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Stop Forgetting Words: How to face Word Finding Difficulty Confidently

Get rid of word finding difficulty by developing a strong recall skill so that you can

increase your eloquence

word finding difficulty

A strong vocabulary will showcase your expertise; but a weak vocabulary will undermine you.

Today we’ll talk about how to develop strong word recall skills so that you can increase your eloquence.

This blog post is best digested in 3 parts:

  1. Check the word retrieval tactics (below)
  2. Watch the vlog here
  3. If you want to solve your word-finding problems by building your vocabulary to sound like an industry leader, enrol in our mini-course, which will fuel your vocabulary growth fast.

The Science of Word Retrieval


When it comes to storing, accessing and recalling specific words, your brain operates like a filing cabinet.

Consider that you’ve got many folders storing the specific information you need to remember.

Now, just like a filing cabinet in your office, the more organised and methodically you’ve stored the information, the easier it is for you to find it when you need it.

Also, just like a filing cabinet, the more you use the information in a specific folder, the easier it will be for you to find it the next time you need it. 

If you’ve stored the information well, it’s easier to recall. And if you use specific information more often, you’ll have more success at word finding. 

Now imagine something has happened to your brain’s filing cabinet, and all the information is either mixed up in the wrong folders or thrown on the floor into one big horrible mess.

What do you think this would do to your ability to recall information? It would make it pretty tricky! Unfortunately, large-scale difficulties can happen like this when brain damage has occurred.

Everyday forms of word memory loss often occur because we either haven’t stored our information well enough in the first place or have done something to make it difficult to recall the information we’ve accumulated. This is why people with intact memory abilities still wish they could stop forgetting words.

Stress, fatigue, multitasking, and having too much on your brain can all impact your ability to recall information when needed.

Word-finding abilities deteriorate with age, but there are plenty of strategies we can use to minimise word finding problems.

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I’ve provided speaking assessment and modern elocution training to people from all sorts of professions at different stages in their career path from middle management through to company directors.

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Top Word Retrieval Tactics


There are many science-based tips you can use to help you strengthen your word finding so that you can feel more comfortable when speaking.

But today, I decided to give you a simple, clear list of options.

Before we start, remember that everyone is a different communicator. Therefore, working with a specialist who can screen the best communication strategies for you to get the best outcomes is essential.

In the meantime, I hope the following word retrieval tips help you.

Here are three ways to get yourself out of word-finding difficulty when it pops up.

#1 Word Retrieval using a Semantic Strategy


This approach relies on your ability to find words that have a similar meaning to the word you’re trying to remember. In addition, by using this approach, you’re relying on your ability to call upon terms within a similar grouping to help you or your communication partner determine what you’ve forgotten.

For example, let’s say you’ve forgotten the words “executive presence” if you’re using semantic strategies to help, you might be calling upon words like leadership, charisma, presence, speaking like a boss, executive delivery, strong communicator.

All of these words are somehow linked to “Executive” and “Presence” and using the words may assist you in recalling the missing words that seem to have vanished!

N.B. These types of strategies work well for a lot of people. For example, a study by Hofferberth (2011) found that this is the most common strategy that peeps use to stop forgetting words.

#2 Word Retrieval using a Phonological Strategy


Phonological strategies work with your brain’s ability to remember words by connecting with other words that sound similar. So again, if this time we forget the word “elocution”, we would start thinking about words that sound similar. Words could sound similar at the start, middle or end, so they might include vocabulary like elevation, eviction, election, or element. These words are all linked to “Elocution” because of the sound similarities.

word finding difficulty

#3 Word Retrieval using a Lexical Strategy


This word retrieval method counts on your ability to link the missing word with a different meaning which can help you to find the word you forgot. 

Imagine you forget the name “Simon Sinek.”

If you want to follow semantic recall, then you would be thinking things like start with why, public speaker, leadership trainer, leadership expert, famous ted talk speaker, inspirational speaker (Abrahams & Davis, 2016).

If you’re using phonemic recall, you’re using words like Sam, Steven, Sam.

But, if you’re using lexical word recall, you might compute, “Simon says is a kid’s game and a sine wave is defined by the function y- sin x [sinek]”- this might be an example of how an engineer or scientist might store stronger recall for the name and arrive at the missing words.

Do you notice how this strategy draws on your general knowledge rather than your auditory or descriptive knowledge? As a result, you’ll gain a tighter link between words you often forget and information you have a firm grip on so that the word comes to mind faster next time. 

This Lexical strategy is also a solid technique for recalling people’s names more effectively. 

Is word retrieval difficulty normal?


Word retrieval concerns can arise due to a variety of reasons. In many cases having difficulty finding the words you need will stem from idea preparation challenges, heightened speaking stress levels and a weak vocabulary.

In other cases, word retrieval problems. are symptoms of a diagnosed clinical communication issue such as aphasia, brain injury causing long-term memory impairments or cognitive impairment. Do not self-diagnose, after reading this sentence.

It is completely normal to struggle to locate a precise word in the heat of the moment but if it is happening constantly, and disrupting your speaking flow and comfort it’s best to get strategies in place for improved language.

vocabulary workshop

Eloquent communication relies on strong word recall skills.


When we lose the words we intend to say; they get replaced with speaking behaviours that reduce our message integrity and impact. 

Do you need to improve your vocabulary?

If you’re using the following filler sounds and words regularly, you may need to work on your vocabulary:

  • Uh
  • Er 
  • Um
  • Ah
  • Well
  • I mean
  • You know
  • Just
  • The thing is
  • Sort of
  • Like
  • Yeah
  • You see what I mean

Filler words create a negative impression of the speaker because they interfere with the flow and logic of your message, which can impact the credibility of our message and suggest we lack preparation.

The only way to reduce reliance on fillers is to work on boosting your vocabulary.

How to improve word retrieval?


Aside from the strategies provided above, you can gain faster access to the words you need by sharpening your expressive language skills.

Expressive language skills relate to any aspect you use to get the ideas in your mind across to your conversation partner or reader using language (words, sentences, idea structure, tone of message).

There is extensive research rooted in neurolinguistics and neurology around how the brain comprehends, stores and organises words (receptive language) and how the brain retrieves, structures and develops a message (expressive language).

Simply reading more books will not increase your word retrieval skills. Likewise, word study won’t get you far if you aim to memorise 20 words a week. Instead, you need to work on connecting and integrating a tighter system between the storing of words and the expression of words.


word finding difficulty
word retrieval

My online, on demand Vocabulary Workshop will help you find the right words and finally solve your word-finding problems at work.

The vocabulary wonderboard program uses science-based methods and trains you in a decisive step-by-step system to strengthen memory networks for new words that gets you using them.

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  • Abrams, L & Davis, D. (2016). The tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon: Who, what, and why. 10.1075/z.200. 

  • German, D. (2020). Asha.org. Retrieved 21 April 2020, from https://www.asha.org/Events/convention/handouts/2007/1366_German_Diane_J/. 

  • Hofferberth, N. (2011). The tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon: Search strategy and resolution during word finding difficulties. Isca-speech.org. 

About the Author

Sarah Lobegeiger de Rodriguez is a Keynote Speaker, Executive Speaking Consultant, and Opera Singer who likes to play with words, sounds, and your impact. 

Her academic background is in Music Performance, Communication Science and Speech & Language Pathology. She’s currently completing a PhD in Opera Performance.

Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn.


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