Mind-mapping one’s foreign vocabulary (1)

While ploughing through Tony Buzan‘s speed reading course, my mind obviously started to wander off. Every time someone tells me explicitly not-to-do-something, I’ll end up doing the opposite. Buzan’s theory requires you to fully commit yourself to reading – as opposed to, say, spend time on thinking about why you used three exclamation marks at the end of your most recent e-mail.

Normally, I take five minutes to see where my current concentration level is likely to take me. The amount of (potential) distraction all around me doesn’t really matter – sometimes I can’t read past one sentence despite the current, awe-inspiring silence, whereas I’ve found myself perfectly able of reading dozens of pages with jet fighters passing overhead and jack-hammers demolishing my neighbour’s window sill. It’s more about the storm going on in my head than it is about the tornado destroying my surroundings. Buzan’s method mainly focuses on the surroundings, so to speak.

Don’t get distracted,” he tells me in a calm whisper – “Why not? Let’s try and get distracted!!!” my brain replies.

I’ll probably get back to Tony Buzan’s book later, in separate (series of?) posts, to further explain my shenanigans when it comes to speed-reading. It’s pretty interesting material; obviously, I did manage to improve my words-per-minute score quite a bit. Mostly, though, I got stuck in feeling jealous of the Ukranian wünderkind mentioned in Buzan’s book – she would read one page of text every second and filter out all the necessary information. Now, that’s the stuff I’ll remember forever. Oh, and, “Don’t vocalize” – after which I looked up what “vocalization” meant and started vocalizing almost everything I read.

Well, whatever. Tony Buzan is mostly known for those things he calls “Mind-maps”. It’s basically a graphic representation of the information you’ve read/heard, and it helps you to remember vital bits and pieces a bit better. One starts out from the centre, with just the one word (or drawing) sitting there. From there, you start to write down other keywords and connect these to one another – using graphical ornaments helps, since it makes things easier to memorize. “I drew a sheep in the top-left corner, made it jump over a fence, so that it would reach a meadow in the centre of the page,” – you get the point.

Since I’m a chaotic kind of person, I tend to do three or four things at a time – most often ending up with half-baked results, but that’s beside the point. At the time when I was trying to get myself to grips with Buzan’s speed-reading methods, I was also busy practising my basic Russian vocabulary. Neither activity yielded impressive results, in the end. So I just went on, reading regular books and practising Russian grammar instead, and all was well. Well, so I thought anyway.

Recently, I did one of the dumbest things you can do when learning a foreign language – I quit doing my daily practice lessons. For almost half a year, I hadn’t skipped a lesson – I deserved a break, right? Well, wrong. If you’re self-studying an “uncommon” (as in: not mainstream in your own country) language, “discipline” is your number one priority, far surpassing matters like “natural-born talent”,” zeal” or even “why the heck would I want to speak this-and-that language anyway?”. Do not skip out on your self-imposed classes – there’s no one there to punish you! School’s out for the summer, the autumn, winter even. Too bad it’s pretty dang cold out there, during winter time – and now I’ve forgotten how ask for decent gloves.

But anyway – I decided to pick up the pieces where I left off. It’s only because of my prior regime of strict discipline, that I was able to get “back in shape” relatively easily. Grammar wasn’t much of a chore, reading had actually just gotten easier somehow. But the vocabulary, oh my – the words, they had lost their meaning completely over time. As it is, my dictionary is starting to fall apart due to over-browsing syndrome.

And then, I wrote something down on paper and vocalized to myself: Mind-mapping.

What if somehow, all of those words I had or was about to come across, would fit into a “plan”, an organized chart of some kind – neatly divided into categories and yet somehow related to one another, with those relations also being included into the equation?

Easier said than done, naturally. It’s taken me days and several sheets of paper to come up with even the most basic of mind-maps. I’ve included said doodle below.

Basically, it works like this:

  • The four corners on the outside represent (im)perfective tenses (Action & Result) as well as imaginative/”real” nouns (Concept & Tangible).
    For instance: the act of marrying (action), being married (result), marriage (concept) and wedding dress (tangible).
  • The words connecting said corners signify their relationships.
    For instance (clockwise): thinking out a design for a wedding cake, approving the design, finish baking the cake and the process of baking it.
  • The circles represent the level of affiliation of every word with the central keyword, “Person”. The further away from this central core, the less they have to do with persons. A word ends up in a (n imaginary) quadrant, telling us to which of the four corners it belongs most, as well as the type of relationship. For instance: the person getting married (bride/groom) ends up very near the center, nudging towards the “Action” and “Concept”. The colleagues they’ve invited end up a little more to the bottom-left (Work).
  • However, the church they’re marrying in signifies a tangible building (much further away from the “Person”-core), designed to pronounce the couple married – resulting in a concept of sorts (holy bond). You can’t put the church in two places at the same time, so I’d probably place it to the right (X-axis) and near the center (Y-axis). But that’s the fun thing about mind-maps – everybody has their own interpretation of certain words.
  • The circles represent the level of affiliation of every word with the central keyword, “Person”. The further away from this central core, the less they have to do with persons. A word ends up in a (n imaginary) quadrant, telling us to which of the four corners it belongs most, as well as the type of relationship.
  • Finally, the grey squares in between the corners and the circles simply signify “clusters” of words. Guess & Impress (translated from Dutch, “Meten & Weten”, which makes more sense), for instance, can be used for storing proverbial and actual time units (jiffy, minute), whereas Body & Spirit… well, that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

This came out much more long-winded than I had planned for, so I’ll stop for now. Rest assured, though, that I’m planning on creating an interactive version of my glorious mind-map. You know, stuff you can click and have it make funny noises and all that. Let me get back to you on that after having finished a couple of Russian self-study lessons, okay?

Now where on earth am I going to fit in химик (chemist)…

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