Skills 360 – How to Improve your English Vocabulary 2

Free Resources: Quizzes | PDF Transcript


Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today I want to look at more ways to take your English vocabulary to the next level.

So, you’ve found some great resources for studying English that suit your purpose. You’ve got a variety of listening and reading material chock full of great words and expressions that you want to learn to use. But how do you do it? How do you take those words and expressions and not only remember them but also make them an active part of your working vocabulary? Well, there are several things to keep in mind, and a few key techniques that you can use, as we’ll see today.

One really important idea is that words are used in groups. Sometimes we call them “chunks” or “collocations.” The basic idea is that we put words together in common patterns, and we should learn those patterns, not just individual words. Think of a simple sentence like “Dave is interested in golf.” Understanding what “interested” means is a piece of cake. But if you really want to make that a useful word, you need to pay attention to the fact that we say be interested in something. Take another example like the noun “profit.” It’s hard to use the word if you don’t know that we usually say make a profit or turn a profit.

The idea of groups of words is especially important when it comes to idioms and phrasal verbs, because together words can have a new meaning. So when we hear “give up”, we don’t think about giving or the idea of up, but the meaning they have together, which is “quit”. And don’t think about squares when you hear the expression “back to square one.” Together, those words mean “start again.”

Once you understand the importance of chunks of language, how can you sort out what those chunks mean? A good starting place is context. Look at how the words are used in the situation. From the situation, you can usually get clues to the meaning. Only after examining the context should you look at a definition. And if you really want to get a solid grasp on the meaning, you should look at more examples of the word or expression in a sentence. Good study materials should give you example sentences to learn from.

But it’s not enough just to notice vocabulary and chew over its meaning. You need to do something with it if you’re going to remember it and be able to use it. That starts with writing vocabulary down. Keep a record of good words and expressions that you come across. Write down the word, the context, and example sentences if you can. This is not just so that you have something to review. The act of writing the word and examples down will help you remember it later.

Okay, beyond writing down what you’ve learned, you need to put your new vocabulary to good use. The means trying to use the words you’ve learned in new sentences. You don’t need to write a masterpiece on business communication; you just need to practice putting that new word into a different context. And if you struggle, look back to where you found it or your example sentences. From that context, you should be able to see how the word or expression fits into a sentence. And again, practicing like this will really give you a leg up in recalling the words.

Okay, it seems like we’ve been dwelling on reading and writing, but let’s not forget listening. Learning words through listening is great if you want to actually apply them in conversation. We can learn how individual words sound, and how groups of words sound together. If you’re using listening materials that include a transcript, don’t lean on that transcript too soon. Really listen carefully before reaching for the written version.

Again, vocabulary you learn through listening should be written down and practiced in sentences. But to really take it to the next level, you should actually say the words. Start by repeating what you hear in your listening. Really try to mimic the sound and flow of speech. Then read aloud from your examples or the sentences you’ve written. And try to make completely new sentences just in speaking. In this way, you’re getting your brain and mouth ready to actually apply the words in conversation.

As you probably realize, it’s pretty easy to forget new words if we don’t take steps to commit them to memory. And even when we remember them when we hear or read them, it can be difficult to use them. But if you focus on chunks of language, if you look closely at how words are used in context, and if you write them down and practice using them in writing and speaking, you’ll be well on your way to building a better vocabulary.

That’s all for today. If you’d like to test yourself on what we’ve just covered, have a look at the website. There you’ll find a quiz about today’s show as well as a complete transcript.

So long. And see you again soon.