3 Best Ways to Improve your English Vocabulary
The not-so-secret formula
Many people ask how they can improve their English vocabulary. Knowing more words and how to use them appropriately will give you control of the language and will allow you to speak more fluently.
So how do you learn more words? Well, the only way to learn new vocabulary is to see, hear, speak and write new words every day.
- Seeing new words as you read gives you the visual memory of the word and how it is spelled.
- Hearing new words as you listen helps you with understanding how they sound.
- Speaking new words helps you with fluency, pronunciation, and memory, as does writing.
Therefore, the best way to really improve your English vocabulary is to read, listen, speak and write. Below are some tips on how you can do this in a methodical way to grow your vocabulary and increase your knowledge and use of English words.
Create word clusters
Get yourself a small notebook or journal to keep with you. You can organize it either thematically or linguistically.
Words according to the theme
Thematic organisation means that when you focus on words with the same or similar theme. For example, words related to the environment or natural world, business, education, the home, music, food, weather, etc. For example, if you are interested in the theme of family, you would cluster all of the words related to family, such as mother, father, son, daughter, uncle, aunt grand-mother, grand-father, niece, nephew, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, step-brother, step-sister, cousin, etc. Clustering words under themes or groups will help you associated them in your brain and therefore recall them more easily when you need to.
Word according to forms
Linguistic organisation means that when you learn a new word, you can also learn the variations of that word. For example, strength is a noun. If you cluster the word linguistically, you will include all forms of that word. For example, “strengthen” is the verb, “strong” is the adjective, and “strongly” is the adverb. Now you have four new words instead of just one!
Expose yourself to words
To create your word clusters, you need words. Where do you get words from? Well, from reading and listening. Let’s start with reading.
Read, read and read
Some people love; some people hate it, but the more you read, the more words you’ll be exposed to. This is essential for increasing your English fluency. Reading doesn’t have to be boring. You can read blogs or broadsheet articles, magazines, books or journals like the New York Times. Or you can read websites like National Geographic to learn about people, cultures, animals, and places around the world. Read about things that interest you: Food, gardening, fashion, celebrity news, economics, science, politics, etc. As you read, you will discover new words in context. You can infer the meaning of new words from the context of the sentence. If not, then look the word up in an English to English dictionary and then add them to your word clusters!
Listen to English speakers
One way to do this is by listening to podcasts. You can search by topic to listen to podcasts that interest you – politics, fashion, society, etc. These are good because they are usually conversational which means that they replicate the kinds of conversations you will hear in real life. Another source for listening is lectures. These are more formal, but also very useful because they will include a lot of new English vocabulary and will follow an organised structure which makes it easier for you to follow. When you hear a word that you don’t know, or have difficulty pronouncing, play it again and sound it out. As you watch, you can select English sub-titles. This will help you to see the spelling of new words that you hear in the talks and associate the pronunciation with the spelling. Then you should practice saying that word over and over.
Learn a word a day
Check the English Learner’s Dictionary word of the day for a new word each day with the definition, pronunciation, word form and example sentences. Add them to your word journal and try to use each one daily.
Use so you don’t lose it
The saying goes: “use it or lose it”. This is true of vocabulary. When you learn a new word, you must practice using it in writing and speaking. Doing this will help your brain to keep the word as part of its vocabulary. So, write the words in your journal, repeat them out loud to yourself and then use them in conversation and in writing.
Speak like a champion
Incorporate new words into your daily conversation. When you learn a new word from reading or listening, keep it in your mind and find a way to slip it into conversations. You can do this with a client, colleague, friend, or classmate. Also, use social or everyday situations to try out your new words. Another way to speak is to join meet-up or conversation groups with other English learners. If you do this with one word each day, in one year you will have learned and used 365 new words. You will feel like a champion!
Write to remember
Writing in English is a great way to incorporate the new words you learn into your English vocabulary. It is also a great way to imprint these new words into your brain and make them part of your mental word bank. When you add a word to your word cluster (see point 1), write it in a sentence. If you learn different forms of the word (noun, verb, adjective, adverb), write four sentences, each one with a different form of the word.
For example, let’s take the word strength and its different forms:
“It takes a lot of mental strength to learn a new language.”
“You can strengthen your language skills by practicing every day.”
“Strong language skills come from practice.”
“I strongly believe that you can do this!”
It’s all worth it!
Learning new English vocabulary can be challenging, but it can also be fun! For every new word you learn and use, your English vocabulary will grow and your confidence will increase. So, remember the magic formula: read, listen, speak and write!
Written by: Jamal Abilmona