7 Tips for Learning Vocabulary in English (Basic, A-Level)
Learning vocabulary in a new language is difficult because you need to learn and remember thousands of new words to communicate well.
In this lesson, let’s look at some tips to help you learn vocabulary.
The tips and techniques in this lesson are for English-language learners, but they can help you improve your vocabulary in any language.
TIp 1. Pay attention to new words. Be curious
If you are curious about new words, it will be easier to learn them. If you are not curious about something, why would you even try to learn it?
Some people stop learning new words after they learn 1,000 to 2,000 words in a new language. They can communicate basic ideas using those words, so they stop paying attention to new vocabulary. If you do not care about learning new words, you probably will not.
Pay attention to new words, be curious about words, and enjoy learning them.
Tip 2: Do not get obsessed over vocabulary
Tip 2. Do not get obsessed over vocabulary
Look at the woman in the photo. She is trying really hard to learn vocabulary. She is stressed out because she cannot learn all the new vocabulary she sees.
She is obsessed with vocabulary. Vocabulary is all she thinks about. She cannot read well because she stops reading to look up all the words she does not know.
It is good to be interested in learning vocabulary, but it is not good if you become obsessed over it. Obsessing over something can stress you out and frustrate you. Then you will not want to learn it anymore.
Besides, learning a language is more than just learning vocabulary. Do not get so obsessed with vocabulary that you forget other important parts of the language.
When you work on other language skills, your vocabulary will improve, too. For example, when you read, you see vocabulary words you do not know. When you read frequently, you may see those words again and again. You learn new words without getting obsessed.
“Knowing” a lot of words is no good if you do not have the other skills that you need to use those words to communicate well.
Tip 3. Learn words and expressions in context
Learning in Context
Learning word lists is okay, but it takes a lot of time and energy. Learning vocabulary is easier when you learn words in context.
Language textbooks generally introduce vocabulary in dialogs or short passages so that you see how words are used. If you look at a word list, there is no context, so it is more difficult to understand and remember each word later.
Where to Find Vocabulary in Context
You can find vocabulary in context when you engage in active and passive activities. Passive activities are those where you see how other people use vocabulary; active activities are those where you use the words yourself.
Here are some ways to find vocabulary in context:
- Studying language textbooks;
- 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 different topics whenever possible, paying attention to new words, and then using the words yourself.
- Writing about topics you choose (keeping a journal, writing a blog, and so on) and using 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.
This passage about levels of formality in American language and culture has more information on this topic.
Vocabulary as Expressions
You can learn some words by themselves (for example, cat, rain, or table). However, some 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.”
- when you learn a new adjective, learn its comparative and superlative forms;
- when you learn a new noun, learn its irregular plural forms;
- when 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.)
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.
Tip 4. Focus on useful words first
Especially when you are still developing your language skills, first learn the vocabulary you need to communicate your ideas well. What you need depends on you because each person has different interests.
For example, if you are learning English to have informal conversations, focus on vocabulary that people use everyday. If you are also learning English to read about science and history, you should focus on vocabulary you need for those topics first.
Do not waste much energy memorizing words that are not very common or that you will almost never use. You can learn those later as you develop fluency.
Tip 5. Use a good dictionary but learn how to use it
Some dictionaries are very good; others, not so much. A good dictionary gives you clear definitions and example sentences so that you know how to use the words.
A good dictionary also shows you how to pronounce the words. Many dictionaries use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to show the pronunciation.
What does the IPA look like? For example, in IPA they transcribe the words “apple” and “back” as /ˈæpəl/ and /bæk/. Each time you see the symbol æ in a dictionary that uses the IPA, you will know how it should sound.
You can learn IPA by yourself. Many online dictionaries let you listen to the pronunciation of words. Look at the IPA transcription and listen to the pronunciation. With practice, you will learn how to pronounce new words just by looking at the IPA symbols.
A dictionary is an important tool for language learners. Make sure it is a good dictionary and that you know how to use it.
Tip 6. Keep track of and review your new words
When we are learning a new language, we forget new words very quickly. To help remember, many language learners list new words in a notebook. Keeping a notebook helps you find the words easily and forces you to write down the words so you practice spelling.
If you decide to keep a notebook, write down the word, the meaning, and one or two example sentences.
Review your vocabulary frequently. This way, you will know which words you still need to memorize.
Writing new words down and reviewing them can help you remember them.
Tip 7. Create your own vocabulary-learning technique
We are all different. What works for one person may not work for another. Try different things to learn vocabulary, and see what works well for you.
Just do not forget that there are other language skills you need to learn, too.
Enjoy Learning Vocabulary… and Everything Else
I hope these tips and ideas help you learn vocabulary. Remember that learning a new language takes time.
You need to work hard and sometimes it can get frustrating. That is why it is also important to enjoy the language.
Sometimes you work hard on the language. But then you need to just enjoy using the language without thinking about the “right” words, the “right” pronunciation, or the “right” grammar. Just enjoy yourself and your new language.
7 tips to learn vocabulary without stressing out is a video for intermediate and advanced learners. If you would like to watch it, do not worry if you cannot understand everything.
It should be easier to understand the video if you read this lesson first.
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