Did you also learn vocabulary with those little notebooks with the red line in the middle? I remember long lists of words without context that I learned abstractly, without a picture forming in my head. Often I knew which word was in which place rather than really having a context absorbed into my brain. Even then, the suspicion crept up on me that if I needed to, I would not remember the individual words.
In the 1990s, memory researchers found out that words are difficult to remember and hard to retain in this way. This is because the human brain is a neural network in which learning occurs through clusters, or the creation of different connections. To the brain, a single word is an isolated, meaningless pattern that has nowhere to dock. The brain learns semantically-associatively. That’s why we remember word fields or even complex sentence components better than individual words.
You may know this: in a foreign language, you often retain phrases in your head like my former teacher, who used to say “un momento por favor” when he wanted to slow us down. None of us students had any idea at the time that they were really four different words.
We do not learn a language by learning as many individual words from it as possible. Learning is a process in which knowledge is stored in the form of nodes in networks. Therefore, it is important that we build links when learning vocabulary. So vocabulary is much easier to learn if we learn “word fields” such as monkey, elephant, giraffe, zoo, cage … In addition to learning vocabulary in word fields, I also like to use synonyms or antonyms – which also promote vocabulary learning. Or pictures. So that a picture is created in the mind that we associate with the vocabulary.