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New Ways to Improve your Vocabulary
So you want to improve your English vocabulary. Where do you even begin? A quick look around the internet will find you the usual ideas like: read, keep a dictionary, make lists etc. And these are good ideas, but is it enough? First we’ll review the common ideas and then we’ll take a look at some of the excellent advice from our teachers to see if they have any new ideas.
1. Why reading is important
Reading is the best place to start – not only do you find new words, but you also get to see how they are used by English speakers. This is what we call context. Context gives you clues to the meaning of the word and shows you the correct way to use it. Trying to learn new words without context makes it 100 times harder!
If you want to build your vocabulary you need to set up a reading routine, and stick to it. Try reading a new book each week/month, or reading some newspaper articles in the morning. Pick a frequency and pace that works for you and your schedule.
- Dreamreader – Full of great articles at different levels. Each article comes with audio so you can listen as well as read, and there is a small quiz to check your understanding too.
- ESL BITS – 100s of free books and stories that you can read and listen too. What we like about this website is that you can choose the speed of the audio – it can be at normal speed or slow speed.
2. Use your dictionary well
So as you’re reading you will come across words you don’t understand or you haven’t seen before. Don’t just reach for your dictionary! Before you look up the word, try to figure out what it means. Look at the sentence that it comes in, try to puzzle out its possible meaning in the context (there’s that word again – I told you it’s important!) of the sentence. Only once you’ve done this should you use your dictionary.
- It doesn’t matter what type of dictionary you use (a book, an app, or a website), when you look up a new word be sure to get its meaning and pronunciation.
- Use a notebook to record your new words, after a while you’ll have a great resource to use.
- Once you are comfortable with the new word you need to make sure you use it, or you will forget it. See if you can use it in conversation or when writing an email or message. This will help you to remember it.
3. Building your vocabulary
Having a notebook that you use to write all your new words in is great. It can give you an amazing feeling of accomplishment to look at how many new words you have learned. But apart from reading and writing down new vocabulary, how else can you grow your list?
- There are several websites and apps that offer you a “word of the day”. One of the best is dictionary.com, you can sign up for the “word of the day” email. Sometimes the word will be a bit obscure, but you never know where the new word will lead to.
- Learn roots, prefixes, and suffixes. Many words in English come from other languages like Greek and Latin. By learning the root of a word as well as it’s prefixes and suffixes you can get 3 words for the price of one!
Our tips to improve your vocabulary:
Set a Goal
If you’re committed to building your vocabulary, set a goal for yourself. Try to learn three new words a week and work them into your speech and writing. With conscious effort, you can learn hundreds of new words that you’ll remember and use. If you can’t use a word effectively and accurately in a sentence, it’s not a part of your vocabulary. If you are easily learning 3 new words a week, increase it to 5 new words! But remember to be realistic and build practical vocabulary that you are going to be able to use, looking up 20 new words a day is going to make it difficult to use them accurately.
Use flashcards and Post-it notes around your house
If you’re going to make a habit of learning new words, try some simple memorization techniques as if you were studying for a test. Hang post-its with the definition of a particular word you hope to memorize above the coffee maker, so you can study it while fixing your morning cup. Stick a new word to each house plant so you can study while watering. Even when you’re watching TV or some other activity, keep your flashcards with you so that you can study your new words. Always be building!
Write an email to old friends and use lots of specific details. If you normally write short and informal messages, switch it up and write a longer email than you’re used to writing. Take time in crafting emails as you would have done for an essay at school or university. Make careful choices of your vocabulary to include the new words you have learned.
Play word games and do word puzzles
Word puzzles are an excellent source of increasing your word knowledge because the puzzle creators will often need to use many unusual words to make sure that the words fit into their puzzles and that they are interesting for the puzzle doer. There are many varieties of vocabulary puzzles, including crosswords, find-a-word and hidden word puzzles. As well as strengthening your word knowledge, puzzles are also good for improving your critical thinking skills. For great word games on your phone or tablet, try the following apps: Words with Friends, Wordfeud, 7 Little Words (Android, Apple) and Bonza (Android, Apple).
Find a friend who speaks English
It’s good to practice using your new words. With a web connection, your conversation partner does not need to live near you. You can email, chat, and even phone each other using your computers. A friend who understands that you are learning can help you practice, use new words in your conversations, and offer you advice. Since talking to a friend is fun, it won’t feel like work! If your friend wants to learn your language, too, it will be easier for both of you to understand each other’s mistakes. Another option is to get an online English teacher, here you can get expert guidance and help with your English.
Some final things to remember when improving your vocabulary
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. English is a very difficult, irregular language, and even native speakers have trouble sometimes.
- Have fun with words. Try all of the ideas listed above, but don’t think that you have to do all of them to expand your vocabulary. Pick the ones that you like the most or are most convenient for you.
- Learning more words should be exciting and interesting. It shouldn’t seem like an English lesson. If you feel stressed out or under pressure, you’re being too hard on yourself. This doesn’t have to be a daily routine, just something to do when you have time.