Use Color Coding Techniques to Learn Vocabulary More Effectively

Color-coded words in various languages.


Expanding your vocabulary is an important but difficult aspect of learning a new language. One way to make it easier is through the use of color coding. This article gives you a brief explanation of why color coding is effective, and shows you how to implement it in your learning.


Why use color coding

In general, color-coded material is a more effective study aid than black-and-white material, because it helps learners process new information. Specifically, in the case of learning a foreign language, studies found that color coding new vocabulary words helps people learn those words better. While there are several possible theories which can be used to explain the cognitive mechanisms behind this improvement, the overall agreement is that color coding aids memorization, a fact which language learners can take advantage of.


How to use color coding techniques effectively

One of the main reasons why color coding techniques are so useful is that they are easy to implement in a similar way regardless of which vocabulary-learning strategy you use. There are two main things you need to consider:

  1. How to categorize the words. Essentially, according to which criteria you color the different words. Common options are grammatical gender (e.g. masculine/feminine) or part of speech (e.g. noun/verb). In languages with tonality (such as Mandarin Chinese), you can also color syllables according to their tone.
  2. Which coloring scheme to use. This is subjective, so use whichever coloring scheme makes sense for you. If possible, use colors that you would intuitively associate with the categories in some way. For example, if you color code words based on their grammatical gender, you might want to color feminine words in pink, and masculine words in blue.


Examples for color coding

Keep in mind that this is just a small sample of the various ways in which you can implement color coding.


Color coded words in French, based on grammatical gender (blue for masculine, pink for feminine).

L’enseignant fâché cuisinait dans la vieille camionnette.

The angry teacher cooked in the old van.


Color coded words in Spanish, based on part of speech (green for nouns, orange for adjectives, blue for verbs, and light blue for adverbs.

La madre rubia finalmente consiguió sus naves.

The blonde mother finally got her ships.


Color coded characters in Mandarin Chinese, based on tonality.

媽     1st tone = red

麻     2nd tone = orange

馬     3rd tone = green

罵     4th tone = blue

吗     neutral tone = black


Summary and Conclusions

  • Color-coding new vocabulary words makes it easier to learn them, by aiding the memorization process.
  • You can color words according to categories such as grammatical gender (e.g. masculine/feminine) or part of speech (e.g. noun/verb).
  • In some languages, you can also color other linguistic particles. For example, in Mandarin you could color syllables according to their tone.
  • Use intuitive color schemes where possible, meaning that you associate the colors with the categories that they signify.


How Self-Distancing Can Help You Make More Rational Decisions

Picture of LeBron James throwing a basketball.


“One thing I didn’t want to do was make an emotional decision. I wanted to do what’s best for LeBron James and to do what makes LeBron James happy.”

-LeBron James, legendary basketball player, when interviewed about his decision to leave his old marketing agency.

It’s hard to set your emotions aside when faced with difficult decisions. Often, these emotions cause us to make the wrong choice, in many areas of life: from our relationships, to our finances, to our habits, and so on. The problem is that setting these emotions aside is easier said than done. However, one way to at least reduce the impact of these emotions, is through a relatively simple shift in our perception.


How it works

The method described here is based on a study which examined people’s self-talk mechanism: that inner monologue that we all have when we think. The researchers’ starting point was that using your own name or the second person pronoun (you) when thinking about yourself during introspection, promotes emotional self-distancing. This concept is consistent with the construal level theory, which suggests that creating psychological distance in one domain (e.g. linguistically), promotes psychological distance in other domains (e.g. decision making).

The researchers asked participants to recall two personal experiences: one which was anger-related, and one which was anxiety-related. There were two groups of participants:

  • Participants in the first group were instructed to think about themselves in the first person. For example, they would ask themselves “Why did I feel this way?”
  • Participants in the second group were instructed to think about themselves using second person pronouns, or using their own name. For example, they would ask themselves “Why did you feel this way?” or “Why did John feel this way?”

The researchers measured participants’ self-distance during their recollection of their past experiences. What they found was that the simple change in perception allowed participants to increase their emotional self distance when considering these events.


A graph which shows how a variation in linguistic perception impacts psychological self-distance. When thinking of events which are anger-related or anxiety-related, using non-first-person pronouns increases self distance compared to using first-person pronouns.


This improvement is so important, because increasing emotional distance has been shown to improve individual decision making ability. One study, for example, showed that increasing self-distance reduces decision biases, under a variety of experimental conditions. Another study found that psychological distance improves decision making during information overload. Furthermore, the scientists who conducted the current study, also published the results of several other experiments in the same paper. These experiments showed that self distance helped participants cope better with socially distressful situations; this was true even for individuals who are inherently prone to social anxiety.


Summary and Conclusions

  • Avoid using first-person-pronouns (“I”) during introspection and decision making.
  • Instead, use second person pronouns (“you”) or your own name, in order to create psychological self-distance.
  • This self-distance improves your ability to set aside your emotions, and enables you to make more rational decisions.
  • This technique can also help you reduce social anxiety in distressful situations.