How to Improve English Vocabulary - Detailed Explanation
Native English speakers know between 20 000 to 30 000 words depending on their level of education; which means that English learners have a lot to learn if they want to sound like native English speakers. Given that there are around 171 000 words in English and this number is always increasing, it’s vitally important to learn new words regularly. A strong and rich vocabulary will equip non-native English speakers with the tools they need to express themselves clearly in any situation.
Most English learners make the mistake of learning lists upon lists of new words and phrases, so the idea of learning vocabulary can sound incredibly boring and monotonous - but it doesn’t have to be. There is more to a new piece of vocabulary than knowing the word or phrase and its meaning. We need to hear, read, say and write the new vocabulary for it to sink in and become another piece of language we know how to use. It’s important to actively learn words and phrases, but that’s not the only work you need to put into learning vocabulary. In this blog, we’ll take you through the best way to improve and expand your English vocabulary.
Why It Is Important to Expand and Learn More About English Vocabulary
If you have a weak vocabulary, you will be able to communicate in English; however, you will lack the ability to express yourself, your thoughts and your feelings effectively in English. Every English language learner feels frustrated when they know what they want to say but they don’t know how to say it. There are ways around this and we can choose other pieces of vocabulary to get the main idea across, but it can be tiresome for both the speaker and the listener.
There are also instances when we completely fail to communicate because of a weak vocabulary. Miscommunication happens because two speakers are trying to communicate in a foreign language but cannot successfully express themselves or get their point across. When this happens, a language barrier appears and communication fails. We can avoid miscommunication by learning new words and growing our vocabulary. The chances of failing to communicate lessen the more you expand your English vocabulary.
What Mistakes Do English Learners Make When They Want to Increase English Vocabulary
The biggest mistake English learners make when they want to grow their vocabulary is sitting down and learn endless lists of words. There is a limit to the amount of information our brains can contain. Word memorization is not the best way to store new pieces of vocabulary in our lexises.
English learners put a lot of pressure on themselves to remember new words and don’t allow the time and space necessary to learn new words both actively and passively. English learners need up to 17 exposures to a new piece of vocabulary to remember it. They must find ways to hear and read the new word or phrase as many times as they possibly can both by studying and through authentic material like books and TV shows. English learners also need to find ways to produce the word in written and spoken form to ensure they can recognise and use the new vocabulary.
Additionally, there is more to words and phrases than knowing them. We need to know how they function, the other words in their word families, and in which context we can use the new vocabulary. Knowing lists and lists of words may seem like the best approach to learning a new piece of language but it will leave you with a rich vocabulary that you cannot use in the real world.
Top 10 Tips for Increasing English Vocabulary
Read And Listen
Reading and listening are the two English skills that allow us to learn new vocabulary. Speaking and writing are great ways to practice the production of the words and phrases we know, but we cannot discover new vocabulary if we don’t read and listen. Reading is the best way to learn new words because the words are clearly laid out. It is easy to stop reading and look up new words or phrases. You’ll also have time to write the new words down with a definition in English along with a few example sentences. Unfortunately, listening doesn’t come with these added benefits, however, listening will help you learn the pronunciation of new vocabulary. It can be difficult to pronounce a new word or phrase correctly in English after learning it by reading, so it’s important to listen and read to learn new vocabulary.
Keep A Vocabulary Journal
Every time you hear or read a new word or phrase, write it down. You should keep a small pocket journal for new vocabulary because it’ll allow you to write the new words and phrases down before you forget them. Ideally, you should write the new word with its English definition, an example sentence from a dictionary and your own example sentences. Make note if it’s a noun, adjective, verb, preposition, conjunction, or any other part of speech and focus on using it in the correct position in your example sentences. If the new vocabulary is particularly difficult to understand based on the English translation then you can add a note with the translation in your mother-tongue language. The translation is best to be avoided, however, there are times when it is more helpful than harmful.
Make Word Associations
Studies have proven that our brains remember a lot more if the new information we learn is linked to information we already have stored in our minds. It helps to make a connection between the new vocabulary and a context or a picture. However, be mindful of false friends. False friends are words from your mother tongue that sound almost exactly the same as the new vocabulary in English but, in reality, have a different meaning.
If you are aware of the false friend, you can make a funny association between the two words. For example, ‘pregnant’ in Spanish is ‘embarazada’ which is very close to the English word ‘embarrassed.’ Making an association between these words based on their definitions would be a mistake, however, if an English-speaking Spanish learner made the link ‘I am embarrassed that I said I was embarazada in Spanish when I was embarrassed and not pregnant,’ then they could successfully remember the correct Spanish meaning. We can use the language mix-ups to our advantage when we are aware of them.
Use A Thesaurus
We won’t always hear or read new words and new ways to express the same old ideas, but that doesn’t mean we can’t actively learn them. A thesaurus is a great tool for learning how to say things we already know in a new way. You can find more expressive words and expand your vocabulary by learning synonyms and antonyms for the words that you already know. When learning synonyms and antonyms, remember to make a note of the level of register (or formality) of the new words.
Speak And Write
At the end of every day (and especially on days when you’ve learnt new words), you should write to make use of the words that you’ve learnt. Writing is a great activity to improve all of your language and communication skills. Writing is also your opportunity to transfer your passive vocabulary into your active vocabulary. You will likely make spelling mistakes and you might even use the word in the wrong way so you must go back to the word after you’ve finished writing and compare your use with the notes that you wrote down in your journal.
It can be difficult to find an English speaking partner, however, practicing speaking is also vitally important for learning new vocabulary. An English speaking partner will be able to correct your pronunciation and usage errors quickly and they will save you from forming mistakes into bad habits. An English speaking partner can also help you speak like a native speaker.
Limit The Number Of Words You Learn Every Day
Do not overload yourself with too many words to learn every day. A successful English teacher will only choose a maximum of seven new words in a lesson. Anything more than that and you’re overloading your brain and you won’t end up remembering any of them. Instead, focus on bite-size chunks to make your way through the English vocabulary. If you notice countless new words when reading or listening then find the words you think will be most useful for you and write them down. It doesn’t matter if you don’t write down every single new word that you don’t understand. In fact, trying to understand every word that you read or hear will do more harm than good.
Use Games And Apps
Make use of English games and apps to grow your vocabulary and ensure that you’re exposing yourself to the new words regularly. Learning new words can be fun. Challenge yourself by reading definitions and trying to guess the word or by playing online vocabulary games.
Pay Attention To How Other People Use Language
If you hear a word or phrase used in an unfamiliar context, then take the time to learn how the old familiar word is being used. There are words and phrasal verbs that have many different meanings and they can be used in different ways. You can also expand your vocabulary by using words you already know in new contexts.
Learn Phrases, Phrasal Verbs And Idioms
Native English speakers love to speak idiomatically; which makes English a particularly difficult language to learn. It’s important to learn some words, phrases, phrasal verbs and idioms in full sentences for them to have the correct meaning. Phrasal verbs are particularly tricky because the wrong preposition or particle can change the meaning of the phrasal verb entirely. Some phrasal verbs can have three or more word parts and it’s important to use all of them correctly. Breaking these phrases up into smaller parts will not help you understand the meaning and it will lead to errors when trying to use them in your own sentences.
Expose Yourself To English
It’s always a good idea to actively learn a language, its rules and its vocabulary. However, there are times when you should sit back, relax and only listen with no other purpose than to listen. Trust your brain to put in the work for you and inactively learn by playing English songs, podcasts or radio stations while you do other tasks. This will allow your brain the chance to hear the word over and over to lock the new vocabulary into your English language lexis.
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English-Everyday is an English course with live lessons for English learners who want to improve their English with native speakers, professional teachers, and students from around the world.
You have live lessons where you can join every day. You can review all record lessons. There is a calendar of scheduled lessons so you can see when lessons are and at what time you can join.
In English Everyday program, you have support and also you have student chat where you can speak with other students from all around the world. You can look at our feedback page so that you can know from which countries our students are. Before you join our program, we strongly recommend you sign up for our free seminar with Kris Amerikos, where you can learn:
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What Words Should I Use to Improve English Vocabulary
Avoid the word ‘very’ when you’re describing something to instantly liven up your vocabulary. Instead of saying ‘very pretty,’ say ‘beautiful.’ Instead of saying ‘very interesting,’ say ‘astonishing.’ The word ‘very’ is commonly used in spoken English and many native English speakers use it, but you will be able to discover new words if you eliminate it from your vocabulary wherever you can.
You can also lookup words for concepts that you know in your mother-tongue language. Use the topics that you are familiar with in your mother tongue to discover new English words. This will also ensure that you grow your vocabulary in a way that is useful to you.
Is It Possible to Improve English Vocabulary Online
Learning a language online is easier than ever before. There are infinite resources and Youtube videos a click of a button away that you can use to expand your vocabulary. If you are unconvinced that you can develop and improve English vocabulary online, then join our free seminar. In our free seminar, you will discover exactly what it takes to learn English fast, effectively and efficiently.
Want to Learn More About The English Language
We have a free seminar that you can join to find out more about the goals you need to see results when learning English, how to become fluent in English fast, how to perfect your pronunciation and the mistakes you need to avoid to learn English effectively. We also offer paid English classes on English-Everyday which include grammar, speaking, pronunciation and vocabulary classes. This is a great way to improve your English skills and grow your vocabulary while speaking to native speakers and other students from all over the world.