What’s the best way to learn English vocabulary?
How can I learn more words?
The truth is, that to successfully learn new vocabulary, you need to create good study habits, keep it interesting and make sure that you are having fun!
Building your English vocabulary is something that you should be doing, every day… So, you need to find fun and interesting ways to do it!
In this video, I’m going to talk about a number of different tools and techniques that you can use to improve your vocabulary – you might not like all of them, but you will definitely enjoy some of them! And hopefully, you can make them part of your daily or weekly routine.
AND if you’ve got your own suggestions about ways to learn vocabulary, make sure you add them in the comments!! Share the love!
CLICK HERE to read the full lesson transcript.
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Ahhh the million dollar question! If only I could give the ultimate answer to that question. It’s a question that I get asked daily – literally! There is no single best way. There is no quick solution, but I do have 10 tips or recommendations in this lesson that will help you to improve your English vocabulary.
So you need to find the best way for you and to do that you need to take a few moments to think about YOU. Think about your interests. Do you like reading? The movies? Watching the news? How do you like to learn, inside or outside, in a group or alone? What type of learner are you? How do you best take in information? And what’s your schedule like? When can you study? On the train or with your kids?
Use this information to find the opportunities to learn and enjoy English. The truth is that to successfully learn new vocabulary, you need to create really good study habits. You need to keep it interesting and you need to make sure that you’re having fun! It’s something that you need to be doing every day so you need to find a way to involve things that you love to do.
Me? I get really bored reading grammar books and listening to words through dictionaries. I’m much more likely to stay motivated if I’m eating or drinking so I like to study around meals. Hey, you may laugh but it works for me!
Consistency is key when you’re learning new words. You can’t just learn them once and magically they’re kept inside your head forever. You need to hear them again and again. Understand how they’re used in different, in word families. You need to use them yourself. The truth is that we all learn differently.
So in this video I’m going to talk about 10 different tools and techniques that you can use to improve your vocabulary. You might not like all of them but you will definitely enjoy some of them and hopefully you can make them part of your daily or weekly routine. And if you’ve got any of your own suggestions about ways to learn vocabulary, then add them to the comments below! Share the love with everyone, people!
So, the first suggestion or the first tip is get better at studying new words. Don’t roll your eyes at me, you can do this lots of different ways. If you think it’s dorky to carry around a notebook, then find a way that works for you. There are lots of apps that can help you to do this – apps on your smartphone. And it’s just as easy to make notes there. Your phone is great because it’s always with you but if you prefer to keep a notebook, that’s just as good.
So neat ways of doing this are creating lists or by creating vocabulary maps. However, you do it, you need to keep updating it and you need to keep building on this list and don’t just write the word down. Go deeper! If it’s a noun, learn whether it’s countable or uncountable. Learn the prefixes or suffixes so that you can build on those words. Learn synonyms for those words.
You know, if you said “I felt angry”, there are so many other options. Annoyed, irritated, furious, frustrated or cranky. Learn if any of these words are used in phrasal verbs or idioms.
Number two. When you do learn new words, don’t just learn them on their own. Learn them with the words that they are often used with. These are called collocations. Two or more English words that are often said together or used together. They sound right because native speakers often use them together.
For example, you throw or plan a party. You don’t make a party. Or instead of memorising the word, apply, learn the phrase “apply for a job” or “apply for a citizenship” or “apply for a visa”.
You can learn hundreds of new individual words but you’ll be frustrated if you can’t put them together in a sentence that sounds correct and natural. When you learn words in groups, you’re learning the words with the verb, the nouns, the prepositions that they are commonly used with so you’ll sound much more natural when you speak.
Three. Learn new vocabulary through stories. Stories are full of new words, phrases and interesting expressions that show you how words come together in a really entertaining way. Just like the collocation method, you are learning new vocabulary in context. You’re not only learning what words to use but you’re learning how to use them. An important note to remember is that it’s important to challenge yourself but not feel completely overwhelmed and confused.
Read stories that are fun, that are enjoyable and that help you to feel confident with English. Start with children’s books if you need to!
“Emma, are you serious? Start with children’s books?”
Yes I’m serious! There are lots of great children’s books out there that are interesting, they’re funny, they’re full of adventure. Start with children’s books and when you’re reading them and it becomes too easy, you can try something a bit more challenging. In the description below I’ve linked to some great books that you can get started with.
In this wonderful day and age that we live in, you can also find audiobooks for almost any book that you can imagine and when you’re learning English, hearing how the words are pronounced is so important because English is not phonetic. In English, words are often not pronounced the way that you think they are, so listening and reading at the same time is even better! I use Audible to download my audiobooks and listen to them while I’m jogging, while I’m travelling, while I’m drifting off to sleep.
And I’ve listed some really great books in the description box below. Plus, there’s a link down there to try your first audio book for free and I really recommend it. Make sure you choose stories and topics that you love and that you’re interested in.
On that note, TED Talks are also really great for this because there’s TED Talks on almost every topic imaginable and you can also follow the transcript as the speaker is speaking. I’ll link you to some of my favourite TED Talks in the description below too.
Another great tip is to learn new vocabulary through songs. If you love listening to music, there is no doubt that learning new vocabulary through songs will help you to remember them. You need to find songs where the words are not sung too fast so that you can hear each word and how it’s pronounced. It’s more effective if you can download the lyrics and read them as you’re listening.
There are so many more benefits to learning vocabulary through songs! They get stuck in your head – if they’re good – so you’ll be singing them and practising them so often you won’t even feel like you’re doing it – in the shower, while you’re exercising, while you’re driving to work.
Song also use colloquial language or slang language that’s really common in English. You’ll also hear how words are contracted and reduced and it’s going to improve your speaking skills too. If yo’re singing out loud you’ll be improving aspects of your pronunciation. And the rhythm of music helps you to memorise new vocabulary. I’ll also link down there to some great websites where you can get lyrics for English songs and also, if you’ve got any suggestions about great English music that you like listen to, make sure you add it to the comments.
The next tip. Get better at using online dictionaries. Online dictionaries offer so many ways to practise and learn new English vocabulary.
Let’s look at the word, produce, as an example. When I look up this word in an online dictionary, I can read the definition I can read and sometimes listen to the different verb forms, producers, produced, producing. I can read lots of example sentences that show how this word is used. I can also learn synonyms and collocations. You can also see the entire word family: produce, producer, production,productive, unproductive, productively, product, produce.
You’ll also listen to the pronunciation and in this example, you’ll be surprised (maybe) to learn that the verb produce and the noun produce are pronounced differently.
I recommend some online dictionaries below in the dictionary box. I use Oxford online dictionaries and Macmillan online dictionaries. They also have really great apps for iPhone and for Android. So go and explore all of the amazing vocabulary building tools. Plus, if you sign up to their email list you’re going to get sent a new English word every day and that’s just another way to get more practice with new vocabulary.
OK, what about flashcards and labels? Flashcards have been a really favourite way of learning new vocabulary for years and years! But there are lots more options available for us today. You might prefer to hand-write English phrases on one side of a card and then translate them into your own native language on the other, but you can also use an SRS program such as Anki.
Now I downloaded Anki a few weeks ago and I think it’s amazing! It allows you to remember a large number of words in a short amount of time. And it also lets you work at your own pace so I guess it’s kind of like digital flashcards and as you practise, the program remembers what words you get wrong and it shows you them more frequently. So you get to practise some more! It’s a really efficient way of studying, I can’t recommend it highly enough! I use while I’m studying Spanish.
Another tip – my favourite tip – is to describe the world around you, what’s happening around you. If you like using a dictionary to learn new vocabulary, getting into the habit of describing things that are happening around you in English is a really great way to study. When you’re unsure of words, look them up. It will help you to fill in the gaps in your vocabulary.
So for example, when you’re at your local supermarket, ask yourself, “Do I remember the names for everything that’s in the fridge?” or “How can I describe the woman waiting in line?” or “Do I know the English names of all of these vegetables?”
When you can’t think of a word, you stop and you look it up. Understand how it’s used, practise it and then use it again next time you’re at the supermarket. You can also do it on your way to work on the bus, as you’re going pas things you can think of the vocabulary and try and fill in the gaps when you don’t know how to describe it or explain it.
Number nine – my favourite – imitate a native speaker. Imitating and shadowing are great techniques to improve pronunciation and spoken English but they’re also awesome for learning new vocabulary, in context too. I have a huge range of imitation lessons that are available on different topics, so if you want to check them out you can go up here or I’ll link to them at the end of the video.
Learn more about the mmmEnglish Imitation Technique:
And number ten. If you are confident enough, speak and practise being in conversations. By the time you’ve reached pre-intermediate to intermediate level, you already have enough vocabulary in you, you can communicate what you want.
The message might not be perfect but it’s enough and it’s at this point that practising real conversations is going to catapult your English skills and that means push them much further than if you just keep doing what you’re doing. In conversations, you’re developing core language skills simultaneously. You’re listening, you’re asking questions, you’re learning new vocabulary and context. You’re pushing yourself to find new ways to express your ideas. And if you’re now expressing yourself clearly enough, you have to find a new way of explaining yourself. And all of this is happening at once, there’s lots of pressure, there is no better way to build your language skills than immersing yourself inside an English conversation.
There are so many different ways that you can do this. You can do it online, there are companies that connect you with people who want to study English like Rype, Cambly and Lingoda. I’ll write a link to all of those in the description below too. Or in that link up there.