What’s the best way to learn English vocabulary?

Learning English vocabulary is that aspect of language learning most students usually like. That’s not surprising – with rich vocabulary knowledge, you are able to express much more than with limited vocabulary. Some people even say grammar is not needed when you know all the necessary words! It might be an overstatement, but you can’t disagree that it’s easier to communicate with rich vocab/no grammar than no vocab/rich grammar. If you are a writer, you know how vital it is to make the text gripping for the reader by adding necessary words. Not to mention that learning new words is simply fun! That’s why so many language students are wondering what’s the best way to learn English vocabulary.

Although for some reason, sometimes learning or using new words might be a tremendous challenge. You swear you studied these words, but somehow you cannot retrieve them from your memory. This is clearly visible during speaking activities, where students are lost when they can’t access the dictionary. On the other hand, you might be an intermediate student who knows a lot of words – so you decide to read an English book. To your surprise, there are so many words in it that reading one page and writing down all new words takes ages!

Below, we present you with some tips you might find helpful when you learn English vocabulary:

Don’t look up every word you don’t know

It’s probably the biggest, the most grave mistake students make – look up EVERY word they don’t know in a dictionary. If you are guilty of this yourself and think, “What’s the big deal? I want to learn!”, then try to answer this question – do you remember the words you checked during your speaking activity? My guess is you don’t – maybe 1, 2 words can stay in your memory but no more than that. No worries though – you can change that anytime! Shift your approach to speaking to circumlocution. This is a complicated word which simply means to describe something the other way around, so you don’t use the word you don’t know – try to convey the meaning of that word, to let your conversation partner know what you mean. Chances are, the other person might know just the right word and help you – this is a much more natural and effective way to learn new vocab!

Learn English vocabulary in context

Learning words without context might be counterproductive – what’s the point of knowing a word if you don’t know how to use it? It has also proven to be less effective than learning words in context. Learning a bare word with no background makes it really easy for your brain to think it’s not important and forget it altogether. In addition, there is no emotional impact to it. Imagine – when is it easier to remember the word “hitchhiking”? When you are sitting behind your desk, repeating this word over and over? Or when you actually go hitchhiking and explain to another person that what you are doing right now is called “hitchhiking”? Now, the idea isn’t to start a fire when you are learning the word “fire”, but it is to see an image, a whole story behind the word. The easiest way to do so is to simply learn and write sentences – not only words.

Make sentences with new words

Here is a follow-up from point 2! If you do happen to learn a word with no context, make sentences, or even entire stories with it. Some people even like drawing new words, or singing them! Everything is good as long as it works for you. What you could do for extra feedback is to ask your English teacher to check your sentences and confirm whether they are correct or whether it is necessary to modify something. If you don’t have a teacher, try asking your English-speaking friend. It’s not really obligatory for someone else to check your sentences, but this way you will be 100% sure you understand the word correctly.

Learn English vocabulary you think you might use

Native speakers usually don’t know ALL the words in their language. Ask yourself – do you know each and every word in your mother tongue? Even if you do know many words, how many of them do you actually use every day? Ask yourself these questions and focus only on remembering words you find absolutely necessary. And which are those? It depends on who are you, what is your lifestyle, what is your hobby, who are the people you surround yourself with. If you are a student, you might want to learn academic-oriented words. If your work is a specific field, you might want to know words related to your job. If you still have trouble with everyday conversation with the lady in your local shop, you might want to learn some words related to daily life and routine. Adjust your vocab to your lifestyle!

Learn English synonyms and antonyms

Learning a word along with its synonyms and antonyms is a brilliant way to expand your English vocabulary. A synonym is a word whose meaning is the same or close to the meaning of the word you are learning, while an antonym means something totally opposite. So, a synonym of “joyful” could be “happy”, and an antonym “sad”. This is something a bit more challenging than the techniques suggested above, but such brainstorming is useful to your long-term memory. If you visualize the words and think of possible synonyms and antonyms simultaneously, it will be easier for your brain to remember them.

If you want to learn English online and look for further ways to expand your vocabulary, there is nothing better than a personalized lesson with an English teacher. On italki, you will find over 8000 English teachers from all around the world, who – apart from regular classes – also offer trial lessons at bargain prices! A professional, experienced English teacher will make your studying process enjoyable, effective and adjusted to your needs. If you are seeking inspiration – do not hesitate to book a class today.

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