Do you find it difficult to remember new English vocabulary? Many learners appreciate that learning vocabulary is equally as important as understanding grammar when studying English. Whilst grammar provides the rules that decide how words are combined and adapted to form a sentence, it is impossible to communicate in another language without vocabulary.
What is the problem? (solution comes later!)
Learning English vocabulary can be challenging for language students (and even to native English speakers) for a number of reasons.
- English has more words and phrases than any other language;
- spelling can be confusing;
- pronunciation might not seem to be logical either.
In other languages, spelling is often more logical because words are spelt as they are pronounced. In English, there are many variations with both individual sounds and individual words, with examples below.
- there can be different spellings of the same sound;
e.g. read and need.
- some words have silent letters;
e.g. the k is silent in knife and knock.
- some words even use sounds that are not in the spelling;
e.g. uniform starts with a ‘y’ sound.
- some words are spelt the same, pronounced the same, but have different meanings (homonyms);
I would like a can of coke, please.
I can play the piano.
- some words are spelt the same, are pronounced differently and have different meanings (homographs);
There is a lot of wind today.
I wind a scarf around my neck when it's cold.
- Some words are pronounced the same, but are spelt differently and have different meanings (homophones);
(e.g. there, their, they’re).
(e.g. to, two, too).
So, English vocabulary can be a nightmare! In contrast, English grammar is usually considered to be easier to learn and understand compared to many other languages. Perhaps an advantage is that English students then have more time to focus on developing their knowledge of English vocabulary!
So, what is the solution?
Clearly, language learners need to invest a lot of time and energy to learn English. There is no simple solution to developing a wide range of vocabulary, but there are ways to make it easier to manage. We have put together a list of helpful strategies and tips to remember new English vocabulary and hopefully, these can be used to make English language learning more productive.
Seven tips to remember new English vocabulary
1. Use pictures
Many language students are visual learners and using images and pictures is a great way to remember new words. For example, it’s easier to understand the vocabulary for fruit, apple, orange, banana, etc by seeing a picture – you don’t need a dictionary definition! This can also be good for other ideas, e.g. giving directions – turn right, take the second left, etc.
2. Post-it notes or labels
Stick labels or post-it notes to items around your house or workplace to remember the new words. For example, you can put a sticker on a door, wall, window, computer printer etc with the word written on it.
3. Word lists
Language learners love lists! There is no problem with making lists of new English words and phrases, but sometimes lists get too long and can be difficult to remember. You need to write the new word, and here are some of what else to add:
- an example sentence with the new word;
- the definition;
- the part of speech;
- the pronunciation (with phonetic symbols)
- synonyms (help to develop your vocabulary more than translations);
- the word in your language.
It can also be useful to divide word list into topics, so that you don’t have a never-ending list that you’re not going to read again!
4. Word cards
Some students like to use word cards to test themselves. Many write the English word on one side and the word in their mother tongue on the back. However, you can also try other English-only options, e.g. the new word and the synonym, or the new word in a sentence and a definition. Making the cards can also help the process of remembering new words and the spelling too.
5. Learn new words and phrases in context
We don’t just communicate in individual words – we use phrases and sentences! If you learn new words in context with example sentences, it is easier to:
- recognise the part of speech (e.g. noun, verb etc) and word order;
- associate the meaning and use of the word with a possible scenario and topic;
- understand how to use the word yourself.
And remember, if you see a new word in a text, try and guess the meaning before you look it up in a dictionary!
6. Word families
These are group of words that can be formed from the same root word or base word. So, if you know how words are linked, you can use the same base word for different parts of speech. For example, the base word ‘please’ can be:
- verb - please
- noun – pleasure
- adjective – pleasant, pleased, displeased
- adverb - pleasantly
7. Don’t just learn new words – use them!
This is the most important part of developing new vocabulary. In order to remember new vocabulary, you need to use the new words and phrases yourself. Some say that you need to do this at least ten to fifteen times to add them to your longer-term memory. Practice is key to learning a new language successfully, and our English courses in Munich or others around the world can help you to develop your English communication skills including grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.