Tip 3: Learn Words and Expressions in Context
Learning in Context
Learning long vocabulary lists is okay, but it takes a lot of time and effort. Make it easier on yourself by learning words in context whenever possible.
Language textbooks generally introduce vocabulary in dialogs or reading passages rather than word lists so that new words are presented in context. They want to you see how words are actually used in the language.
In addition, words are easier to remember when they are learned in context. You can even understand words you have never seen because the context makes their meaning clear.
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
You can find vocabulary in context by engaging in active and passive activities. Active ways are those in which you use vocabulary yourself; passive ways are those in which you are exposed to the vocabulary others use themselves. Here are some ways to find vocabulary used in context:
Generally passive ways
- Studying your language textbook or any textbooks you choose to use;
- Reading materials you choose (web sites, blogs, novels, the news, and so on);
- Watching materials you choose (movies, documentaries, the news on TV, YouTube videos, and so on);
- Listening to materials you choose (podcasts, talk radio, music, and so on);
Generally active ways
- Speaking about a variety of topics and paying attention to the vocabulary people use.
- Writing about topics you choose whenever (keeping a journal, writing a blog, creating short stories, using social media platforms, and so on); make sure you use the words you are learning and look up words you do not know.
The above activities are not always “only active” or “only passive.” When you listen to a podcast, for example, you can engage more actively participate in the actively by writing down sentences using words you did not know, summarizing the information in writing, speaking to others about the content, and so on.
Snap Language (and Snap Language Learner) is building a collection of materials for English-language learners. Take a look at our reading materials and YouTube videos.
Vocabulary as Expressions
You can learn some simple words by themselves (for example, dog, storm, or desk). However, words are usually part of expressions or phrases. For example, you should learn the verb “agree” and the noun “problem” the way they are used:
to agree with someone on something
to be interested in something or someone.
Then you can create sentences such as these:
Do you agree with me?
I do, but I am not really interested in politics.
You should learn expressions when learning different types of words. When you learn a new adjective, learn its comparative and superlative forms; when you learn a new verb, learn its forms (infinitive, past, and past participle) 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.)