Now that you have worked through some of the word-finding activities included in this website, you will probably note that some of the words you encountered were words that you knew, but could not retrieve, whereas other words were new to you. Acquiring new words can build up cognitive reserve and assist in efficient word-finding. However, for the purposes of word-finding practice, it is important to reflect on previously known words that you found difficult to retrieve.
Below you will find a list of evidence-based strategies applicable to word-finding. For each strategy, we have included a general description of the strategy itself, in addition to suggestions as to how you might use it in the context of word-finding challenges. As you review each strategy, reflect on those previously known words you found difficult to retrieve on this website and/or in your day-to-day experience. From the strategies below, select those that work best for you. You may find that while visualization works for some of them, you prefer repetition or association to remember others.
You can improve your general cognitive function (and, by extension, your memory for words) by making small changes to your lifestyle. These changes include the following:
- Engaging in cognitively stimulating activities
- Maintaining social contacts
- Being physically active
- Ensuring you get adequate sleep
- Finding ways to reduce stress
- Eating brain-healthy foods
- Managing overall health, especially heart disease, diabetes, and hormone imbalance
In order to remember something, you need to pay attention during the process of registering (encoding). Removing distractions, visualizing or stating things out loud can help focus your attention. When practicing, find a quiet spot to work so that you can devote your attention to learning and practicing strategies to facilitate word-finding.
Apply this strategy when you are trying to learn a word on our website that is new to you or when practicing strategies.
Evidence shows that we derive great benefit from practice. Thus, it is important to rehearse/repeat information you want to remember. For word-finding practice, repeating relevant, meaningful words aloud is recommended both at the single word level and at the sentence level. We suggest rehearsing/repeating information several times and at various intervals over time. Those intervals should be progressively longer, e.g., if you are trying to remember the word ‘constellation’, say it out loud, repeat it in 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 20. Find out what frequency of repetition and length of intervals work for you.
This strategy is applicable to all tasks on our website.
Connecting new information with existing knowledge or a memory of a meaningful event can boost memory for words. We can utilize self-cueing in associations built through:
Sound: For tip-of-the-tongue instances, it may be effective to link difficult to retrieve words to words that sound similar (e.g., diagram-diagonal). By doing so, attention is focused on strengthening access to the sounds of the forgotten word which is often thought to be disrupted in this type of word-finding error. Rhyming is a particular case of sound association whereby the retrieval of the target word is aided by recalling its rhyming ‘partner’. The rhyme does not have to be a real word (e.g., tonsorial-victorial)
Letter: Thinking of another (even unrelated) word that begins with the same letter has been shown to be a meaningful self-cueing strategy (e.g., paper-projector).
Another self-cueing method involves going through the alphabet which often allows us to zero-in on the first letter of the desired word, leading to its retrieval.
Meaning: If the similar sounding word can also be related in meaning (e.g., escalator/elevator), this can further enhance retrieval.
Habitual use: Furthermore, linking words that are associated with daily use (e.g., ‘cup’ and ’coffee’, bread and butter) or in common sayings (e.g., ‘social’ and ‘butterfly’) can also improve retrieval.
You can try this strategy with both single words and sentence completion tasks.
Memory for words can be enhanced by the formation of a visual image associated with the word you are trying to retrieve. Studies show that, when forming this visual image, the more emotionally charged the image, the better. When trying to remember the name of a friend or a relative, think of an image that can help evoke the name, e.g., Lillian holding a bunch of lilies, or Sue sitting in a court of law trying to sue everyone.
This strategy may work best with items that are picturable, such as names of people and objects.
Sometimes you will find that invoking more than one strategy helps to retrieve a particular word e.g., when trying to remember/retrieve the word for ’gnu’ (antelope) you can visualize a bunch of antelopes dancing around in colorful new (gnu) shoes or trying to remember the name of your distant cousin Patricia you imagine her sitting in a pear tree with a partridge. You are combining visualization with similarly sounding words.
This strategy may be more successful with picturable words.
Alternate word strategies
Using a synonym or talking around a word can help you communicate the meaning of that word in conversation at the time of the specific instance of a word-finding difficulty. For instance, to describe someone as considerate you can use any of the following: kind, good-hearted, helpful, hospitable, kindhearted, kindly, neighborly, caring, compassionate, sympathetic, or tender. Thus focusing on learning synonyms or ways in which to describe hard to retrieve words in an efficient and effective way can be a useful strategy when the goal is to get your message across.
You can try this strategy with abstract words, that cannot be easily imagined.
The use of pausing to help slow you down and, in turn, inhibit retrieval of a wrong word, has been suggested as a meaningful strategy for word substitution/slip of the tongue errors. As this type of word-finding difficulty can occur with items within a particular category e.g., names of grandchildren or with similarly sounding words e.g., baking vs bathing, prior to practice it is important to identify the target category and/or words that are frequently confused.
Word Dividing Strategies
Sometimes we mispronounce long words that we have said correctly in other circumstances (e.g., desensitization). For this type of word-retrieval error, sometimes referred to as a twist of the tongue, strategies that encourage you to break down the word into its meaningful parts have been recommended. Dividing the target word into syllables (e.g., trans-po-si-tion) and then practicing saying or rhythmically tapping the word syllable by syllable before producing it as a whole, has been recommended. For words, such as ‘desensitization’, you can also divide them into meaningful and/or intuitive segments, such as de-sensi-tization. Or, to quickly and correctly say ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’, practice the word in segments, such as anti-dis-establishment-arianism.
This strategy is useful for longer words, regardless of whether they can be easily conjured up.
External memory aids
Use of external memory aids like notes, iPads and others are also useful tools to help word retrieval. Keeping track of difficult to retrieve words in a notebook for future reference and/or practice can be helpful. In fact, just the act of writing down the word itself can help with its retrieval later. Of note, in this digital age, it is important to be aware that there is some evidence to suggest that the use of handwritten cues over typed cues may be more beneficial for memory.
Notebooks are also useful tools to help prepare ahead of time for discussions on specific themes and topics by making relevant words available. You can generate a list of words that you see as potentially relevant to an upcoming event. On our website you will find sections pertaining to specific environments and lists of non-picturable words you may want to practice before specific events, e.g., doctor’s visit, discussing a recent art exhibit, going to the bank, etc.
This strategy will be most useful when you would like to activate words that may be useful in imminent conversations.