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Learning English vocabulary tips

Learning vocabulary is the first step in learning a foreign language and it is (or it should be) a process that takes place daily and most of the time not at school but at home. Here are my seven tips that will help you be more effective when learning vocabulary. All of the tips are based on my own experience as a learner of English.

Organize your learning material

It is well known that organized material is much easier to memorize than unorganized one. Organize your vocabulary items in categories such as: at the airport, my house, school subjects, my favorite food, daily routine etc.

Use the new vocabulary item in more than one context

The new word you have just learned can be used in more than one context and many times it can have many meanings. It is difficult to remember a new word just based on its translation in your first language although this method provides a rapid learning way. So, using the new vocabulary item in more than one context increases your chances to remember it over time.

Learn details about the targeted vocabulary

Learning details about the new vocabulary item(s) you decided to learn today is of a real help. Learn its spelling (so, you will not miss any consonant sound when pronouncing it), pronunciation, grammatical rules that might accompany the new word etc. I remember an American friend who told me that whenever I use the word “sure” it must be accompanied by the word “for”, so I should say “yes, for sure”. Write down as many examples as possible (in as many contexts as possible) since this is a great method to remember vocabulary.

You need to see the word used in a context before using it

I don’t know others but according to my experience as a learner of English, I have to see a word many times used in a context before using it. That is especially true when you already know another word that can be use instead of the word you have just learned. Personally, I have to see the new word used in a text before I feel comfortable using it and usually I “meet” these new words when I am reading (mostly on-line). But seeing the new words in a text is not enough for me. I must hear the word coming out from someone’s mouth otherwise I will not use it in speaking. How many times you have to “meet” a word before using it? That depends! If I see a word in text format once then I will use it immediately. To use it in speaking, I need to hear the word at least five times. But hey, this is just me.

First time it is difficult, second time it is not that difficult, and third time it is not difficult at all

Yes, it is difficult to use the new word you have just learned for the first time. There is a certain amount of incertitude and you are inclined to use the word you already know, a synonym word, or maybe a simple short description. But, using it means learning it and using it second time will not be as difficult as first time was.

What is your learning style?

I learn by visual means. You tell me a new word, I repeat it ten times, and then ten seconds later I forget it. If I write the word down then I will not forget it. If i write its phonemic transcription then I will not forget how to pronounce it. Again, this is me and this is my learning style. Others are auditory or kinesthetic learners.

What is your first language?

I learn English faster than you because my first language is Romanian and your first language is Vietnamese. Is it true? Yes, it is. Since Romanian is a language more similar to English than Vietnamese is, for me, as a Romanian, learning English is a faster process. It is the same for a French, Spanish, or another speaker of a Latin-based European language. In my case, translation is a great method of learning English. It might not be true for you if you are Vietnamese for example. Vietnamese language is a "monosyllabic" (not 100% true) language, so long English words are difficult to remember for a Vietnamese learner of English. My Vietnamese students find the word “refrigerator” very difficult to memorize since there are five syllables. On the other hand I find difficult to remember Vietnamese words that consist of more than a word, and there are many of them in Vietnamese language.


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