To hold a decent conversation, you need a large vocabulary. This doesn’t mean you need to go out and memories all the biggest words you can remember, and definitely don’t be one of the insecure people who rely on “big words” to make themselves appear superior in social settings. You really just need to know the right words to use, in a given situation. Often, the words that you learn as your vocabulary grows allow you to express your feelings and thoughts even clearer, as you use the perfect words to describe them. If you’re new to the language, try this course and get your head around the basics before we go any further.
There are many different ways you can improve your vocabulary, but it all really just comes down to practice. There are endless examples of vocabulary that you can find online, long word lists, flash cards and so on. This course has a great boot camp for learning a huge amount of vocabulary, but the best way is really to practice.
Let’s get started with a few questions to test your skills:
1. Do you like school? _______
a. More or less
b. Not much
c. Much less
d. A few
2. See you tomorrow! _______
a. Sure enough
b. You will
c. Yes, see you
d. There you are
3. Harry is quite angry _______ his boss’s actions in sacking four members of staff.
4. Jack and Jill will get married and _______ lots of children.
5. The police ordered the burglar _______ the gun on the ground
b. to put
c. to have put
6. The heiress is a woman who _______.
a. owns a hot air balloon
b. has a massive debt
c. tests new hair products
d. inherits great wealth
7. What do you do when you eradicate something?
a. send it out from a single point
b. light it up with illumination
c. deeply integrate it
d. destroy it completely
8. A substance that is volatile is _______.
9. To be sure, means that you are _______.
10. A dangerous situation is where you are _______.
a. in good spirits
The answers to these questions follows at the end of the article. Test yourself with these and see how your skills stack up!
The problem with ordinary methods of learning vocabulary is that they all consist of long lists of words you need to memorize. After studying these for a while, you’ll fall into rote learning, which means you’re memorizing the words but you miss out on the context. Trying to get your head around all the different words, and how to use them in a conversation is best done by practicing actual conversations. So the first tip is to take the words you’ve been practicing already, and try them out in real life. You can start slow, perhaps trying to use just one new word a day and you’ll find you learn a heck of a lot faster. If you’re struggling at this point this recent post is a great starting point for people who don’t have English as their first language.
Reading is the best exercise to boost your vocabulary, especially if you find an author you love to read. There will always be words you come across which you are unfamiliar with, and because you’re actually enjoying what you’re reading you’re going to be much more motivated to figure out what it means. Also, it helps immensely when you’re picking up on new words organically, as you come across them all in their natural habitat, instead of in long vocabulary lists. Look for authors who are effective in their writing, and can communicate complex ideas in clear ways, whilst being thorough at the same time. It’s not just about using big words all the time, but find an author who uses them when they need to explain something normal words simply cannot. You can get great practice reading publications like the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, the New York Times, or even blogs from experts like Seth Godin. Otherwise pick up a good book, whether it’s a quality fiction novel or a nonfiction piece and get started on exercising your vocabulary.
As you’re reading anything have a reference handy, whether it’s a proper dictionary on your coffee table, or a dictionary app in your smart phone so you can stop and look up any unfamiliar words immediately. Make it a habit of not reading on until you understand each word in its context, and are comfortable pronouncing it, saying it aloud, and reading it out in a couple of sample sentences. These steps will help you remember the words as you look them up, instead of hastily just moving back to your book. Don’t get disgruntled if you’re struggling at first, it takes time and dedication to improve your vocabulary, and it will slowly but surely become an asset to you over time. This course is fantastic for people who are struggling with unfamiliar words in business English. Remember that it can take anywhere from 10-20 repetitions to learn a new word, so also write each new word and it’s definition down in your personal dictionary, and spend 5 minutes on a practice piece of paper writing and memorize each new words meaning.
As you advance in your vocabulary development don’t limit yourself to only the words printed in front of you. Try to listen to podcasts, lectures or even television shows and work at understanding every word that is being said. Of course, this exercise is a little bit trickier, as the spelling of the words are not obvious, but make a note of any words you don’t quite get and take the time to look them up after the show.
When you do get stuck on a new word, try this exercise to help you remember it:
- Say the work you got stuck on out loud.
- List as many words as you can that relate to the word, which helps to reinforce the meaning
- List as many things that you can think of that the word describes
- Try to imagine a scenario which uses the word in context, and has strong emotions attached
As an example, if you were learning the word “Gargantuan”, you would list words like huge, gigantic and large, and use it to describe things like Godzilla, a dinosaur, the titanic, and so on. The scenario could be “the gargantuan monster was about to tear me apart.” This exercise will only take a couple of minutes, but it will greatly help you remember all the new words you are learning.
Building on this is that you need to practice. You won’t learn to use and speak with your new vocabulary if you don’t ever use it! Don’t be afraid to experiment with the language and add in a new word or two every day. As you use them more you’ll have more confidence, and find your vocabulary will grow very fast. Once you’re at this stage, try out different games that rely on vocabulary. It makes it much more fun than forcing yourself to read, and is just as good for your improvements! Grab some friends and have a game of scrabble or up-words, and there are also many versions available online that will let you play without a partner so you can practice at your convenience.
If you have a tutor, try some of these games with their supervision and assistance:
- Connect Two: Have two separate lists of words, and the student has to make a connection between two words on the list, and explain the rationale behind each connection
- Word wall: Stick your flashcards up on the wall, and as you master each take them down and store them in a shoebox, replacing them with new words up on the wall. Every week, test yourself on the words in the shoe-box.
- Fill the gaps: Buy special purpose workbooks that have a story, but certain words are missing. Work through these with your tutor and try to fill in the gaps. You could make this at home by simply printing out a childrens story and having your tutor black-out particular words with a marker.
Finally, look at the lighter side of it all. When you enjoy learning and building your vocabulary, you’ll be much better at it, and it won’t seem like a chore. There are some hidden gems in the English language, like the word “aspersion”. Go ahead, look it up right now. Are you surprised at the two meanings? I know I was when I first looked at its double meanings, as one relates to slander, while the other is the act of sprinkling water at a baptism! The two meanings couldn’t be more different. Make your learning fun, and as you look up the new words you encounter, you’ll be much better at remembering them.
When it all comes down to it, there are also many words that are not used on a daily basis – and for good reason. Don’t overdo it, because the power within some words comes from their infrequent use. Check out this course and discover the 8 secrets to success in English. All it takes is the right attitude, the willingness to learn, and with a little effort and you’ll be a much better communicator, writer and thinker. What are you waiting for?
Answers: 1b, 2c, 3a, 4a, 5b, 6d, 7d, 8b, 9a, 10b