February 1, 2021

5 Steps to Increase your Vocabulary …and actually use it!

Increasing your vocabulary is important if you want to be an effective communicator.

However, many learners have a notebook full of new words that they hardly ever review and rarely actually use.

If you want to increase your vocabulary and make sure that you actually use it, follow these 5 simple steps:

  1. Read and listen actively

When you read articles or books, listen to podcasts or watch TV:

  • notice new words
  • note them down
  • try to work out what they mean from the context
  • check the meaning in a dictionary

By using this technique, you will:

  1. ensure that you learn new words that you actually need (not just a list of random words)
  2. you will gain a better understanding of the word because you learnt it in context

Note: You don’t have to follow these steps every time you read or listen to something. Make sure you read and listen for fun too!

For tips on how to listen to ‘Real English’, read this post

2. Use an English to English dictionary

Even though translating is easier, the translations:

  • are not always accurate
  • do not show how words are actually used
  • are unreliable as words may have a different meaning to the direct translation from your first language
  • will stop you from thinking in English

Always use an English to English dictionary first and only use a translator if you really don’t understand.

Note: I’d recommend the Oxford Advanced learner’s Dictionary, it’s free and gives you lots of useful information

 3. Keep a vocabulary notebook

Either have a physical book, where you can write down new words or create an online record of new vocabulary

Then note down at least:

  • the definition in English
  • the form of the word (noun/verb/adjective etc)
  • how to pronounce the word
  • an example sentence

Note: You could also note down, synonyms and words in the word family. For example, for the word ‘information’ a synonym (a word with a similar meaning) could be ‘data’ and words in the word family are ‘inform’ (verb), ‘informative’ (adjective), ‘informatively’ (adverb).

4. Organise your vocabulary into lists

Organise your words in a way that is logical to you. You could list them by:

  • Topic – list words and phrases related to a certain subject together e.g. business, education, the environment
  • Context– list words and phrases you would use in a certain situation e.g. in meetings, in presentations, in emails

Note: You may want to list your words in a different way. Do whatever works for you as only you will be using your vocabulary book.

5. Review, Use and Review

A list of words is useless unless you actually review them and use them. To activate the vocabulary:

  • Review the new vocabulary regularly
  • Notice when you hear the new words in reading and listening – are they used in the same way?
  • Make an effort to use the new words in writing and/or speaking
  • Review them again!

Note: It will take time to ‘activate’ the vocabulary so you actually use it. Set a time every day or week to review so the new words stay fresh in your mind.

To bring this all together, the Anki App is an excellent tool which can help you record, organise and review new vocabulary.

You can:

  • Create flashcards for new words and include any information you want
  • Organise words into meaningful lists
  • Play memory games with the flashcards to review them

But, it is up to YOU to make the effort to use the vocabulary in speaking or writing. The more you practise and review, the more you will be able to use these words and your vocabulary will increase.

So if you want to increase your vocabulary and actually use it, follow these steps.

For more tips and tricks on how to increase your vocabulary, join my FREE Facebook group.