Does it ever feel impossible to improve your English Vocabulary?
Read tips on how to improve your English vocabulary, written by BELS teachers.
At times the methods you use to learn new words or phrases can be tiresome and ineffective. Try some of these engaging techniques to improve your English vocabulary instead. They’ll help you understand the meaning of the words in context in a way that’s relevant to your daily life. As a result, you’ll learn how to use the language naturally and they become easy to memorise. Find the best method for your learning style and learning English vocabulary will suddenly get a lot simpler.
1. Learn Phrases and fixed expressions, not words
When communicating, we don’t use single words on their own, but we communicate using phrases and sentences. When trying to improve your range of vocabulary, it’s more useful and memorable to learn phrases, or group of words that go together instead of single words.
Instead of memorising the word ‘pick’, memorise the phrase ‘take your pick!’. Instead of memorising the word ‘bunch’, go for the phrase ‘a bunch of roses’. Learning the word ‘occur’ on its own might be more difficult than learning the phrases ‘if any problems occur’.
2. Learn functional language
Functional language is the kind of language you need to operate in daily life in an English-speaking country. So, think of any task you might need to accomplish or a situation you regularly find yourself in – what language do you need to know in English to do this?
Learning functional language helps you develop your communication skills and ability to accomplish things in English. In other words, you’ll learn something practical instead of only knowing more words.
Some examples of general functional language are; agreeing and disagreeing, debating, giving and ask for opinions, ordering in a restaurant, complaining and giving directions. Then there’s functional language for work, which includes language needed in meetings, negotiating, giving presentations, conducting interviews amongst the most popular.
3. Put the new English vocabulary in context
Things become more memorable when they have a personal significance to us. You might have had trouble learning the map in geography classes when you were younger, but once you’ve traveled the country you have no problems remembering. The same theory applies for learning English vocabulary.
To really learn English vocabulary, engage with the words, don’t just look at them like a bunch of letters, give them meaning. By putting the English vocabulary that you’re trying to learn in a context, your brain has something to grip onto and can remember it easily.
Use real people and facts in your life. For example, if you’re trying to remember the word ‘nostalgic’, make it meaningful by writing a personal sentence; ‘I feel nostalgic when I see my favorite childhood toys’. Having a personal context to associate with a word makes it much easier to remember
4. Play Games with English Vocabulary to improve retention
Buy a pack (or more) of sticky notes and start labelling everything in your house – it’s a quick way to learn some new vocabulary. Create a couple of flashcards, print out images, play scrabble or taboo! You could even play word association games using English vocabulary while at a pub with friends that could get interesting.
5. Practice with a study buddy
Find someone who’s just as eager as you are to learn and practice over and over. Firstly, it’s a great idea to compare notes and brainstorm how you can use the language together. Then you could write dialogues and practice reading them out. Remember to add emotion to your language through your tone, intonation and sentence stress. After that, try to role-play situations spontaneously.
It’s fine if you make mistakes, that’s how you learn. You could also record yourselves, listen back and correct it together. Try again until you feel more confident.
6. Use the language in real life
Once you feel confident, find real situations to try it in. Go to a restaurant, or to the shop, find a reason to complain, or help a lost tourist. You can join English-speaking nights which are organised in most big cities or find some expat groups to make new friends. If there are no options to speak English in your country, perhaps it’s a good idea to go on holiday to an English-speaking country.
7. Follow language pages, podcasts, You-tubers
Following English pages, podcasts or You-tubers is a good way to stay motivated to learn a language. They post new phrases and even tips to learn English vocabulary or grammar. It’s the best way to get access to quality content to help improve your English vocabulary, or any other area.
8. Attend an immersive language course
Book a language-travel trip in an English-speaking country. The immersive experience will give your English a great boost. You’ll get to learn English vocabulary, grammar, phonology and practice all the skills in communicative classrooms. Most importantly, you will get feedback and correction from a teacher and practice the language non-stop.
To make the most out of language course holidays, book your accommodation with the school as well. That way you can speak English socially with your school mates after lessons.
Want to learn more? Have a look at this guide about English small talk.