10 Ways To Grow Your English Vocabulary
One of the most important parts of mastering a new language is growing your vocabulary. I don’t mean in a theoretical way where you learn words and then never use them, or just forget them right away. I’m talking in a practical way. You want to learn words that you can use, right? Unless you’re a geologist, it’s not a good idea to spend your time looking up the meaning of “anion.” I didn’t know what it meant five minutes ago, and you know what? I probably won’t remember what it means tomorrow. And that’s just fine with me.
But, it’s a good idea to know what “generous” or “stunning” or “dull” mean. These are words you’ll hear and see, so knowing them will up your comprehension skills, and you’ll be able to communicate more clearly. There’s a big difference between “nice” & “helpful”, and “cute” & “gorgeous”. I wouldn’t call a bunny rabbit gorgeous. And my grandma is nice, but she isn’t very generous. Lol.
And there’s an added bonus to growing your English vocabulary, and it’s pretty cool. By spicing up your use of English, your personality will shine through!
That’s my pep-talk on why taking steps to expand your vocabulary is so important. Now let’s go through ten easy steps you can take to accomplish that goal. Ready?
I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you this, but I may be the most passionate about it! Reading is such a fantastic way to expose yourself to words, both ones you already know and new ones too. It can make the sense of a word clearer, and plant the seed of understanding for unfamiliar vocabulary. The trick is to read something you enjoy. Books, sure, but also comics, movie reviews, newspaper headlines, Reddit posts, Facebook updates from English friends or whatever gets you interested.
There’s a common expression in English, and it applies to mastering new vocabulary: use it or lose it. When you first learn a new word or phrase, play with it. Experiment. Use it so that you won’t forget it. A simple way to do that is to write. Whether you write a few sentences or keep an English diary, write! Even if no one ever sees or corrects your writing, you will see big improvements. And if you do want to check your grammar and don’t have a tutor or access to a teacher, check out Grammarly. The online version is free.
I know, I know, of course you listen! But do you ask questions? If you hear a new word or expression, take a moment to ask the speaker what it means. When I have new students who do that, I always know they will be the superstars in class.
You can also parrot. If you’re watching a movie or a video on YouTube, try repeating a few sentences you hear. This will also up your pronunciation skills.
Keep A Journal of New Vocabulary
Be consistent and when you find a new word or phrase that you think is cool or relevant, write it down in your own vocabulary journal. It might be a notebook or a list on your computer or phone- keep a record. Along with the word and definition, add a short example sentence. And I know you’ll be reviewing your journal once a week, right?
Make Your Example Sentences True
Once you’ve found the word you want to master, and you’ve got it in your vocab journal with the definition, it’s important to add that example sentence. As a teacher, I’m always giving examples of how and when new words are used. But I’d be a pretty bad teacher if all my examples didn't make sense. That’s true for your examples too. The best sentences are true about you, the people you know and the world around you. Don’t write, “The new president is on the up-and-up" if you believe he is a complete psychopathic liar!
Guess the Meaning of New Words
Understanding through context is a skill. The good news is that skills are learnable, which means with practice you will become an English vocabulary ninja! Next time you hear an expression or word you don’t know yet, just pay attention to the clues, and go ahead and guess the meaning! Your guesses WILL get BETTER and BETTER over time.
Don’t Be So Literal
Many phrasal verbs, expressions, and idioms in English are used metaphorically. The words have a different meaning than they normally do. Run means to move quickly, but run into someone means to meet someone by chance, and run through means to examine something like your notes or an essay quickly. When you’re reading a book and see a word that puzzles you, ask yourself if the meaning is metaphorical.
Put The Subtitles On
If you’re watching a movie or tv show on Netflix or maybe a tutorial or English lesson on YouTube, and you’re struggling to catch a lot of what you’re hearing, stop. Don’t torture yourself. Instead, just put the subtitles on. Guess what? Now you’re improving your listening and your reading!
Every Moment is an Opportunity to Learn
Pay attention to the world around you. If you’re in an English-speaking country, there are countless opportunities to see and learn new vocabulary. Read the signs on the bus or subway, and look at the menu carefully. There is English on movie posters, coffee cups, and candy bars.
Learning anything new can be stressful, especially if it’s tied to specific goals around work and school. But humans don’t learn very well when we’re under too much pressure. Try to approach new vocabulary (and ideas and people too) with a spirit of curiosity. You’ll feel less overwhelmed and more importantly, you might even enjoy the process.
Those are my ten tips. If you have a favourite from this list or your own suggestion, let me know. I’d love to hear from you. Don't forget to get your free PDF of this article that comes with a free glossary of terms; a mini dictionary of some awesome new words and phrases from this article.