Learning Strategies: Lexical Scraps

This is the transcript for the English with Stephen podcast episode looking at the important learning strategy that I called ‘Lexical scraps’.

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Hello there! My name’s Stephen Greene from English with Stephen. In this podcast, I try to present some of the best tips and strategies I have found from over 25 years of teaching English. But I am not just talking from my experience of teaching English. For the last 15 years, I have lived in Brazil and so I have had to learn Portuguese. So, today I am going to talk about the single best thing I did when trying to learn new vocabulary, or lexis, in Portuguese.

But first, a little bit of music for you.

I’d like to tell you about another project I have going. I have recently started a youtube channel with videos about learning strategies and stories about words. You know, similar stuff to this podcast. But the youtube channel also has something I am calling Two-Minute Wonders, which are videos under two minutes that present an English idiom.

I am very excited about these videos, and I’m having a lot of fun making them. If you would like to check out the videos, you can find my channel called English with Stephen, or you go get links from my site EnglishwithStephen.com.

And so, back to my story about the single best thing I did to help me learn Portuguese.

When I arrived here in Brazil I didn’t speak any Portuguese, so I had to learn quickly. I tried many things, but the thing that really worked for me was a strategy I call Lexical Scraps.

By the way, if you are not sure about the difference between lexis and vocabulary, you can listen to a podcast I made called ‘What is Lexis?‘, which was episode 4 of this podcast.

So, a scrap is a small, useless piece of paper. It might be useless because you have already used it for something else. Or it might be useless because it has been ripped from a larger piece of paper.

Now, what I did was just to write the piece of vocabulary I was trying to learn in Portuguese on one side of the scrap. I also wrote an example sentence and sometimes a picture to help me remember what it was.

On the other side, I wrote the English equivalent, again with an example sentence or a picture to help me remember it.

And then I just put it in my pocket.

During the day, when I was waiting for a bus, walking down the road, or looking for some money, I would put my hand in my pocket and pull out the scrap of paper. I looked at one side and tried to remember the word on the other side. It is not important if you see the word in English or your own language, you still need to remember what is on the other side.

Over time, I had hundreds of these scraps of paper. I would throw them away when I felt I knew the word, or transfer them to other pockets when I had to wash my clothes. I had them in my bag, on my desk, in lots of random places where I would sometimes see them and be able to test myself.

At the start, it was individual words, like ‘table’, ‘spoon’, or ‘glass’. But over time I started to write out complete phrases like ‘Could I have a beer, please?’ or ‘What was the score in the game?’

And it worked really well! I learned a lot of new lexis very quickly. Indeed, I can still see some of the scraps of paper with the words and phrases written on them. I think this shows just how powerful this strategy is.

What about you? If you try this idea, let me know how it works in the comments. Or maybe you have an even better idea you can share with everyone.

That’s all from me today. Remember to follow me and subscribe. You can find me at EnglishwithStephen.com where you will find a transcript of this episode in case there is anything you didn’t understand. On my site, you will also find links to my social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and, of course, my new Youtube channel.

I hope to see you all there! Bye!

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Lexical scraps is an effective strategy for learning English vocabulary
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