Have you tried different ways to develop English vocabulary when you’re learning English? Naturally, it can be difficult to understand everything when you’re reading English texts or books, but there are useful strategies which can improve your English vocabulary and encourage you to become less dependent on translation. This can help to develop your understanding and make it easier to remember and use new words and expressions in the future.
In this blog, we're going to look at three great ideas to develop English vocabulary:
- Deduce meaning from context
- Use a thesaurus
- Use an English-English dictionary
1. Deduce meaning from context = GUESS!
It is sometimes possible to guess or work out the meaning of a new word or expression in a written text by thinking about the topic and looking at the other information. In other words, you can sometimes deduce the meaning from the context, and this can be a great way to develop vocabulary and reading skills.
To give you an example of how you can guess the meaning of a word or expression from the context, we’re going to use another ‘language’ called Cockney rhyming slang. Cockney rhyming slang developed in the East End of London in the 1800s. It was originally used as a secret language among market dealers and tradesmen to hide the topic of a conversation from outsiders.
So how does it work?
The meaning of expressions in Cockney rhyming slang is directly associated with words that rhyme. Words rhyme when they have the same sound. For example, ‘cook’ rhymes with ‘book’ and ‘eat’ rhymes with ‘feet’!
Let’s describe the woman at the market in the photo with both English and Cockney rhyming slang!
- She doesn't have a hat on her head.
- She doesn't have a hat on her loaf of bread.
You can see that ‘head’ rhymes with the last word in the expression ‘bread’.
- She has brown eyes.
- She has brown mince pies.
You can see that ‘eyes’ rhymes with the last word in the expression ‘pies’.
Now try it yourself!
Here is John’s description of last Friday evening. Can you guess the meaning of the slang expression in bold?
Remember: You need to think about the context or the situation in the text AND (for Cockney rhyming slang) you also need to think of a word that rhymes with the last word in the expression.
Last Friday night
I got home from work before the (a) hickory dickory dock struck seven last night, and ate some (b) Jim Skinner. I went to the bathroom and had a (c) dig in the grave and a shower. Then, I got dressed and put on my (d) baked beans and my (e) Uncle Bert.
At nine o'clock, I went to the (f) rub-a-dub-dub to have some drinks with my old (g) china plate, Dave. I went to the bar and bought a few (h) pig’s ears and Dave ordered some (i) gay and frisky. Then, we sat down and had a (j) rabbit and pork about his new girlfriend and his (k) corn on the cob.
I realised that it was getting late when I saw the time on my (l) dog and bone, and so we got the next (m) John Wayne to my local station. I arrived back at my (n) cat and mouse after midnight and quietly walked up the (o) apples and pears. My (p) trouble and strife was furious because I was really (q) elephant’s trunk and woke up our (r) teapot lids.
Could you work out the meaning?
If you were able to work out the meaning from the other information in the text, then it is clear that you did not need to translate words and expressions into your own language. You can also check the answers below.
- hickory dickory dock = clock
- Jim Skinner = dinner
- dig in the grave = shave
- baked beans = jeans
- Uncle Bert = shirt
- rub-a-dub-dub = pub
- china plate = mate
- pig’s ears = beers
- gay and frisky = whiskey
- rabbit and pork = talk
- corn on the cob = job
- dog and bone = phone
- John Wayne = train
- cat and mouse = house
- apples and pears = stairs
- trouble and strife = wife
- elephant’s trunk = drunk
- teapot lids = kids
In the future, try using the same strategy when you read another English text to help develop English vocabulary and your reading and listening skills.
2. Use a thesaurus
A thesaurus gives synonyms, which are words with the same or similar meaning.
For example, a synonym for the word ‘big’ is ‘large’.
If you don’t understand a word, you can look in a thesaurus and you may find synonyms that you already know. This can help you to understand the meaning and develop your vocabulary without translation.
A thesaurus may also have antonyms, which are words with the opposite meaning.
For example, an antonym for the word ‘big’ is ‘small’.
Together, linking synonyms and antonyms can develop your range of English vocabulary and improve your reading and listening skills.
3. Use an English-English dictionary
Next time you want to translate a word into your language, try looking up the word in an English-English dictionary. There are so many free online English dictionaries and you can read the definition in English first. Many dictionaries also give the correct pronunciation and example sentences which show the correct use of the vocabulary in context.
This is a great way to develop English vocabulary without translation because you will only read words and definitions in English, and this can help to improve your range of English vocabulary more quickly.
We always recommend that you read the definition and the example sentences because the combination will give you a better understanding of the meaning. It can also help you to realise when you can and cannot use the vocabulary for different situations.
Final thoughts to develop English vocabulary!
We recommend that you use try a combination of the different strategies to find what is best for you. Nevertheless, we also appreciate that there are some complex words in every language and it can be more logical to just translate, because the definition may be just as complicated as the word itself.
Most importantly, the best way to remember new remember new vocabulary is to use the new words and expressions yourself. We recommend that you try to use new vocabulary several times. Repetition and practise is the most successful strategy for adding new words and expressions to your long-term memory and you can try to include this in another sentence and even in another context if appropriate.
We also have private English courses in Munich with professional teachers who can help to develop English vocabulary and speaking skills more quickly with regular training sessions and feedback. You can also try our free online lessons and please follow us for updates.