Wednesday March 23rd, 2016 Nicoletta

Don’t Eat Your Dictionary!

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Academic Director at English One
Nicoletta is the co-founder of English One. She holds a Dip. TESOL (licentiate) from Trinity College, London. She is a passionate teacher and teacher trainer with well over a decade of EFL experience.

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How To Increase Your Vocabulary – Without Eating Your Dictionary

Eating a dictionary will inevitably lead to indigestion.  Learning words in isolation – without context – is simply a waste of your time. There is nothing authentic about it. You will find that one word may have many different uses and the grammar you need for each use changes too.

Here’s an example to show you what I mean:

AppleTake the word apple – it’s just a fruit right?

What about: “She’s the apple of her father’s eye”. Does it mean he is going to eat her? She looks like an apple? He has a something as big as an apple stuck in his eye?

NO – it’s an idiom with biblical origins. It means that she is very special to him.

Let’s look at a way you can increase your vocabulary without chewing on a dictionary, but by using it to your benefit. A good dictionary will highlight collocations and grammatical patterns linked to words and phrases.

Here’s an example for benefit:Benefit Definition

“Exercising regularly gives you great benefits.”  – in this context the verb “give” is used to indicate the receiving of something: benefits. In this case, a healthier or slimmer body.


“She is unemployed and on benefits.” – in this context “benefit” is preceded by the preposition “on“. It also indicates the receiving of something: benefits. In this case money from the government.


“The teacher left the words on the board for the benefit of students who arrived late.”  – in this context, the phrase “for the benefit of” indicates that something is providing an advantageous result. This is an idiom.

“for someone’s benefit / for my benefit”

  icon-search  Notice how I used this idiom earlier in this post.

When you need to work on your vocabulary it’s important to make use of a good dictionary. I recommend that you use one of the following:

  • Cambridge
  • Oxford Advanced Learner
  • Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
  • Word Wise Dictionary
  1. Pick two or three new words or phrases you have learned (in class/from an article/in a blog post/from Facebook/from TV) and consult your trusty dictionary.
  2. Write down the examples you find. Highlight the part of speech (noun/verb/adverb) and the grammar used.
  3. Try and make a connection between the new word and the grammar.
  4. See if there is a similar form in your language and if it has the same meaning.
  5. Use the words! Find opportunities during your day to make use of your new vocabulary. Use it while messaging your friends or in a Facebook post. Share what you learn.


Here are some apps to help you with your vocabulary:


A comprehensive dictionary that works offline too. Plus has loads of other features like audio pronunciation, translator and an advanced learners section just for students learning English.

  1. 4 Pics 1 Word:

Downloaded about 1 million times this simple and fun game challenges you to find what word the four pictures have in common. A fantastic way to keep improving you vocabulary.

If you want more help improving your English then contact us. By joining one of our specialized English courses you can develop your English skills quickly. And if you don’t feel like travelling you can have private online lessons. We are here to answer your questions!

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About the Author


Nicoletta is the co-founder of English One. She holds a Dip. TESOL (licentiate) from Trinity College, London. She is a passionate teacher and teacher trainer with well over a decade of EFL experience.

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