To look up in the dictionary the word you come across for the first time is a fatal practice. Have a good look at it and proceed. Let this word meet you at different times and in different contexts till it becomes familiar. This is the time when you should look it up in the dictionary. Now, about the dictionary which I would recommend. Don’t consult conventional dictionaries which give only the meanings of words. Knowing only the meanings of a word will not enable you to use it correctly in a sentence. Besides words, one has to learn the syntax i.e., sentence formation. Therefore, you must consult an ELT dictionary; for example, Oxford Dictionary for Advanced Learners or Collins Cobuild English Dictionary for Advanced Learners. These ELT dictionaries give not only the meanings of a word, but also nearly all possible uses in the form of sentences. They also explain specific facts about words i.e., the contexts in which they are used. The students would do well to write these sentences separately (in a notebook). To copy correct, idiomatic sentences and occasionally revising them is extremely beneficial.
I have explained the best method of learning a language and its vocabulary for the benefit of those whose train is many, many years late. Their children, if any, can also join them in this activity.