Let me set the scene here. You have a French test tomorrow and it’s late in the night, while you’re still grinding and reading that list of vocabulary over and over again. You feel like this is tedious and that you won’t remember any of this stuff anyways.
This happens a lot in schools and it’s a shame. There are much, much, better ways of memorizing lists of words. We shouldn’t grind and repeat and repeat, but make use of our brain’s way of thinking. Our brains remember things which are strange, which are out of the ordinary. So when we want to memorize two words, which are connected, like a foreign word and its translation. We should make a weird strange connection instead of just burning the pair in.
Suppose I wanted to learn the word ‘la cabra’, which in Spanish means ‘the goat’. I would make up a picture in my head, a weird scene that I will remember. I would imagine a cab. And in that cab I would imagine Ra, the Egyptian god of the sun, sitting in there. And the cab is pulled forwards by a giant goat. My brain will never forget this. If you make them yourself it’s even better than if someone else makes them for you. The weirder, the better. I have some more examples below:
Danish: hold, means ‘team’
Imagine the Danish soccer team standing in a circle. And there is a lot of strong wind, so they’re all holding on very tight to each other.
Dutch: rekenmachine, means ‘calculator’
Imagine two men standing in a classroom. They’re breaking their heads about a calculation on the chalkboard. They have to solve 1 + 1 (they aren’t very smart). After a while, they solved it and they’re evaluating their performance. One says: ‘We did it quite fast! I thought it was going to take years!’, then the other replies: ‘Yeah, but I reckon, this machine would have done that way faster than we have’, pointing to the calculator on one of the tables.
Italian: Coda, means ‘tail’
Imagine a dog of a group of robbers being stuck in the door of the safe. And they have to quickly enter the code to save his tail.
These kinds of stories/pictures are called mnemonics. And they will help you out a great deal if you use them correctly. The more you make, the better you will get at it. Good luck!
If you want to know which words to learn for maximum efficiency, read my article on effectively studying vocabulary here.