Four steps to learning vocabulary effectively
To improve your vocabulary, you need to:
Read good books.
Use a good dictionary.
Look up words you don’t know.
Be an curious student.
Think about what you’re doing. Write things down. Repeat.
“How can I learn more vocabulary words?”
A very common question. “How can I learn more vocabulary?” Students tend to make the same comments about the challenges and difficulties of vocabulary and of learning new words:
▪ I don’t know a lot of the hard vocabulary words that I see in my reading. ▪ It takes too long to look up words in the dictionary.
▪ I don’t know a lot of the words in the definitions of the words I look up. (In other words, I don’t know the words that explain the words I don’t know!) ▪ I can’t remember new vocabulary words, even after I look them up. And so on. I’ll be honest–it’s not easy to improve your vocabulary, nor is it quick. But it’s entirely doable. And learning vocabulary is no different from any other skill–you simply need to put in the effort to reap the rewards.
“Garbage in, garbage out”
Very quickly, a word about memorizing word lists. Many people like to take a “brute force” approach to learning vocabulary by attempting to memorize vocabulary lists. Memorizing long lists of vocabulary words can actually be effective in some situations, for example, when preparing for a standardized test that is coming up very soon. However, there are many drawbacks to memorizing word lists –
first, you are not likely to understand the subtleties of the vocabulary words;
second, you will not likely remember the words for a long time;
and finally, you will not have a “natural” understanding of the vocabulary word.
Truly, the best way to learn vocabulary is to learn it in context, meaning learning the words while you’re reading good material.
A quick note: In this article, I discuss one way to learn vocabulary, but not necessarily the only way. The only time I will...
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