English vocabulary is important and, at the same time, can be difficult. The key to learning new words is understanding that you need to go beyond reading the definition. You also need to hear examples of how the word is used in a variety of contexts; you need to analyze and process the new word, and then use it yourself.
Today we are going to present you an Article written by a famous writer Lisa B. Marshall. She is a writer of the best selling books Smart Talk and Ace of Interview. The article is in response to one of her readers.
The advice you received to read more was good advice. However, as I’m sure you know, learning vocabulary through reading is not a fast process. It’s something that occurs slowly over time. You mentioned that for you, it’s hard to remember new words. Are you reading at the right level? When it comes to reading and learning new vocabulary, it’s critical to consider the reading level. Choosing the “right” material is an important factor for vocabulary building. If the material is too advanced (or too simplistic), learning new vocabulary is difficult, if not impossible.
You may now be asking, “Well, then, how do I know if a book is good for me or not?” Read the first few pages. If it is a good vocabulary level for your learning, there should only be one or two new words per page. If too many words are new, it’s too difficult and you’ll need to look for something easier. If English is your second language, sometimes it can be hard to find books with interesting, meaningful “adult” content but that is at the correct reading level. Especially in the beginning, you may want to use materials that are specifically designed for language learning that use vocabulary in a repetitive and progressive manner.
Get in the habit of looking up the words you don’t know. The reason you need to read, read, read is that research shows that the best way to learn vocabulary is to learn the word from context—the way a young native language reader does. As you may know, when children encounter a new word, they are encouraged to guess at the meaning based on the words around it before they look it up. You should be doing the same thing. To improve your vocabulary using context clues, I recommend The Learning Network, which is associated with the New York Times. It gives a Word of the Day plus a Quiz.
But, as you mention, even if you do read and look up words, it’s very easy to forget new words. The trick is to take more steps. For example, I can’t remember the word I looked up just two days ago because I didn’t take any further action! My excuse is that it was late at night, in bed, and I was tired! So another tip is to do vocabulary building when you are fresh in the morning and have made time for some follow-up activities.
Write to Build Vocabulary
Did you know that research has shown that handwriting out notes helps you to remember the ideas better? So perhaps consider keeping a handwritten vocabulary log in which you write the word, the sentence that you found it in, and the date. You might want to keep track of what you thought the word meant before you looked it up, then write out the definition that you found.
If you’re artistic (or maybe even if you aren’t), consider drawing a picture of the definition. Often pictures will help you to remember the word and it’s meaning—this is particularly useful for English Language Learners. Other things to consider adding to your vocabulary journal are connotations, synonyms, antonyms, the part of speech, and the word family. The act of writing out all this information will help you more deeply understand and process the new word, and writing it in your own handwriting will also help make the new word and its definition more memorable for you.
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Practice to Build Vocabulary
Research suggests that practice takes anywhere from 10-20 repetitions to make a word part of your vocabulary.
As I mentioned in the introduction, in addition to reading as much as possible, you also need to practice, practice, practice. Research suggests that it takes anywhere from 10-20 repetitions to make a word part of your vocabulary. So take time to review your vocabulary log each day or each week. Perhaps write out a new sentence using the new vocabulary. Each day, choose a word or two to try to use that day. Put it on your phone to remind you to try to use that new word. In addition, be on the alert—listen for the word being used ‘in the wild” that day. It’s funny how when you learn a new word you begin to hear it used everywhere. The idea, again, is practice through repetition, but repetition within a context.
Another fun way to practice your skills is to take online vocabulary quizzes or play vocabulary games. The idea, however, is to try to have some fun reviewing and assessing your word usage in complete sentences.
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Another option is to consider listening to vocabulary podcasts, the ones that are used to study for SATs. Words that have multiple meanings or which have very similar spellings can be particularly difficult for English Language Learners, but they should definitely be on your list if the goal of your vocabulary building is for professional development. Again, Quizlet is a great resource.
The bottom line is that reading allows you to learn new vocabulary words in a variety of contexts, writing helps you solidify them in your mind, and practice helps you to move them from new words to words incorporated into your daily vocabulary. Learning new vocabulary is something that requires consistent and persistent efforts over many years so be sure to celebrate your successes along the way!