How to build your vocabulary

Having a big vocabulary is obviously a great thing to have when learning a language. You can understand a lot more when listening / reading as well as having more words to choose from when you want to speak / write.

How do we build a big vocabulary though? How do we decide what words are worth remembering? and after all that, how do we remember all those words?

Memorisation

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The first step is memorisation. Learning a word’s meaning just once isn’t so good as it’s likely to be forgotten so we need a way to revise it on a regular basis. For this we can use SRS (spaced repetition system). This is basically a very efficient way of studying based on flashcards. It allows us to memorise as much as possible using as little time as possible. One of the more popular pieces of software for this is ANKI, which is available as a free download for PC / MAC.

Once you have installed the software you can “create a deck” and now any new words you learn can be added in here. You should use this program once a day and it will remind you of a word just before you forget it.

Finding new words

For this step we could go anywhere that has English words and start learning them but… This IS NOT a good idea. If you are new to the language then you will find it useful getting very common words from anywhere, but later on it will be better to find words and information that is interesting to you.

For example, if you are interested in medicine then you will want to look at articles and information relating to medicine, but for those people not interested in this area then it wouldn’t be as useful to learn words such as “Fibromyalgia”, “Neuropsychology” or “Cardialgia”.

Not only does studying words from areas you’re interested in mean that you are likely to encounter them more often, but also it’s a lot easier when they are interesting and relevant to things that you like.

Places where you can find new words:-

  • News articles / magazines
  • Tv shows / movies
  • Talking to English-speaking friends

Importance

As well as learning words that are relevant to our interests we want to make sure we are learning words that are used fairly frequently. (why learn a word that you will use once in your life if you can learn a word that you will use a lot!)

Frequency list

This website is an extremely useful tool for finding out how often a word is used. Type in a word you have found and it will give you a number, the higher the number the rarer it is. (e.g. ‘the’ = #1 ‘droid’ = #30000). So try to learn words that have a lower rank first.

Summary

In summary , first of all make sure you are learning words that are important and interesting to you. Make sure these words are used often enough to justify learning them and finally use your memorisation software to make sure they stay in your head once you’ve learned them!