Learning vocabulary is a big part of learning a language. The more English words you learn, the better you can communicate your needs, ideas, thoughts and feelings to other people in English.
Vocabulary is essential for understanding too. In fact, learning new words is one of the biggest things you can do to improve your reading and listening.
So what can you do to build your English vocabulary quickly and effectively? Here are five tips for better vocabulary learning.
1. Write down new words
It's a really good idea to write down useful new vocabulary. The act of writing the words helps you remember them better. Plus, lots of people learn better when they see things written on paper, rather than just hearing them.
You can add a translation in your language, a definition in English, a note on pronunciation or even a drawing! The more different links you make between the word and its meaning, the better.
2. Revise new vocabulary regularly
So, you've got an English notebook full of useful vocabulary to remember. But did you know that if you don't look again at the new words and phrases you've studied, you only remember on average 20–25 per cent of it? That's a shocking waste of time and effort!
The good news is that if you look at your notes again after an hour, again the next day and once more after a few days, you can make sure that 100 per cent of what you learn goes into your long-term memory.
So make five minutes each day to revise your English vocabulary. The more you look backwards, the faster you go forwards!
3. Read in English
They say the best way to learn a language is by immersion – spending time completely surrounded by that language.
Well, reading is like immersion through your imagination!
Reading is amazing for your English in general. But it's particularly good for learning new vocabulary. That's because understanding a new word as part of a story makes it much more memorable than trying to learn a list of words out of context.
4. Learn from context
Speaking of context, let's talk more about that. Literally, 'context' means the text that comes before and after a particular word. It also refers to the situation in which a word is used.
Context is your friend when you're learning new vocabulary! It helps you guess the meaning of words you don't know, it shows you how a word is used in a sentence, and it helps you remember the word for longer.
This means learning vocabulary by reading and listening is more effective than trying to study word lists. It also means that it's better to make a note of how a word is used in a sentence, rather than just the word on its own. For example, instead of 'to make up = to invent', try learning, 'He'd totally made the story up!'. You've got useful information there – about the meaning, the types of things people 'make up' and the word order.
5. Use it or lose it!
Following the 'use it or lose it' principle, using words is the best way to make sure you don't forget them. So try using new vocabulary as soon as you can when you're speaking or writing in English.
Have you noticed that you often need to use the same words and phrases when you're communicating in English? It's really worth the effort to practise the most common and the most useful words for you.
Researchers have found that you need to see or hear a word on average ten times to remember it. But when you're actively making an effort with a word – for example, you ask the person you're talking to how to say something – you learn it much faster.
So, get out there! Try to get as much exposure to English as you can. And take every opportunity to communicate in English with other people.