Weak-End Wisdom #2: Memorize sentences not definitions!

While teaching in Taiwan, I was perplexed by how adept students were at memorizing vocabulary and and spitting them right back out at me.  And yet, in their written compositions, they continued to use “good”, “nice”, and “bad” and n o t h i n g else!  It was frustrating.

During that time I also was trying to expand my mandarin vocabulary and as I was chatting with my pastor in Taipei (who was also learning), he shared with me the idea he learned of memorizing sentences rather than simply memorizing words.

This way, not only do you know the definition, but you get a flavor for how it’s used and a brief glimpse of its connotation!  Furthermore, by doing this, you should (ideally) be able to actually use the word in your papers!

As a result, most of my vocabulary instruction consists of “use X in a sentence in a way that demonstrates that you know the definition.” Or, if I want to be especially difficult (and want them to recall concepts from other readings we covered), I have students “use X in a sentence to explain Romeo’s feelings about Juliet.”  You get the gist right?

Although for some people, grading may be more tedious, I actually enjoy skimming through each sentence, putting a check or an ex on the underlined word depending on if it’s used properly or not (or occasionally an “ok…”).  From the following examples, you can probably see why.

Ah the jumble of emotions, the bodily paradox of a cringe-smile reflecting the simultaneous experience of of entertainment and failure.   To be fair, this student didn’t study and recently moved to the USA….

  • I profess that Junia is mean.
  • As a right of propensity, get out of here.
  • I got elucidate by drug.
  • I garble to wash my mouth.

Final aside: It’s also interesting how so many words sound like they ought to mean one thing, but they actually mean something else.  (Like the word “restive” or “embarasado”).


One response to “Weak-End Wisdom #2: Memorize sentences not definitions!

  1. oh shoot. I just discovered what restive means. thx!

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