How can I improve my vocabulary? Students ask us this All The Time. As you learn English you’ll learn about all sorts of different things but you’ll talk about certain things. And those are the things that are relevant to you. If you like theatre and politics, you probably aren’t going to talk much about finance and hair products. But, imagine one day you go to a coffee shop and a friend asks you if you use a mask or moisturising, you might actually want to cry. You have absolutely no idea what the heck they are talking about. Then you think oh wow! I really need to improve my vocabulary. Now that you know why the problem happens let’s look at some strategies on how to improve your vocabulary and solutions:
Trying to learn loads of random unconnected words doesn’t really work. That’s mainly because you don’t have context and it means you might forget the meaning. Learning groups of words is a much better way. Don’t just learn the word artichoke learn that it’s the same colour as broccoli, a similar shape to a bulb of garlic, similar taste to cabbage etc. You’ll be much more successful
If learning words in the context of it’s category doesn’t sound like it’s right for you, don’t worry. There are other ways. Try drawing the words, or making sounds or writing words that are related. If it’s the word caterpillar, try to draw one. If it’s the word pricey, think of the word price and the sound the ‘y’ makes (it’s like a sound you’d make when something is a little bit expensive).
But what happens if you don’t need to learn groups of words? What if you want those random words that you can use for random situations? OK then you’ll need to start using the age old technique of trial and error. With all of these random words you’re going to have to have break them out into the real word. Don’t force them into conversations with people, you’ll sound like a wierdo, but try and make the conversation go in a way that you’ll be able to use that word.
But where do you get these new words from? Everywhere, that’s where! If you are listening to a song in English, check the lyrics for anything unusual or memorable. Have a pencil and paper ready to writing down anything new, if you are watching a film. If someone says something to you, type it down on the notes in your phone and search for the meaning later.
Maybe constantly writing down words and phrases can be tricky or you think it requires far too much effort. Don’t worry, I have a low attention span too (oooh, span, that’s a good word). Anyway I can’t remember what we were talking about but I signed up to a word of the day email website. I try and use that word to show off and impress people. People are always impressed by ambitious vocabulary! The trick is to use it in context and often in order to lodge it in your brain. That’s the difference between learning and memorising. You learnt to ride a bike and that’s why you’ll never forget.
If all else fails, try and memorise. No, not the verb to memorise. That’s a useless technique because of literally everything you just read. It doesn’t work because you’ll literally forget but this app memrise will work really well. Using a combination of videos, select words and phrases and pronunciation tips. Unfortunately it’s not free but it’s only a small price to pay.
But here is my favourite FREE option: Read. Read, read and read. Find something that you enjoy reading, a book, a newspaper, a recipe, this blog, anything! and try to read a bit every day. Reading will definitely help you with your vocabulary, but also with your grammar and speaking. Yes speaking too. Read every morning on the tube, and notice how you become more fluent every day. Note down new words, look them up in the dictionary. But don’t worry too much about that. Context can sometimes be your best dictionary. Those who read will learn faster. Your teacher cannot be with you 24/7, so read and continue learning English even when you think you are not.
At UKCE, we have given you some strategies on how to improve your vocabulary. Now it’s your turn.