Expanding your vocabulary is essential for enhancing your communication skills, expressing yourself confidently, and improving both your written and spoken language abilities. In this article, we will explore various techniques and strategies to help you expand your vocabulary quickly and effectively.
Importance of well-developed vocabulary
Vocabulary is of critical importance for ESL (English as a Second Language) learners as well as students whose mother tongue is English. Vocabulary is the fundamental building block of language acquisition. A strong vocabulary is advantageous in various ways:
- Communication: Having an extensive vocabulary allows ESL learners to express themselves clearly and concisely, facilitating effective communication. Vocabulary aids in understanding and conveying ideas, emotions, and information.
- Comprehension: A well-developed vocabulary helps learners understand spoken and written English better. This understanding is important for academic and professional success. The more vocabulary a learner knows, the easier it will be to comprehend spoken language, articles, essays, and other forms of written communication.
- Fluency: Vocabulary is an essential component of fluency. Strong vocabulary skills allow learners to communicate without struggling to find the right words. As a result, an ESL learner will be able to speak in a smoother and more confident manner.
- Academic and professional success: A rich vocabulary is necessary to excel in any academic or professional field that requires English proficiency. ESL learners need to understand complex texts, write essays, give presentations, and participate in discussions. Also, having a strong vocabulary makes it easier to pass standardized English tests such as IELTS and TOEFL.
- Cross-cultural understanding: An increased vocabulary helps ESL learners understand the cultural nuances, idiomatic expressions, and slang terms used in English-speaking countries. These nuances are important for building relationships and navigating social situations.
- Cognitive development: Learning new vocabulary stimulates the brain and encourages cognitive development. Developing vocabulary skills improves memory, critical thinking, problem-solving, and overall language acquisition.
- Self-confidence: A well-developed vocabulary boosts the self-confidence of ESL learners. When they can communicate effectively and be understood by others, they are more likely to participate in conversations, share their ideas, and establish connections with native speakers.
Follow these steps to learn and memorize new words
Many students often make the mistake of learning a large number of new words but fail to review them or use them in their everyday life. They also tend to study only the dictionary translation of these new words.
Learning new words is not just about memorizing their definitions. It’s about understanding how native speakers use these words and being able to incorporate them into your daily conversations. Studies show that students can remember and use words more effectively when they know the context in which the word is used.
Here is my favorite method for learning new words. It focuses on reviewing and using these words in addition to initially learning them.
1. Encountering new words and noting them down
Make an effort to learn new words regularly. You can find these words in your textbook, books you read, YouTube videos you watch, and other sources. When you come across a new word, look up its meaning. Keep a dedicated notebook for vocabulary, where you write the word, its meaning, and an example sentence. It’s important to write down how the word was used, not just its dictionary meaning.
One tip is to create memorable example sentences that capture the “feel” of the word. For instance, if you learn the word “extravagant”, don’t use an example like “This gift is extravagant” as it doesn’t truly convey the “feel”. Instead, try: “An unattractive boy tried to impress me with extravagant gifts, like a watch, a necklace, and a pair of earrings.” Here, “extravagant” implies not only expensive, but also excessively luxurious and wasteful, which the example sentence conveys by mentioning specific gifts.
Avoid trying to learn many words in a single day. To build your vocabulary, try to learn 5 to 10 words daily and consistently.
2. Spend 4 to 7 days reviewing the words
The human brain tends to be forgetful. If you learn 10 new words on Monday and don’t review them, most likely, by the next Monday, you will have forgotten nine of those words. A month later, you will have forgotten all the words you learned. Therefore, reviewing the words you learn is even more important than learning them initially.
When you learn 10 new words on Monday, make sure to review those words on Tuesday while also learning 10 new ones. On Wednesday, review the words you learned on Monday and Tuesday, along with learning another 10 new words. On Thursday, go over the words you picked up on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, then learn 10 more. By using this method, you can see how important review is in the process. If learning 10 new words seems too difficult, you can adjust by learning just five words a day. It might also be a good idea to take a break from learning new words on weekends and focus on reviewing instead.
3. Use the words you learned in real conversation
Here’s the really important part. After learning and reviewing the words, attempt to apply them in actual conversations. For example, if you learned the word “extravagant”, use it during a conversation. Speak it out loud. If you studied the sample sentence, “A boy tried to give me extravagant gifts to win me over,” try incorporating the phrase “extravagant gifts” in your sentence, such as “I don’t like extravagant gifts; I prefer simple ones.”
Merely verbalizing the words in the appropriate context will help you truly understand them. You’ll feel confident when using them and are more likely to remember them long-term.
What can you do to learn new words?
Here are some ideas for activities you can do to discover new words to build your vocabulary.
1. Read a lot
Reading is one of the most effective ways to expand your vocabulary. Through regular reading, you will encounter new words and phrases in their proper context, allowing you to understand their meanings. By reading different types of materials, you can also learn words related to various industries, subjects, and cultures. Follow these simple tips to make the most of your reading sessions:
- Read a variety of materials: books, magazines, newspapers, and online articles
- Select texts that challenge your vocabulary level just enough to keep you engaged
- Don’t be afraid to explore new genres and topics
- Keep a dictionary handy to look up unfamiliar words as you read
2. Buy a vocabulary book
There are books designed for English learners that include words, their meanings, and usage examples. For intermediate learners, you can try the Word Smart series. These books feature advanced words commonly used by native speakers and provide memorable examples to help you remember them.
3. Learn from movies, YouTube videos, or TV
Exposure to different types of media, like videos, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and radio programs, can help you learn new vocabulary while also improving your listening and comprehension skills. It’s important to find out the meaning of new words you don’t know and write them down. For this, media that you can pause and rewind (such as YouTube videos or podcasts) are better than media that you can’t pause (like live TV shows or radio). Watching videos with subtitles is especially helpful because it provides a visual context for the vocabulary used by the characters. When you watch a video with subtitles, remember to pause the video and write down the new words when you come across them.
4. Engage in Conversations
Communicating with others is a good way to try using new words that you have learned or practice using familiar words in new contexts. Actively participating in conversations will force you to think on your feet and facilitate the integration of newly learned vocabulary into your active language use.
Talking with others may not be the best way to learn new words, as some people might not have the patience to explain the meaning of the new words. If you come across a word you don’t know, ask the person what it means and write it down if possible. Otherwise, you might not learn its meaning or forget it later.
5. Use apps
Apps for English learners can assist you in studying vocabulary suitable for your current English level. For instance, ALULA is an app that enables you to learn English by conversing with an AI English Tutor. You can learn new words at your own pace, apply them in conversation, and practice them through various exercises.
6. Play Word Games and Puzzles
Word games and puzzles, like crosswords, word searches, and Scrabble, are fun and engaging ways to bolster your vocabulary. These games provide a stimulating challenge that requires you to think critically about word meanings, synonyms, and antonyms. Additionally, word games make the process of learning new vocabulary enjoyable, ensuring that you stay motivated.
7. Study Roots, Prefixes, and Suffixes
Understanding word roots, prefixes, and suffixes can aid in unlocking the meanings of new words more effectively. Many words in the English language have their origins in Latin, Greek, or other older languages, and learning these components can help you to identify patterns and connections between words. When you encounter a new word, analyze its parts to see if you can recognize any familiar roots or affixes to decipher its meaning.
In conclusion, expanding your vocabulary quickly and effectively is possible through consistent reading, engaging with new media, and practicing active learning techniques. By incorporating these strategies into your language-learning routine, you can expect to see improvements in your vocabulary, communication skills, and overall language proficiency. Remember that persistence and dedication are crucial to achieving your language goals, so stay committed and patient throughout your journey.
Richard Zhang, M.Ed., is an educator and a software developer with a Masters degree in education from University of Toronto and an immense passion for education and learning. Until the pandemic, Richard owned an award-winning learning centre in Toronto. For 15 years, he has taught and mentored hundreds of elementary, middle school, and high school students succeed in academics. He is also an app developer specializing in web and mobile application in educational and business sectors.