Usona Esperantisto № 2022:3 (maj–jun)

Building Your Esperanto Vocabulary

Lasta ĝisdatigo: 2022-08-04

I am not going to lie, my Esperanto is far from perfect, but it is getting better, and I am now at a point where I can usually make myself understood in conversation. I would like to share one technique that has really helped improve my Esperanto: extensive use of spaced repetition software, specifically Memrise.

One of the biggest myths in education today is the idea that “you don’t have to memorize anything since it is now so easy to look it up.” This is not true in general—research shows that skilled performance in any intellectual endeavor requires a great deal of memorized information—and it is especially false for language learning. If your goal is to master another language, there is no escaping the need to acquire a large vocabulary.

Fortunately, the existence of spaced repetition software makes the task of memorization substantially easier. Years ago the psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered that forgetting and learning occur in predictable patterns that can be modeled mathematically. Spaced repetition software employs these models to augment memorization. Unlike simple flash cards, the software optimizes how often you need to be exposed to the information.

What we are aiming for in language learning is automaticity, the ability to respond rapidly and accurately. Spaced repetition software can help you obtain this. I use both Anki and Memrise every day, but here I want to focus on Memrise.

Memrise is free and cross-platform. There are many Esperanto courses available on Memrise, but I would like to suggest at least four:

1. “Esperanto Correlatives”

2. “Esperanto Affixes in Action”

3. “Esperanto Prepositions”

4. And at least one focused on Esperanto vocabulary, such as “Speak Esperanto like a Native.”

The first three will help you master some core aspects of Esperanto. For example, it is very helpful to have a good understanding of the affixes—daily practice will help you obtain this. As for vocabulary, I actually use several courses every day, but I would recommend you use at least one that seems to fit your needs. If you are working through Duolingo, certainly you want to use “Duolingo Esperanto,” or if you are reading La Hobito, “Vortoj el La Hobito” is a big help.

My strategy with Memrise is to use the Classic Review. In my own experience, the Speed Review feature is not that helpful. If I make any mistakes in my daily review, I will use the “Difficult Words” feature right away to review those words.

Daily practice is really key to making this work. The total amount of time for four Memrise courses is not that great, but it is the kind of thing that is easy to let slip away in the demands of our busy lives. If this is a problem for you, as it was for me, I found two strategies that seem to help. The first is the use of a habit app on your smart phone. I use Loop Habit Tracker, which has a very simple interface, and asks me at set times if I have completed my habits for the day. There are many different habit trackers available, so find one that suits your needs.

In addition, I make extensive use of Google Calendar and I block out time every day for Memrise. In fact, I even schedule a time on Sunday mornings to write my calendar for the upcoming week. One great advantage of Google Calendar is that I can share it with my family, giving us the chance to work around each other’s schedules.