Mind-maps are the creation of Tony Buzan, the memory expert. The basic principle is that the mind dislikes traditional, linear note taking and thus anything we write should start in the centre of the page with related ideas branching out in all directions. This tool has been successfully used by managers to organise, brainstorm, and even to prepare notes for speeches. Do a search for mind-maps on the Internet and you will find plenty of good examples. I think that mind-maps can be an important and effective asset to anyone who wants to learn a language.
Why traditional note taking is ineffective
I observe my students in class writing down the new vocabulary that comes up in class. More often than not, a student will write down the new word with the translation in his own language next to it. Of course, writing things down is necessary if you want to review later. But at the end of one lesson, the student has a couple of pages of new words that are completely at random – apple, happy, gun, gloat, keyboard, violet, etc. Impossible to retain a list of words like this. Even if you tried to memorise them, the fact that they are irrelevant to each other makes it difficult to remember them.
Mind-maps – a better way
Use mind maps to make “vocabulary networks”. This involves writing a single word, your theme, in the centre of the page and linking words that go with it. Let’s take “theft” as an example. Draw a line from the word “theft” to a new bubble with a description in it – “Theft from a bank” – then write the word “robbery” next to it. Then the word for the person, “robber”, the verb, “to rob”.
You can continue to fill the page with “shoplifting”, “mugging”, “pick pocketing”, “burglary”, etc, noting all the related words you can think of. Use a dictionary to find the words in the language you are studying. Now you have a page of words that are relevant to each other, thus making them easier to recall when you are talking in your new language. Mind-maps are even more effective if you add little drawings and lots of colour – your brain likes to be entertained!
By the way, this exercise is great in your own language to improve your vocabulary. Use a good dictionary of synonyms (like Roget’s Thesaurus) to get a richer vocabulary.