How to Improve Your Vocabulary

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There are many ways to improve your vocabulary. When working to do so, it's important to know your goals in order to best choose the way in which you want to learn. For instance, reading can be a great way to improve your vocabulary, but it won't be much help on a vocabulary test next week. Here are a number of methods to help you improve and expand your English vocabulary.

Synonyms and Antonyms

A synonym is a word that has a similar meaning. An antonym is a word that has the opposite meaning. When learning new vocabulary, try to find at least two synonyms and two antonyms for each word. This is especially important when learning adjectives or adverbs. 

Use a Thesaurus

A thesaurus is a reference book that provides synonyms and antonyms. Used by writers to help find just the right word, a thesaurus can also help English learners expand their vocabulary. You can use an online thesaurus which makes finding a synonym easier than ever.

Vocabulary Trees

Vocabulary trees help provide context. Once you've mapped out a few vocabulary trees, you'll discover yourself thinking in vocabulary groups. When you see a cup your mind will quickly relate such words as knife, fork, plate, dishes, etc. 

Create Vocabulary Themes

Create a list of vocabulary themes and include a definition and an example sentence for each new item. Learning by theme emphasizes words that are related. This will help you memorize new vocabulary because of the connections between these words and your chosen theme.

Use Technology to Help You

Watching movies or sitcoms is a great way to help you understand native speakers of English. Use the options of watching individual scenes to make DVD use into a vocabulary learning exercise. For example, watch one scene from a movie in English only. Next, watch the same scene in your native language. After that, watch the same scene in English with subtitles. Finally, watch the scene in English without subtitles. By watching the scene four times and using your own language to help, you'll pick up a lot of idiomatic language.

Specific Vocabulary Lists

Rather than studying a long list of unrelated vocabulary, use specific vocabulary lists to help you prepare for the type of vocabulary you need for work, school, or hobbies. These business vocabulary word lists are great for industry-specific vocabulary items.

Word Formation Charts

Word formation refers to the form a word takes. For example, the word satisfaction has four forms:

Noun: satisfaction --> The satisfaction of a job well done is worth the effort.
Verb: satisfy --> Taking this course will satisfy your degree requirements.
Adjective: satisfying / satisfied --> I found the dinner very satisfying.
Adverb: satisfyingly --> His mother smiled satisfyingly as her son won the award.

Word formation is one of the keys to success for advanced level ESL learners. Advanced level English exams such as the TOEFL, First Certificate CAE, and Proficiency use word formation as one of the key testing elements. These word formation charts provide the concept noun, personal noun, adjective, and verb forms of key vocabulary listed in alphabetical order.

Research Specific Positions

A great place to start learning vocabulary for a specific job is the Occupational Outlook Handbook. At this site, you will find detailed descriptions of specific positions. Use these pages to take note of key vocabulary related to the profession. Next, use this vocabulary and write your own description of your position. 

Visual Dictionaries

A picture is worth a thousand words. It's also very helpful for learning precise vocabulary. There are a number of excellent English learner visual dictionaries for sale. Here is an online version of a visual dictionary dedicated to jobs.

Learn Collocations

Collocations refer to words that often or always go together. A good example of a collocation is do your homework.  Collocations can be learned through the use of corpora. Corpora are huge collections of documents that can track the number of times a word is used. Another alternative is to use a collocation dictionary. This is especially helpful when focusing on business English.

Vocabulary Learning Tips

  1. Use vocabulary learning methods to focus quickly on the vocabulary YOU need to study. 
  2. Don't make random lists of new words. Try to group words in themes. This will help you memorize new words more quickly.
  3. Always add context by writing out a few example sentences using new vocabulary
  4. Keep a vocabulary notepad at hand whenever you are reading in English.
  5. Use a flashcard app on your smartphone to review vocabulary when you have some extra time. 
  6. Before you begin your day, choose five words and try to use each word during conversations throughout the day. 
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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "How to Improve Your Vocabulary." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Beare, Kenneth. (2023, April 5). How to Improve Your Vocabulary. Retrieved from Beare, Kenneth. "How to Improve Your Vocabulary." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).