Monday, 25 June 2012

English Vocabulary – Learning aid software, podcast and radio

I used to study new English words with the traditional method which was usually taught at high school in the old days, like getting ready a handful of drafts and trying to write down words as many times as possible until I felt like I remember them. This method followed me many years not because it was good, just because I wasn’t motivated enough to look for any alternatives. The awful result was that the words were forgotten very easily after a short time. This method also didn’t help with pronunciation either.

(Image source: Internet)

Later on in my freshman [when I knew more about computer and internet got popular enough for me to have it at home, a modem and a telephone, dial-up internet], after reading a lot of wonderful reviews on a vocabulary learning aid software, I started using very first version of Super Memo. The only issue with Super Memo at that time was the interface, so monotonous but complicated. I didn’t know if it was only me feeling that way, how come other people got success and gave good comments on it, but not me. Unsurprisingly, I quit it in a very short time too. Maybe I was always a lazy learner [as I’m still now]. I neglected to study new vocabularies and just let the time float away. Many years after, I just tried to catch new words by looking and remembering by first sight if I could. If not, just forgot about them like they never appeared in my life. I have to admit that very few words were memorized well in those years. Time just flew and I got busy with something else other than studying English [well you can guess, a job to strive]. Even though English was a must and had been used every day, I still didn’t get much upgrading in vocabulary. Studying new words was still boring the most to me. Luckily I was still completely fine in most of common situations since I didn’t need a lot of “super” words (I meant academic words) for work and daily conversations.

What comes will come. I can’t turn my back on vocabulary forever. I need to take IELTS test which requires a lot of “super” words. The fact now is that I have to perceive not just difficult words, but in a short time as well. I need a resolution.

I’ve been done some research studies on vocabulary learning aid tools recently. Flashcard was one of the techniques I would give a try. For me, the perfect way was defining cards and printing them myself. I wanted colorful cards since it could help more on long term memorization. However, I was struggling with issues such as
  •  find time to design the cards in accurate size that I can print at least 6 of them on one paper [mostly to save up]
  • find time to put info into cards
  • decide to print either on color paper by back-white printer or by color printer [both printing color papers and printing color ink are too pricey]
  • after printing, I have to cut the cards and paste on thicker materials so that they can be used for long time [cost time and again money to buy the new materials]

after thinking back and forth, I got some cards done in file but still couldn’t decide the next steps yet. I was procrastinating again when it touched the sensitive topics: money and time. Well, finally I just let the undone project collect the dust.

The thing was I still had to study new “super” words for IELTS, so I’ve also thought about buying available card sets on the market. However, cards on the market were designed neither for IELTS word collections nor empty pocket owners [like me]. The result was that though I’ve finished the book “Step Up To IELTS” and on the half way of “Focus On IELTS”, there was still no good sight for vocabulary improve.

One again, very decisive this time, I gave myself one week to go back to research for a way or else I wouldn’t get any good result at the end. Not too bad, I found Vocaboly and Super Memo UX Extreme English Advanced [new version of the old Super Memo I mentioned from beginning]. I’ve been tried them both for a week and they work to me, wheew!

Those software utilities allow both free and commercial versions. Let me do a short review on them here.
Super Memo UX Extreme English Advanced: With free version, the software gives you only one database (or world collection or book). It’s pretty easy to create your own book on this software. Everything you need to do is following the interface: create a node, select template and define word. The obstacle to define words on this software is that you have to find mp3 audio files yourself. The software won’t help create phonetics automatically though. About studying method, the software just simply replays words for you, pretty monotonous.

Vocaboly: The free version just allows learning limited book collections. To create your own book, you have to buy the software. You may want to google for the shared keys; however, there is no guarantee though. I found the key here and it’s so far so good.  Personally, I think it’s more fun to study on this software than Super Memo since you can study by many ways (typing game, listening to words, creating word cards…) However, it’s harder to create a new book (database) on this software. You have to follow very strict syntax, especially if the word definition is in Unicode (Arab, Vietnamese, Chinese…), you need your Windows running on the same language. The good thing is the software will give the audio and phonetics automatically for your words (if possible).

Beside those two utilities, I also recommend listening to podcast and radio to upgrade both listening and vocabulary studying. I actually used podcast and radio a couple of months ago for listening skill. But during those months, I found that vocabulary can also be improved by this method. It’s thus worth to mention here too.

There are plenty of free audio blogs and news on internet made by native speakers just to help people like us. I’ve been tried a lot of them and here are my favorites:

Now I have found the solutions for vocabulary studying, the rest are just time investment and persistence. All the methods above are not new. You can find many other methods (watching TV shows/movies with subtitle, listening to your favorite songs or programs…). However, you don’t need to apply all of them. They key is your feeling, try to find the ones you really like, and because you are comfy with them, you can stick with them for long.  

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