Recently, (a mere half hour ago, in fact), one of my students asked me how he could recall the vocabulary that he kind of already knew.


We’d just done an informal test of the new vocabulary, with me describing phrases and him saying them.
The issue was that this works fine in a de-contextualized setting. But what he wanted was to be able to activate them when and where he needed them, and asked me how to do that.

That’s the million-dollar question.

How do you “activate” the words and phrases you’ve learned?

Well, the trick is to find yourself talking about the sorts of topics that you can find these words and phrases.

Here’s how I see it. There are common phrases, words, expressions, discourse markers and so on that you can find yourself using in more or less any topic.

“These days,” “having said that,” “That’s putting it mildly” and “extremely” are all things you might say whether you’re discussing the weather or the science of the first moon landing.

However, other phrases are much more topic-specific. Words and phrases like “flight speed,” “cloister” and “cosplay consent” are only really going to turn up under certain conditions.

So, I told my student, it’s worth just “visiting” different topics – as many as you can – from discussing funerals to art exhibitions to conspiracy theories to crime and punishment – in order to dig up the specific vocab you need to discuss these different things.

And, in this video, it’s crime and punishment – a fairly common topic of conversation. At least in my family. We love a good crime, we do!


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