The key to learning a new language is building up your vocabulary. Here are some tips for learners of English to learn new words.
Read, read, read
The more you read — especially novels, but also magazines and newspapers — the more words you’ll learn. As you read and discover new words, try to work out the meaning from the sentence as well as from looking up the definition in a dictionary.
Keep a list of new vocabulary
Use a small notebook where you can list new vocabulary. Writing down a word or phrase with a definition or translation is one way of helping to fix the meaning in your mind and remember it. Organise your lists so that you can
- find a listed word easily to check the meaning
- add more information, e.g. that a particular adjective is often used with a noun you have written down (e.g. a close friend)
- revise vocabulary you have learnt.
Divide vocabulary into sections, and give each section a name, e.g. cooking, feelings and emotions, travel. Sometimes you may want to write new vocabulary in more than one section. In this way you are building your own dictionary. Try to learn a new word and use it every day.
Words and phrases
Vocabulary is not just single words, e.g. sofa, library, discover, beautiful. Many items of vocabulary consist of more than one word, and these phrases are a key part of vocabulary knowledge. Here are some examples of items that are mostly made up of more than one word:
|In a relationship
Don’t forget pronunciation
A common feature of English pronunciation, which is different in many other languages, is that many letters, especially vowels (a,e,i,o,u), are pronounced in a number of different ways. For example, in English, think about the pronunciation of the letter ‘a’ in these words: cat, car, fall, what, cinema. Exercises that focus on this feature of pronunciation can help you to develop a better understanding of how particular letters and combinations of letters are pronounced. Here is one example:
Is the pronunciation of the underlined letters the same or different (write S or D next each line)?:
English word stress is also different from many other languages. There are common patterns and regularities in English word stress, but they require practice.
Some words are easy to remember, while others seem very difficult. Practice exercises will help you to learn and remember new vocabulary. Here is a short activity that tests your understanding of animals and insects:
Write the names of these animals and insects in order from big to small:
Of course, one of the best ways to practise is to be bold and start a conversation with English-speaking people. Explain to them that you are learning English and would like to practise. They will also be able to help you with new vocabulary if you find yourself not knowing the English word for something.
You also need to be able to produce new vocabulary. A memorable way of doing this is to use new vocabulary to talk about your own life.
If you don’t use a word or phrase for a period of time, you can easily forget it. To help you remember the vocabulary you learn, you need to return to it and revise it. We recommend that you complete exercises in pencil so that you can rub out your answers and repeat exercises in the books at a later date. Another simple way to revise vocabulary is by testing yourself. If you use two clear columns in your vocabulary notebook (new words and phrases on the left, with definitions/translations on the right), you can cover the left-hand side and try to remember the correct item from the definition/translation; or cover the definition/translation and then try to give the correct meaning by looking at the item on the left.
Word games that challenge you and help you discover new meanings and new words are a great way to build your vocabulary. Examples include crossword puzzles, anagrams, word jumble, Scrabble, and Boggle.