The English language, like many languages, is a very rich language – there are A LOT OF WORDS to learn!!! You can communicate effectively with a vocabulary of 1000-2000 words but as you advance in English – and if you really want to enjoy English books, movies, and conversations with native English speakers, then you need to get a bigger vocabulary. There are estimates that say an uneducated native speaker has a vocabulary of 10,000 words and an educated native speaker has a vocabulary of 20,000 words. How do you do improve your vocabulary? Should you read a dictionary every night? It’s a good way to fall asleep – but sleeping with a dictionary as a pillow does not work, either Should you memorize lists of words from a whiteboard in an English class or an online class? This is difficult to do, and you may not remember many of the words….
I have just arrived in Ireland to teach an intensive immersion course for professionals – the course is only 10 days. We will be learning and practice English all day long together, and my students will get 100 hours of English in only 10 days instead of months in classes. We will learn A LOT OF new words every day and my students will build their vocabulary very quickly….but how? Here are some secrets to learning and remembering a lot of new words….
Learn the words in a real life immersion situation, not from a list of words on the internet or a whiteboard in a classroom
Our brains remember new things by association – when we associate the word with the real thing, a real situation or a real feeling this helps the neural pathways of our brain to make the connections that are necessary to remember the words later. This is how we all learned our first language(s) as children and it is by far the best way to remember new words.
Use mental picture associations to words in your language (mnemonics)
If you cannot hear the word in a real context or in full immersion, or if you are in full immersion and you want to help your brain learn faster, a little brain trick called mnemonis is helpful. This is where you think of an association to a picture in your mind of something or to another word in your own native language. For example, when I was learning the Burmese word “sei nyit deh” (it means to be frustrated or upset) I thought of the English word “knit” (look it up!) and someone knitting and getting frustrated. This trick works.
Learn the words in phrases, not just alone as a singular word
When you learn a word in context (from a real life conversation, a movie or a book) you naturally learn the word as part of the bigger phrase or sentence. If you are learning words from a list with no context, you need to spend some extra time to find out HOW to use these words in a phrase or sentence. Most words are not used alone!
Review the words in different contexts or situations – and leave a little time between review sessions
You need to use, listen to, or read a word several times before it becomes part of your everyday vocabulary. As many words have multiple meanings or maybe are used differently in different situations, try to review and practice the words in a different situation or context every time you review it. Also, your brain needs time to work on making the connections in your brain (the neural pathways) so wait at least several hours or a day or more before you review the word – then review it again, in a different situation, wait, then review again, and repeat……..
Read and Write a lot in English!!
My students who are strongest in vocabulary review their words, they read a lot, and they have an English language journal or blog. Make sure you read English books and write if you want to improve your vocabulary quickly!!
Best of luck with your English vocabulary learning – I hope this helps!! I’m writing in a cool cafe in Dublin, Ireland – the Ireland Intensive Course for Professionals begins tomorrow – very excited and I have a lot of new words to teach my students beginning tomorrow!!!