This small book aims to help teenage students and adults to learn Spanish vocabulary. Unlike most books published so far, this book combines a moderate amount of etymology and made-up mnemonics, with a practical balance between scholarly research and light reading. It is both a pocket-size dictionary used as a reference, and supplemental study material used for leisure reading.

It's a well-known fact that cognates help foreign language learners study vocabulary, and a slightly less known fact that etymology or origin of words helps. Unfortunately, as of today, there is rarely any book on the market that explicitly utilizes etymological information to help learners memorize words. On the one hand, etymological dictionaries written by scholars focus on the task proper, i.e., providing etymology, usually not giving consideration to its practical value in helping people to learn vocabulary. On the other hand, there're books written to make use of man-made mnemonics, with no regard to etymology; Dr. Michael Gruneberg's Spanish by Association, doing an excellent job as intended, is such an example.

With these two approaches, etymology and mnemonics, we see a long-stretched but maybe narrow gap that can be bridged by the effort of a person willing to think and write. It is "long-stretched" because thousands or tens of thousands of words can be dealt with in this manner, and "narrow" because many words that don't "ring a bell" to an English speaker only need an easy hint or reminder for the learner to connect their meanings to their origins, and this hint usually has to be expressly brought up by another person trained in thinking of linking either etymology or mnemonics to the current spelling.

Take Spanish word hondo ("deep"; "bottom") as an example. The learner just needs to remember a rule that generally applies to a large group of words h <- f (i.e., f changed to h in history). So he changes hondo back to fondo, which sounds and looks like the first part of fundamental, which connects to "deep" and "bottom" in meaning. Derrotar ("to defeat") does not appear to be related to any English word on first look. But etymology reveals that it ultimately shares the same Latin source with English word rout (as in "The enemy is routed."), which the -rot- part of derrotar, after stripping prefix de- and suffix -ar, sounds like. Thus a connection is made. (The Latin word rumpere is not needed for this connection although it would help if the learner had knowledge of it.)

Unfortunately, not all words can make use of etymology to aid memory. For instance, for historical reasons, a significant number of Spanish words came from Arabic. It's very unlikely that the learner already knows Arabic; therefore a different tactic has to be used to fill the gap, using artificial mnemonics. For example, alfombra ("carpet") can use the mnemonic "Al found a bra on the carpet", which not only creates a scene with a "linkword" as Dr. Gruneberg called in his book (which does not make use of etymology at all), but also makes a phrase or sentence that sounds like the Spanish word to be remembered.

The current book will primarily rely on etymology, and only fall back on mnemonics when etymology is lacking or too obscure. While mnemonics stop serving any purpose and can be dispensed with after the learner fully remembers the word, etymology may be retained as knowledge, if the learner wishes, and in fact often does so, to go beyond just learning a foreign language. Thus, in a fun way this book offers the additional advantage in terms of expanding the learner's historical and cultural background.

Not for pure scholarly research, but for practical use, any "irrelevant" details in etymology not conducive to vocabulary study are skipped to avoid "pedantic" boredom in this book. On the other hand, in case the "internal" history of a word is not enough to explain the origin, its "external" history is researched and provided; for instance, the reason why chantaje ("blackmail", "extortion") is related to singing is that the bad guys would boo the singers if they were refused money before the show, a fact uncovered in a 19th century book. To further accommodate a non-scholarly reader, among all languages, only knowledge of English is assumed. Minimum Latin and practically no words in other languages will be given in description of each word.

The book is for people to study Spanish, specifically Spanish vocabulary. It is limited to adults and young adults only, since young children tend to complain that "I have to remember that hint", referring to the etymology or mnemonic as an extra burden instead of an aid. Adults will be able to utilize their life experience and general linguistic knowledge, even if it's implicit or dormant in their minds, in second language acquisition. Not only is the book useful to high school and college students, but it is also and perhaps more appealing to the people learning Spanish outside of a school environment, because vocabulary acquisition becomes a more prominent obstacle in learning a foreign language when not following a textbook, where new words are fixed and outlined in each lesson. Polyglots or people knowing or learning multiple languages, especially other Romance languages, will find this book particularly helpful. The more language experience, the better. Among other things, knowing an additional language may give you an advantage in spotting cognation not mentioned by this book due to the restriction that the reader is assumed to only know English. And in case of unhelpful etymology, there's also extra advantage in conjuring up a better mnemonic that sounds and means closer to a word in that additional language you know.

When mnemonics have to be created, there're tricks to help search for the best words. They are summarized in the Appendix.

References used by this book are as follows:


Everything done in this book is an attempt to achieve one goal only: help you remember the words. This is particularly helpful in initial encounter with a new word, when you use this book to gain advantage in the form of a clue or hint in order to avoid a completely blank mind when seeing the word again not long after you learn it. But in the end, the reader is still required to study the words. Etymology or mnemonics may indeed become a burden instead of an aid without genuine hard work.

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