Tip 3: Learn Words and Expressions in Context (Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking)
Learning in Context
Learning lists of words is okay, but it takes a lot of energy and concentration. Make it easy on yourself and learn words in context whenever possible. Language textbooks generally introduce vocabulary in dialogs or short passages so that you learn new words the way they are used in the language.
If you look at a word list, it may be difficult to understand and remember each word later.
When you see or hear a new word in context, the word makes sense, you know how it is used, and it is easier to remember it later.
Where to Find Vocabulary in Context
There are ways of finding vocabulary in context when you engage in active and passive activities. Passive activities are those where you see how other people use vocabulary; active ways are those where you you the words yourself. Here are some ways to find it:
- Studying your language textbook or any textbooks you choose to use;
- Reading materials you choose (web sites, novels, the news, and so on);
- Watching materials you choose (movies, the news on TV, YouTube videos, and so on);
- Listening to materials you choose (podcasts, radio, music, and so on).
- Speaking about a variety of topics whenever possible and paying attention to the vocabulary people use.
- Writing about topics you choose (keeping a journal, writing a blog, and so on), trying to use the words you are learning and looking up words you do not know.
Snap Language (and Snap Language Learner) is always developing (or building) new materials for English-language learners. Take a look at our reading materials and YouTube videos.
Context of Language and Culture
Another reason to learn vocabulary in context is that a language exists in a social and cultural context. When you learn vocabulary in context, you also learn in what social and cultural context words and expressions are used.
See Level of Formality in American Language and Culture for more information on this topic.
Vocabulary as Expressions
You can learn some words by themselves (for example, dog, rain, or desk). However, words are part of an expression. For example, you should learn the verb “agree” the way it is used: you agree with someone on something as in the sentence
“I agree with you on this topic.”
In addition, if you learn a new adjective, learn its comparative and superlative forms; if you learn a new verb, learn its forms and prepositions that go with it; and so on.
You can usually find this type of information in a good dictionary, which should include examples of how to use the word in context. (We will discuss that in Tip 5 later.)