When learning a foreign language, mastering all the vocabulary and grammar rules can be quite challenging. For years, I had been trying to find easier and more engaging ways to learn new words in another language other than writing them down and trying to memorize them, which never really worked for me. This forced me to explore new avenues, so to speak, of studying foreign words and expressions. I had discovered mind maps a few years ago while struggling with learning Russian at my university. My memory was flawed, my concentration was weak, and my despair was growing. At that point, learning a foreign language was boring and ineffective. The countless lists of new words that popped up on a daily basis were hard to remember, and somehow word meanings simply faded away after some time.
Luckily, one day during a group discussion at the university, I realized that I wasn’t the only one feeling like Sisyphus. A shift came when one of my classmates mentioned mind maps. By definition, a mind map is “a diagram used to organize information visually.” They can be used not only as a studying aid, but also as a way to generate, visualize, and classify ideas. A mind map comprises:
- A single concept which represents the main idea (it can be a word, image, or something else).
- Pieces of the whole (new words and images that are somehow connected by a main idea).
- The relationship between the single concept and the pieces of the whole (associations).
You can easily create a mind map by making it look like a spider’s net. The main idea goes in the center, and from there, you can spread your net to subcategories, other groups of words, new topics, and themes. But don’t forget: The major idea (or in our case, the main word) is the most important and should be front and center.
So I decided to give it a try. I drew, colored, illustrated. I must mention that I was considerably creative. I composed groups of jobs, colors, animals, clothes, and anything else that came to me. Moreover, I discovered a completely new way to study. After a while, and after a few successful tests, I was delighted with the results.
Now, let me share with you some tips on how to use mind maps to memorize a foreign language:
You have all the freedom in the world to toy with colors, shapes, designs … use your imagination! You’ll develop some new creative skills and have some fun on the way.
2. Make groups
When choosing a type of vocabulary which you will use for a mind map, pick the words within one topic. For example, the first mind map can be composed of wild animals, the second can present your favorite pieces of clothing, and the third one can be about food.
Playing with synonyms and antonyms is an excellent example for mind map creations, too. I’ll give you an idea for your first (perhaps) mind map used for this purpose. Use a familiar word in the center and create a mind map out of the word’s synonyms and antonyms. You already know the meaning of the central word, and now you can explore its other nuances and oppositions.
3. Adapt the mind map to yourself, not others
You and your way of thinking are unique and special, just like the way in which you acquire and perceive foreign languages. There is no pattern for a general mind map; instead, it should be based on the individual. Stick to your own learning and visualization pattern, not the one you see others using. You can use paper to create a mind map, but if you prefer a tablet, laptop, or specialized software (for example, XMind), go for it. It’s completely up you to decide what suits you best.
4. Use images
Not just one or two, but a lot of them. The reason is simple: Our memory tends to perceive and acquire information better visually. Images are easy to remember: Just pick the ones you find most appealing and feel you’re most likely to remember. You can also use symbols and codes. Don’t forget to develop your own personal style!
5. Use a mind map as a way to take notes
Once you get used to creating mind maps, you’ll find them rather useful and more effective than conventional note-taking. If you’re taking a foreign language class or course, this is the suitable way to keep up with lectures. Whip out your pencils and paper (or laptop) and pretend you’re van Gogh!
I’ve given you some basic guidelines and tips on how to use mind maps to effectively learn a foreign language. It is my belief that learning a language should be stimulating and enjoyable. For this reason, I have always detested any way of learning that seemed boring, tiresome, or unexciting. This method has helped me immensely. Perhaps it will help you, too, or maybe you will consider it fruitless. But that’s ok: We’re not all the same, nor should we be. The important thing to realize is that learning a foreign language means possessing the magic to create a whole new world by yourself. So get started and go find that magic.
About the Author
Tamara Jones is a freelance writer, a linguist and a keen language learner. Her life mission is to make as much as people to fall in love with foreign language learning. Tamara teaches Russian as a foreign language, and in her spare time she enjoys traveling, cooking and taking long walks with her dog.
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