- 1. Become a Vocabulary Detective
- 2. Practise, Practise, Practise — Speak English Often
- 3. Learn English Expressions and Multiple Meanings of Words
- 4. Seek Opportunities to Speak and Use your English
- 5. Access Technology for your English Lessons
- 6. It Doesn't Matter if you're at an Advanced Level or Studying English For Beginners. Persevere!
- 7. Give Yourself Time Out and Get Enough Sleep
Whether you want to learn English to improve your employability, visit an English speaking country or just because you love learning other languages, you are going to need to learn new words — lots of them.
It makes no difference if you enrol in a group English speaking course, work one-on-one with native English speakers or learn English online, you'll be faced with the same quandary:
'There are so many new words and phrases — how will I memorise them all?'
A broad vocabulary is key to developing fluency and is one way you can improve your English. How do you do this, though?
In fact, there are a number of strategies you can use to help you memorise all your English vocabulary.
Be aware, however, this will not happen overnight. Learning a new language takes considerable time and effort.
Below are 7 strategies to help you start learning all those English words.
1. Become a Vocabulary Detective
A successful student actively identifies new words and searches for their meanings when they are learning English. There will be hundreds of words and phrases you don't know.
Listen to words in context, then ask yourself what part of speech the new word fits into — is it a verb or adverb, a noun or adjective? Once you've figured this out, work out its meaning.
To do this, you may need to check a dictionary. You can use a traditional dictionary, or use one online on your laptop or phone. Google Translate is another option.
Whatever method you choose, you'll find yourself thinking in English more often as you actively seek new words.
Not all definitions you will find online will be correct. Take the time to find a reliable, accurate source.
Keep track of your new words. Perhaps you could have a notebook section for each category where you make notes about meaning, and include examples of how they are used.
Categories may include: verb tenses, pronouns, descriptive words (adverbs and adjectives), functional nouns (grouped according to location), idioms, foreign language derivations and so on.
To locate and practise your new vocabulary, remember to:
- watch English-language movies
- regularly test your level
- speak English often
- practise your pronunciation.
Focus on English Grammar
Grammar and vocabulary go hand in hand; to improve your English, you need to develop your knowledge of grammar as well as vocabulary.
The English language is full of varied grammar rules, which can cause problems if you don't understand them when you are trying to memorise new vocabulary.
The most important thing to do when learning a second language is to take every opportunity to practise speaking with native English speakers. You'll be surprised how much vocabulary you know, even if you've only been learning English for a short time. The more you practise, the more words you'll learn. Focus on how to use your new words, and you'll be expressing yourself fluently in no time.
Apart from the larger parts of speech (nouns, verbs etc) there are many other smaller parts of speech that are essential when you're learning English. They are the glue that holds our sentences together.
These grammatical necessities are categorised as follows:
- auxiliary verbs: is, does, had, should, etc.
- conjunctions: because, but, so, and, etc.
- determiners: the, a, this, many, etc.
- prepositions: on, before, of, to, etc.
- pronouns: you, it, yours, she, etc.
If you can memorise the easier 'content words' (lexical words such as nouns) then you can use some basic rules of grammar to build on these. Also remember the following:
- 'foreign language loan words': these are words from other languages that have the same spelling and/or meaning in English
- prefixes: base words can have prefixes added to the beginning to change the meaning, e.g. re-, un-, mis-
- suffixes: base words can also have suffixes added to the end to change the meaning, e.g. -less, -er, -ment
2. Practise, Practise, Practise — Speak English Often
During your English lessons, working with a private tutor or even if you learn English online, you might find you seem to memorise new words instantly.
What happens if you don't practise, though? It might take six months or only a couple of days, but you will forget them.
Memorising vocabulary is great but to really improve your English skills you also need to practise new words in context whenever you can.
Here are a few ways to learn new words:
- When you learn a new word, write different sample sentences incorporating each word. Make the sentences meaningful to help you remember them.
- Our brains remember new things more effectively if it hears them, so read your sentences aloud to yourself.
- If you see and read new vocabulary in relevant places, your brain will associate the word with its meaning. Write new words on sticky notes and pop them around your house, e.g. cooking terminology and equipment words in your kitchen.
Use the Leitner flashcard method to practise vocabulary
Some people find it difficult to memorise new vocabulary. The fact is, even with fantastic lessons and tutors, if you don't have a personal drive, you won't learn English.
If you are motivated, you will find it easier to learn new English vocabulary and improve your speaking skills.
The Leitner System uses flashcards and is a proven, effective strategy for remembering new vocabulary.
Developed by Austrian writer, Sebastian Leitner, in the 1970s, this system uses a simple flashcard and box technique to aid memory.
To set up:
- Start with a set of blank flashcards and five boxes.
- Each flashcard should have the English vocabulary on one side and its definition on the other.
- All cards are initially placed in the first box.
- Cards in the first box should be practised the most.
- Each card you get correct is placed into the next box. If it's wrong, you put it back to the previous box.
- Aim to have all flashcards in the fifth box.
3. Learn English Expressions and Multiple Meanings of Words
Whether you're just starting out at an English for beginners level, or you've reached an intermediate level, or even advanced, you should make an effort to focus on complete expressions. Doing this increases your bank of vocabulary because each expression contains many individual words.
Make sure you also investigate if words have different meanings, e.g. buckle
- Noun meaning: a metal clasp, as found on a belt
- Verb meaning: close or fasten something, i.e. buckle your seatbelt
- Another verb meaning: collapse, either physically or emotionally
An awareness of each definition will assist you to understand more about how to use the word.
Remember to practise using each new word when you understand all its meanings. Incorporate new vocabulary into daily conversations.
Active conversational practice not only helps your English pronunciation, but these words will become part of your lexicon.
Make English part of your daily life
If you're serious about learning English, you have to surround yourself with English on a daily basis. There is no better way to improve your English.
It's not just a matter of watching movies or reading books in English, you actually need to actively practise your written and spoken English every day.
Practise speaking English and improve your pronunciation by reciting or chanting new words out loud. This will also help with your memory.
Top Tip! Your visual memory is the strongest and most effective. Use your eyes to help you learn!
Repetition (rote learning) is also an effective way of implanting new concepts in your brain.
To aid your visual memory, try these tips:
- Put little notes with new vocabulary and expressions everywhere!
- Look at these notes — you'll be surprised how quickly you memorise the words.
- Make lists. Group words according to a category or purpose, e.g. eating out, bathroom items.
Following these tips will encourage your brain to remember new words (and you won't even realise it).
4. Seek Opportunities to Speak and Use your English
Just like an engine, our brain requires lubrication and care to work to its full potential.
And, it needs to be programmed — this means our brain needs to learn how to learn new vocabulary.
No matter where you go to learn English, you need to know how to activate the best processes for learning for you.
Language is designed for speaking and communicating with other people.
Talk to English speakers — your English tutors, friends, colleagues, people you meet when you're travelling in English speaking countries.
If you're self-conscious, you may need to force yourself to go beyond only reading and listening to English.
You can even use your phone to record your voice until you build confidence with your pronunciation. Once you feel comfortable, all your new words will flow with a life of their own.
Start conversations with native speakers
There's no magic spell to help with foreign language learning. It comes down to practice. Simply put — speaking English is the quickest way to improve.
There really are no excuses. If no one around you speaks English, find a 'pen pal' from an English-speaking country, then communicate in writing and via a platform like Skype. There are many available native speakers for English conversation lessons online.
Befriending an English speaker is a fantastic way to improve your accent and pronunciation. As an added bonus, you'll gain insight into a new culture as well.
You might even want to organise a homestay in a country where English is spoken — it's a fun way to learn and make friends.
5. Access Technology for your English Lessons
Enjoy gaming? Why not use games to develop your English language skills?
Some of the best tools for learning English are games — whether they're online or apps for your device.
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Using the English versions of apps and online games will help increase your vocabulary, improve pronunciation and enhance listening skills.
Board games are also useful if you speak English while you play. Even making up riddles and describing words in English can be fun and effective.
Learn English Online
There are numerous online resources which target specific skills like:
- conjugations for English
- specialised or functional vocabulary
- English grammar skills
- written English
A Google search will give you these and many, many more.
Wading through everything can be a daunting task, so here are a few to get you started:
The current age of digital technology means anything is possible and you're sure to find resources to suit every level.
Learn and revise your vocabulary with Apps
The flexibility and portability of online lessons and apps certainly makes it easy to learn English anywhere.
Whip out your phone while you're waiting for the train!
Replace the time you spend on social media with a language learning app.
Apps are available for both iOS and Android. You really have no excuses.
6. It Doesn't Matter if you're at an Advanced Level or Studying English For Beginners. Persevere!
You will not learn English overnight or in a month. It takes effort and it's not easy.
As with learning any new skill, you need to be patient and take your time. Try the strategies we've suggested here to find what works best for your learning style.
Keep to a schedule: Daily English lessons of around 30 minutes, and grammar study for about 3 hours each week are considered optimal for learning English. Go here to look for English courses in Australia.
Your learning will be more effective if you set realistic and achievable goals. Manage your expectations and don't be too hard on yourself.
Motivated learners are quick learners
The hard truth is that if you aren't motivated, you simply won't develop fluent English or learn the number of new words you require. Did you realise that conversational English with a native speaker needs 1,000 English words at a minimum?
Perseverance is key if you want to achieve this level of fluency. Regular, scheduled practice does not necessarily lead to decreased motivation. Actually, your motivation will help drive you to speed up your pace.
When you're motivated, get the most benefit from it by trying these strategies:
- Modify your habits: Identify your poor learning habits and actively change them. Swap social media and lazing around for listening to English-language programs and using apps. Watch your vocabulary grow.
- Monitor your goals: Realistic objectives keep you motivated. When you reach your goals, celebrate your success and set new ones.
- Challenge yourself: Small and achievable daily challenges keep you motivated, e.g. 'I'll use 5 of my new words today.' Make a weekly list. Give yourself a tick (or a small reward) when you succeed.
7. Give Yourself Time Out and Get Enough Sleep
Sleeping will improve your learning capacity.
Lack of sleep will reduce your ability to learn and retain new knowledge.
While you sleep, your brain is working to process and store your new information.
Foreign language learners should always learn a word or two before they go to sleep for this reason.
Our brains are like personal assistants — they order and file all of our facts and information collected throughout the day. This includes any new vocabulary.
Give your brain time to rest after all its hard learning during the day. In return, it will remember all of your English lessons, and new grammar and words.
When you wake up is also a good time to learn. In the morning you can revise vocabulary from the previous night.
Let your brain relax if you want to maximise your learning
If you overload your brain by cramming in as much information as you can, you won't remember most of it. Give yourself regular and long study breaks — a few minutes of study every day at your optimum learning time is much more effective than several hours once a week staring at a book or word list.
Train your brain to expect daily study. You will find you remember everything easier.
Set your own pace. Everyone is different. Remember to schedule breaks and, if you need one, take it.
Vary your learning schedule. Perhaps you could choose something fun to do each Sunday, like watching your favourite English TV program?
Work on developing good study habits with the basics
After you've learned the basics in English, mastery of more advanced language skills becomes much more difficult.
If you get into the habit now of working on new vocabulary, practising your listening skills and engaging in conversations with native English speakers, you'll find continuing easier.
It is important that you provide opportunities for your brain to become accustomed to hearing and reading English in different forms and accents. This will help it process new vocabulary so you can include it naturally in your discussions.
Again — remember that practice must be regular!
Don't be afraid to ask questions about the English you are hearing and reading. Ask for explanations and examples for English expressions and words. Access every resource you can find to immerse yourself in the world of English.
Set your goals and maintain a regular practice schedule and you'll be speaking fluently in no time.