Words, words, words… these are the building blocks of any language, and the English language has a lot of them! Did you know that English has approximately a quarter of a million distinct words, more than any other language in the world? Increasing your English Vocabulary is one of the most essential steps to improvement. With a wider pool of words at your disposal, you can talk about a greater variety of topics in detail and with a finer level of nuance, and avoid those annoying moments when you have to stop your conversation mid-flow to look for the word you want. It can also make you feel much more confident when communicating in English.
Trawling through dictionaries and making endless vocabulary lists can get pretty tedious, and actually it’s not the most effective way to learn. So what can you do to expand your vocabulary which doesn’t involve falling asleep between the entries for pernicious and pernickety? Here are four suggestions to get you ahead of the game.
Newspapers, magazines, novels, blogs, comic books. There is a huge variety of material out there, and you should read as much of it as you can. And the best thing is, you can read about anything that interests you. In fact, the more interesting you find what you are reading, the more easily you will retain information and the faster you will learn. As you’re reading, you will come across lots of new words. Don’t worry if you don’t understand every detail. Try to follow the main ideas in the text first, then come back to it and use a dictionary to look up definitions. Look for a wide variety of topics, so you are gaining words you can use in a range of different situations.
We learn best when we are interested and emotionally moved by the subject. So make your word lists personal to you! You can make up little stories about your family, introducing some target words you want to memorise. For example, instead of writing a list, try: “My cat Marmaduke climbed up the curtains, jumped onto the lampshade, slid down the dresser and landed in the teapot”.
Another technique you can try is to look around your immediate surroundings, at home, work or school, and ask yourself: what do you call that in English? Then get a stack of post-it notes and label the objects around you. So whenever you switch on the light or plug in the hoover, you’ll be reminded of the names for these things in English.
Testing your memory doesn’t have to be dull. Find some fun games to play online to reinforce the new words you are learning. Scrabble, Boggle, hangman and crosswords are great practice and are all available to play online. Try out some sites such as English Club, Game Zone and the Merriam Webster dictionary’s word games page. And of course you can go old-school and play a host of word games with a pen, paper and a friend. A good one for new vocabulary is charades, where you take a card and have to act out the word written on it for your friend to guess.
Many language students make the mistake of thinking that once they have memorised some vocabulary, the job is done. But to really learn a language you need to put all those new words into practice, by speaking! So grab any opportunity you can to chat in English with friends and acquaintances or with your host family. If you speak to them about something gripping you’ve just been reading, you will be able to use that newly-acquired vocabulary. And why not travel to an English-speaking country where you’ll find a bunch of new people to dazzle with your eloquence?