10th Jul, 2015

Use mnemonics to learn English

A mnemonic is a memory aid. Mnemonics are often verbal, are sometimes in verse form, and are often used to remember lists. Mnemonics rely not only on repetition to remember facts, but also on creating associations among easy-to-remember constructs and lists of data.

Let's suppose you just want to remember the meaning of words concave and convex. Concave means a surface that is curved inwards in the middle and convex means a surface curved outwards (like the surface of your eye). The words are very similar and it's easy to confuse them. That's where mnemonics come in handy. Have a look at the picture of convex and concave mirrors below. The hollowed-out interior of a concave mirror is like a cave, isn't it? Now it should be easy to distinguish the words from each other.

Use your imagination when you write down new words! Draw pictures, funny cartoons and whatever will help you remember them.

Three years ago, I drew a picture of a photo frame in my notebook with a caption in the picture. It had to remind me that we say in the picture, not on the picture as I used to say. And I still remember it!

You can also use mnemonics to help you remember the spelling of words. Here are two examples:

  • rhythm = Rhythm Has Your Two Hips Moving
  • Necessary = Never Eat Crisps, Eat Salad Sandwiches, And Remain Young!

Remember that mnemonics can't replace doing repetitions. It's not enough to use a mnemonic that helps you remember the meaning or the spelling of a word –without repetitions, you will forget it anyway.

Draw mind maps

Mind maps can help you remember groups of related words. Here's an example:

Learn English with Google

How to check my writing using Google?

Suppose you want to write When did you get here? and you are unsure if you should use the present perfect tense or the past simple tense. So you make two queries on Google:

  • "When did you get here?" (28,200 results)
  • "When have you got here?" (3 results)

(Note the quotes – this way you tell Google to match only the exact phrases.)

The first query turns up more than 28,000 results and the second only one. So it's easy to see that the first sentence is correct.

Of course, the results aren't always that clear. Lots of pages on the Web contain mistakes. You also need to check the context to make sure that your phrase can be used to express the meaning you want.

Use the asterix sign

Suppose you want to say That sounds pretty silly, doesn't it?, but you are unsure which question tag to use at the end of the sentence (doesn't it or doesn't that?). You do two queries on Google:

  • "That sounds really nice, doesn't it?"(28 results)
  • "That sounds really nice, doesn’t that?"(3 results)

This time you are disappointed. Both queries turn up very few results, so you can't really tell which sentence is correct. But there's a nice trick that will help you get around this problem. Simply replace the words really and nice with asterix signs:

  • "That sounds * *, doesn't it?"(160,000 results)
  • "That sounds * *, doesn't that?"(680 results)

Now it's clear that the first sentence is correct – Google turned up more than 160,000 results with similar sentences.

How to find definitions of English words on Google?

Suppose you want to know what a tank top is. A definition from a paper dictionary won't tell you too much:

tank top = American English a piece of clothing like a t-shirt but with no sleeves

Instead of looking the word up in a dictionary, you can do a Google search for it. Now, look at the blue bar above the search results:

If you click on the [definition] link, a new page will open. You can find detailed definition of tank top there, as well as an entry from Wikipedia (a free online encyclopedia). The entry gives you even more information and, what’s more important, a picture.

You can also use Google's Image Search feature to find pictures of tank tops.

How to find song lyrics on Google?

If you know the author and the title of a song, just type them in the search field along with the word "lyrics" (for example lyrics U2 Beautiful Day).

Don't know the song's title? No problem, if you know a couple of words from the song Google can find it for you (try typing something like lyrics "I see skies of blue").

Song lyrics in Winamp

Do you listen to English songs a lot? Make sure you understand the lyrics. You can use a plugin for your favourite media player, which will automatically download lyrics of played songs from the Internet. Here I describe two good lyrics search tools.

Leo's Lyrics is a plugin for Win amp. It automatically downloads lyrics of played songs from the LeosLyrics.com database. The searches run incredibly fast you will hardly notice that they're being downloaded from the Net. The results are cached, so when you play a song for a second time the lyrics are retrieved from your hard drive.