Vocabulary development is one of the key areas learners need to focus on when learning another language. This article gives advice on how best to learn vocabulary when studying English and the pitfalls to avoid.
Many people think writing lists of individual words is the best way to increase their vocabulary. However, research has shown that we learn and store words in our brains from any language (even our own) in chunks. Therefore this is probably the most effective way to record new vocabulary too. There are many words in English which we commonly use together and it is useful to know which words do (and don’t) go together. For example strong coffee are two words which go together, but not strong rain. When you record the words as a chunk or phrase, you are more likely to remember it and, more importantly, use it again in the future.
There is always a temptation to write down the meaning of every new word you come across. However, if there are words specific to certain contexts, you may never see or use them again! When you come across an unknown word, first of all look up the meaning in the dictionary. Only if you think it will be useful to you in the future is it worth adding to your vocabulary.
Use a notebook
Having a notebook specific for vocabulary (and nothing else) is a great way to note down new phrases you learn. It can become a mini personalized dictionary with words specific to your needs. A physicist will use different vocabulary from a graphic designer so their vocabulary needs will differ. As well as writing down the new words and the meaning, it is also important to note down words from the same family. For example if you write down ‘(financial) investment’, words from the same family would be invest, investor, investing. Knowing which words are similar in meaning can help you to recognize them in the future, and further increase your lexis.
Review & revise
Finally, it is important to regularly review the new words you are trying to learn. This increases your chances of remembering them. One way is to use sticky notes. On one side write the meaning and on the other (sticky) side write the word or phrase. Stick these around the house or where you will see them often. Read the definition and test yourself to see if you can remember the word. Then lift it up and check. If you are often on the move, you can try an app called Quizlet instead. This works in the same way and you can learn vocabulary on your daily commute!
These are just a few ideas for learners to be more successful at developing their vocabulary. Try and see which works best for you.