Tips on learning vocabulary

Many people and maybe even you believe that learning new words is not easy.  It seems to be difficult to try to remember new words so you can use them when speaking or writing.  You often get frustrated trying to remember the meanings of words.  Well, I’m telling you that this is perfectly normal.  It’s the same for everyone who is trying to learn English.  It’s really hard to learn a new word by studying it.  There’s good news, however.  It’s easier to learn vocabulary if you don’t try so hard.  You need to relax and understand something very important.  You learn a new word by seeing it again and again in different sentences.  At ESL schools, you see and hear new words everyday because of the reading and listening that you do in class or for homework which introduce you to new vocabulary.  This is a good start, but then you need to make a list of the new words on a piece of paper.  Don’t put more than 15 words on the page.  Then read them from top to bottom once.  That’s enough work.  They are now in your brain.  If you’re not in an ESL class, then make a list of 15 new words that you read or hear in the newspaper or on TV.  Then the magic starts.  You will begin to see and hear your new vocabulary words everywhere you go.  You’ll see and hear them on the radio, at the bus stop, in the newspaper, in the cafeteria or restaurant, and online.  I always tell my students here in Vancouver to read the free newspaper (it’s usually easier to understand), and to watch TV.  These two activities expose them to lots of new vocabulary words.  I tell them not to expect to remember the words they read or hear the next day because they probably won’t.  It takes time and repetition.  Did you know you need to see or hear a new word 7 times to recognize it and 17 times to be able to use it in your speaking and writing?  There are some things you can do, however, to speed up your learning.  The first is to make flashcards.  These are small rectangular pieces of heavy paper where you’ve written the vocabulary word on one side and the definition on the other side.  On the definition side, you can also translate the word into your first language.  Keep the flashcards with you all day, and when you have a little free time, go through them and quiz yourself.  A second thing you can do is record the words and definitions (and I would also include a sentence using the word) on your smart phone.  Then you can listen to it anytime.  Both of these add one more repetition, and you get closer to the magic 17 times when you’ll know the word well enough to use it when you speak or write.  If you do all this, it will take you 3 to 4 days to learn the words on your list, so you should be able to learn 30 new words every week.  In a year you will have learned 1500 new words, which is excellent!  A good start to increasing your vocabulary is right here at   Go to the Vocabulary section to find good lists of new words.


frustrated – angry at themselves
normal – what most people do
magic – something very special and unusual
online – on the Internet
activities – things that you do
expose – introduce
expect – think it’s going to happen
recognize – know the meaning
speed up – make it faster
rectangular – like a long square
definition – the meaning of a word
translate – change from one language to another
quiz – test
record:  make a voice copy
repetition:  repeting